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The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed how vital strong connections and relationships are for student wellbeing. 

While teaching and learning during the COVID-19 pandemic has been challenging, it hasn’t all been bad news. Benefits, such as a rapid increase in digital literacy have paved the way for interesting discussions about what education might look like in the future. What has been revealed through the COVID-19 lens, however, is just how vital strong connections and relationships are for student wellbeing.  

New protocols

For Helen Moore, Deputy Head of Junior School at Ivanhoe Girls’ Grammar School, the transition to offsite learning in Term 1, 2020 was a steep learning curve. “The first few weeks were incredibly busy for class teachers, but we’ve got to a model that we think has worked really well,” she says. Since those early days, that model has proven flexible enough for students and staff to pivot seamlessly to Offsite Learning throughout Melbourne's on again-off again lockdown restrictions, often with only a few hours of warning.  

For the primary school-aged students at Ivanhoe Girls’, it has been important to provide a lot of structure to the offsite learning timetable, including daily Zoom sessions with class teachers, numeracy and literacy sessions built into the week, plus specialist lessons in Art, French and Music. Teachers have encouraged students to be more independent in their learning, says Mrs Moore. “They’ve learnt some really complicated skills, like how to submit due work, they are writing emails really well, they are planning their learning really well.” 

According to Mrs Moore, students have embraced lots of new learning protocols for the Zoom classroom. “They’ve learnt when to mute and unmute, they know not to use the Chat feature or draw on the electronic whiteboard. They are all normal classroom protocols but they’ve been translated to an online environment,” she says. 

Connection is crucial

However, there is no doubt that during the COVID-19 lockdowns, face-to-face contact between teachers and students has been at a minimum. At the same time, a strong nurturing relationship between student and teacher has never been more crucial to foster engagement, motivation, learning and emotional wellbeing. 

Which is why a strong sense of school belonging, confidence and well-developed connections between staff and students have proven critical to the success of the offsite learning program at Ivanhoe Girls’. 

These robust connections have been forged in the earliest years of a student’s education. “We work closely as a team to acknowledge and monitor the tracking of progress for all students,” explains Mrs Moore, who coordinates an Individual Differences program which provides tailored learning support and extension to all students in the Junior School. “In particular we help out with the ones who need a bit more either at the support end or the extension end,” she adds.

Every year, each student in Junior School is surveyed by their classroom teacher to find out what their individual passions and interests are. Coupled with information from parents and teacher feedback, these surveys form the framework for identifying students who might benefit from extra opportunities, such as GATEWAYS, Maths and Science Olympiads, sport, dance, art or robotics incursions.

The power in being understood

“Every student has different interests and different levels and strengths,” explains Mrs Moore.

She recalls a quote displayed in her classroom. “Fair is not giving everyone the same. It's about providing everybody what they need to succeed,” she says.  “I think that’s a perfect quote for what we try and do. We know that in order to help everyone succeed we have to do things differently for different students.” 

Offering support and extension opportunities to students is a way of acknowledging each child as an individual, suggests Mrs Moore. “It’s quite a relief for them to be acknowledged,” she says. “It’s very reassuring to know that someone else knows them in that way. It helps them feel connected when someone recognises them and who they are. And they can have a mentor who supports them.”

It’s this sense of deep understanding of each child that forges confidence, connection and a sense of belonging in students. During offsite learning, it’s been more important than ever.

For more information about Ivanhoe Girls' Grammar School, please visit our website.