Rallying together to support learners and their families

Issue: Volume 99, Number 6

Posted: 15 April 2020
Reference #: 1HA71k

A number of special schools across New Zealand worked hard to compile and deliver tailored learning packs to their learners prior to the lockdown period. Education Gazette talks to one special school in Auckland that took an impressive team approach to get packs to its 170 learners to help support families at a time of change and uncertainty.

Families of Oaklynn School have been grateful for the learning packs delivered prior to the lockdown period

Before the Prime Minister’s announcement on Monday 23 March, many schools had already started to prepare for the likelihood of remote teaching and learning.   

The announcement that signalled the country would be going into lockdown a mere two days later meant that many schools had to hit the fast-forward button on their plans.   

Schools across New Zealand rallied on Tuesday 24 March – that strange and fleeting day at Alert Level 3 – to put in place their new systems and ways of working.  

One of these schools was Oaklynn School, a specialist school in Auckland catering for 170 ORS-funded learners ranging in age from five to 21 years old, all with complex learning needs.   

Principal Louise Doyle, along with the school’s leadership team, quickly realised that approaches other schools were taking – things like setting up Google Classroom – wouldn’t work for their learners.  

“While we have a few kids who might be able to do things online, actually what we really need is some practical, hands-on stuff.  

“Our priority was, what do our families need on Wednesday? What do they need in order to make the home environment and the learning environment as stress-free as possible?” says Louise.   

Staff had already started to compile resources, but the Alert Level 4 deadline saw these preparations escalate dramatically. As a specialist school, Oaklynn School is spread across 10 different sites, with satellite classrooms in mainstream schools. They have 45 FTTE staff, 10 therapy staff (speech and language therapists, occupational therapists, and physiotherapists) and 70 support staff.   

Tailored packs for each learner 

A Zoom call helped to unify Oaklynn School’s approach and staff began assembling learning packs for each learner.  

Each pack included a range of resources that would help each learner through two phases.   

“The first phase was holiday. What do the families need tomorrow in order to get on with their lives? And then we’ll start thinking about phase two from 15 April – what’s learning going to look like and how are we going to keep in touch with those families in an ongoing way?” says Louise.  

The resources were focused on supporting families with providing information and structuring time, as well as hands-on learning activities.  

“We worked on creating some social stories around COVID-19 and school closures to help explain in really simple terms what’s happening, so that families had something to read to  students to help them understand the sudden changes.”  

The packs also included laminated PDF templates of simple symbols and pictures with Velcro strips and dots to help families structure their day.  

“The other area where we realised families would need support was around structuring time. Usually when we go on a holiday break we can give them a simple calendar that says we’re not going to school today, or we’re going to the Oaklynn Holiday programme next week. But we realised that families were going to be thrown into quite an unsettling time.”  

The learning resources were tailored to the individual needs of each learner.    

“We just said to teachers, ‘Just work with what you know about your kids’.”  

Rallying together   

The speech and language therapists put together a video for families on how to use all the visual supports, structure systems and other resources in the pack, and the school leadership team was keen to get the packs completed and delivered to families before Wednesday.  

“We wanted to be finished by 3pm on Tuesday. We knew anxiety levels were rising anyway and we wanted all staff to be able to get home and organise their own lives.”  

The packs were all in by 1pm. Staff looked up the addresses of each family and wrote them in Vivid on each plastic bag. Then staff delivered the packs to the doorsteps of families who lived near them.   

Families have been really appreciative, says Louise. Some have said they weren’t sure how they were going to cope. They’ve been blown away by the dedication of staff.  

Louise agrees her staff has been “amazing”. 

“What I’ve noticed is that it’s fine to have a great idea and have that kind of energy and passion about it – but actually 100+ people got behind it and said ‘Yep, we can do this’. It was just incredible.”  

Hauora and whanaungatanga   

Louise says alongside the focus on supporting learners and their families, they have placed strong emphasis on connectivity, ensuring that teachers are well connected with their support staff, and syndicate leaders are well connected with their teams and with each other.  

“It’s so we can all look after each other.”

Louise anticipates wellbeing will be the school’s major focus, moving forward – hauora sits at the heart of everything the school does, she says. They’ve started compiling a folder with wellbeing resources, which will include yoga and tai chi videos for the whole learning community – students, their whānau and staff.  

“We’re going to be contacting families and saying, ‘What do you need for your young person to be happy, to be settled, to be reassured? And let’s tailor our approach to you and your family’s needs.” 

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 3:12 am, 15 April 2020

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