Too say we find ourselves in unprecedented times within the education sector really does not do the last three months justice. This both in a wider sense, but in particular to the teaching and learning principles that dictate children’s education across the world. The one constant of teacher presence; aiming to frame, scaffold and motivate a class to be inspired by their subject has, for the time being, gone. That is not to say that teachers have not been there for their pupils. Of course they have. In ways that we would have never thought of before March, whether that be through online provision, or ensuring free school meals can still be accessed or a million and one other ways teachers have gone above and beyond time and again for their students. Within the first couple of weeks I even read about a Deputy Head within a Primary School hand delivering free school meals to his pupils in a 7 mile walk every day. Genuinely heroic actions, which I believe the majority of parents nationally appreciate.
Within my own context at Manchester Enterprise Academy in Wythenshawe, we were faced with extra challenges. This is as a result of the lack of technology and Wi-Fi within households which have made online learning a non-starter until recently. I do not think I will ever forget the Monday evening before schools were to break up on the Friday. It was rumoured that schools would close on the Wednesday and many students would not be able to complete any work if it was to be online. Cue 40 teachers staying until school closed making work packs including exercise books and a plethora of stationery and differentiated work with special colours made for dyslexic pupils. There was no whole staff email, instead people walked past on their way home and joined in. We continued to send work packs home during the first few weeks of lockdown simply because we knew that there would be a significant proportion of students who could not access the internet. The new, modified curriculum #MEAConsolidates was used to strengthen and consolidate prior learning rather than introduce new content. Over time, students have been supported to access more online content, and receive feedback on completed work.
The nature of teaching a controversial and contentious history such as the Holocaust has its challenges within the classroom, which are magnified without the constant of a teacher addressing and questioning misunderstandings head on. This is challenging remotely because you are unable to address student knowledge until pupils have submitted their work which can mean you are playing catch up in terms of feedback and challenging prior misconceptions. This has resulted in far more detailed worksheets or PowerPoints which now aim to frame and tackle misconceptions before students have the opportunity to express those ideas into written work. The Holocaust is such that it offers rich discussion about the nature of humanity, which is limited in our current context. In terms of our choice of learning, our History department has been careful in our sensitivity of material being worked with by students, with a consideration to current home situations. Some subjects within the Holocaust can be damaging when left unframed by a teacher, and certainly would not be appropriate for pupils to explore without guidance.
A notable experience for my teaching practice over the last 3 months has been the challenge of sustaining and engaging an age and ability range of students within history. This has been when working with Key Worker and Vulnerable students who have remained in school during this period. A notable success of this has been to use a photograph of Jewish footballers in pre-war life. (see: Jewish Life in Warsaw before the Holocaust). The applicability to today, ensured that all students had much to say about its provenance, including students from our alternative provision. During this discussion it was pleasing to hear Year 9 and 10 students introduce younger students to the image in a sensitive and reflective manner. Oracy is a major feature of our teaching and learning strategy at MEA, and this exercise encouraged a high level of meta-cognitive practices from the older students. A notable line from one of the younger students was “Sir, how did we get from talking about football to the Holocaust”. It was incredibly pleasing to have extended allocation of time with a smaller number of pupils talking about the nature of the Holocaust and its common misconceptions. This came as a result of the new online resources from the Centre which have been immensely helpful in reshaping the pedagogical principles that we have adapted as a result of current coronavirus associated challenges. As always, the Centre has continued to provide teachers like me and my colleagues with the tools, confidence and support throughout this time so as we could still implement appropriate, rich, quality Holocaust teaching and learning opportunities at home or in school; whether through easy to use resources for self-directed or guided student study during this time or with short online CPDs that have enhanced and enriched our practice, the UCL Centre for Holocaust Education has stepped up to support teachers, schools and our community with its ‘Post-its’ and guidance: a big personal ‘Thank you’ to the Centre’s team.
In terms of my own learning of the Holocaust and its pedagogy, I continue to be challenged by the Centre’s Masters module; The Holocaust in the Curriculum. A particular benefit has been to see the reflections of other subject teachers who approached the same material in completely different ways. This has benefitted my own thinking in terms of the cross curricular approach that the Holocaust is able to promote. With the whirlwind experience that is teaching, there have been benefits to a period of extended reflection that COVID-19 has presented, and the opportunity for sustained reading of educational theory has been welcomed; enabling me to implement new ideas and approaches into Schemes of Work. Our weekly Beacon School CPD sessions based on Jewish resistance continue to challenge my own perceptions of what occurred during this period. Many of the resources I have been exposed too, along with my fellow cohort, I am looking forward to using in the classroom or online, during and beyond coronavirus. Our commitment to Holocaust teaching and learning work continues…
Manchester Enterprise Academy is a UCL Beacon School (2019-2020) in Holocaust Education.