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Home learning - lessons learned while working from home

We are now approaching our eleventh week in lockdown. I wanted to spend some time capturing my thoughts about my role as a lead specialist in the Professional Learning and Leadership (PLL) team at Education Scotland and how that role has changed as a response to the current health crisis.

My last working day in what I now consider to be the ‘old normal’ was spent in Aberdeen, facilitating a one-day event for aspiring middle leaders. The event was well-attended, the participants were engaged and enthusiastic and the only taste of things to come was the bottle of hand sanitiser provided by the hotel and the distinct lack of usual handshaking as we greeted the participants at the start of the day. As I travelled home on the train that night, I was blissfully unaware that this would be my last contact with a group of teachers, my last journey on public transport and my last face-to-face contact with a PLL colleague for weeks, months, or maybe even longer.

It was just three days after this event that I received the news that due to the outbreak of Covid-19, all our face-to-face professional learning activity would be paused for the foreseeable future and we would be working from home. Even though our activity had paused, the first week after this announcement was far from quiet. Initially, there were events to cancel and people to contact, then there were plans to be made to support the system as the crisis unfolded. As part of the PLL team I wanted to ensure I was helping my colleagues with this work and contributing to the sweeping changes in the education system as headteachers, middle leaders and teachers tried to ensure that learning for our children and young people could continue. As a lead specialist who is involved in several programmes, I immediately volunteered to join all the new PLL working groups to support this work in any way I could. However,  as a lead specialist who only works three days a week I soon became acutely aware that if I was to work effectively in this ‘new normal’, I needed to be realistic about my capacity to deliver so I promptly ‘un-joined’ some of these groups a few days later!

In terms of my current work, I may not be travelling the length and breadth of Scotland any more, but I’m certainly very busy. My working days are spent writing new professional learning activities for Education Scotland’s online resource for teachers, middle leaders and headteachers. I’m also collaborating with colleagues to ensure that our programmes can be delivered online, starting with Day 3 of the Middle Leaders Leading Change programme which went live in May. I’m involved in planning the coaching and mentoring support for the education workforce as we move into the next phase of the crisis. I feel very connected to the PLL team. In fact I think that since we’ve all been working from home, we communicate even better than before, with weekly team meetings and coffee mornings as well as regular individual or group Skype calls depending on what we’re working on. I am now far more aware of the work PLL colleagues are involved in as well as being more in tune with the wider work of Education Scotland.

In the ‘old normal’ I often worked from home, but this was just once or twice a fortnight. My days working at home then would usually be spent checking resources, finalising presentations, making travel arrangements and packing or unpacking my overnight bag. I thought working from home was great! In the ‘new normal’ however, there is none of the sense of urgency in preparing for a professional learning event. There are just days, weeks and months stretching ahead filled with Skype calls, emails, writing online learning activities and getting to grips with new technologies. As a colleague pointed out recently, we’re not just working from home, we’re working from home in a crisis and that’s very, very different.

So, how am I making this work? Firstly, I’m making sure that I get up early and put in a full day’s work, in my ‘office’ away from distractions. I work through a list of tasks each day which are continually shifting as new priorities emerge. I stop for lunch with the family and make sure that I finish in time for dinner. It would be so easy to just drift on to working all evening, never ‘switching off’ so once my computer is shut down, I try and leave it that way until the next morning. Conscious of my own health and wellbeing, and being fortunate to live in a beautiful part of the Scottish Borders, I make sure I get a walk or run at the end of each day just to clear my head and refocus. I’m aware that the work I’m doing currently may not be the work I used to do but it’s what is needed at the minute so I’m making the best of it in every way I can.

So, eleven weeks in, what have I learned?

I have learned that I really miss seeing people in real life. Technology means we can still be very well-connected but to me, being connected also needs the ‘in-between’ bits. Being connected includes the chats with colleagues between meetings, the buzz of participants learning together around a table and the laughter when something doesn’t quite go according to plan. Thinking ahead, I do believe that in months and years to come we will be able to take what we have learned from this period and professional learning will be so much more accessible with educationalists making far better use of technology. We will also be far better connected to colleagues from across Scotland without necessarily having to travel miles to meet them.

However, I know that my role may never return to what was the ‘old normal’ but I would like to believe that, once it is safe to do so, we will be able to facilitate a version of the face-to-face professional learning events that have been my raison d'être for the past three years. I know I’m not the only person in Scotland involved in the leadership of professional learning who misses the fantastic buzz of a group of colleagues connecting, chatting and learning together how to be the very best they can be for the children and young people they work with every day.