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Becoming online speech and drama teaching experts – a crash course!

As Covid-19 lockdown loomed on the horizon, we faced an uncertain time at Head Held High. A month ago, it was incomprehensible to teach lessons without being able to see, hear and interact with all our talented students... Yet, once the decision was made to do online speech and drama teaching, the whole team ramped up to get everything ready.

This involved a huge behind-the-scenes effort from our customer service colleagues, who worked on tech support to schedule recurring Zoom appointments for over 700 students! The mammoth undertaking meant all our student families were sent an email with instructions on how to download and setup Zoom, and how to access their lessons. Inevitably the occasional lesson message was lost in spam or junk filters, so extra contact from teachers and staff helped to make sure that parents had their all-important link.

The preparation phase

The first week of lockdown was spent doing as a compressed and intense training period! All thirteen Head Held High teachers (including Jess L, the self-confessed ‘techno-dinosaur’!) began team-teaching practice sessions to get to grips with the Zoom software and the intricacies of online speech and drama teaching. This was done through role-play, with all teachers taking turns at leading lessons, and being 'students' in lessons. There were plenty of calls back and forth, with lots of games and the occasional ‘five-year-old wanting to go to the toilet’ role-play!

With guidance from our Head of Teaching, Erica Kröger, the Head Held High teachers worked hard to adapt lesson plans to suit the online format – thinking up games and confidence tools which could work through the virtual world.

We also produced a Brady Bunch inspired video that explained how we came to be an 'online teaching bunch'. The video features a light-hearted song which was written and performed by our talented teacher JJ Fong. Even though many of us felt silly as we lip-synced to the track, the finished product put huge smiles on our faces and meant that our whole whānau pulled together through what was, in retrospect, an incredibly daunting and anxiety-inducing first week of isolation.

The 'into the deep end' phase

Personally, I was nervous to see how my many junior students (Years 1-6) would react to online speech and drama teaching. If they were anything like my six-year-old niece back in England, a lot of time would be taken up while they tried to find a funny filter for their camera!

I was also nervous to realise that we would be presenting classes in front of students’ parents, but my first parent drop-in put me at ease. In my first slot of the day, teaching a solo class with a seven-year-old at 9am, the mum waved a quick hello and apologised for being in her PJs then tried to move her younger child out of the frame. I explained that the little one could play the first game, too - to make it more fun for her brother - and they played happily together (albeit with a slight and understandable competitive edge!)

I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know parents who might not have touched base with me in person before, who often don’t get the chance for conversation in the spare few seconds between back to back classes. It’s been great to put names to faces, to create ties and get to know each student’s individual needs from their parents’ perspective.

My classes with seniors – who are a mix of communication and drama students – have progressed much like they would have in person: our great conversations build upon world news and current events; games and challenges like ‘speech thief’ developed their confidence with public speaking; monologues explored character viewpoints, such as the poignant and timely extract from the diary of Anne Frank as Anne describes her longing to go outside. As always, the seniors have been a delight to teach and it has been great to see how well our lessons have translated outside of face-to-face speech and drama lessons.

What we've learned about online speech and drama teaching

The Head Held High team has also held free Facebook Live sessions for students all around NZ. This was our way of helping to provide some free and easily accessible creative relief to parents around the country during lockdown. The live-streamed lessons demonstrated to parents and children just how easy it is to translate our lessons to an online format.

Of course face-to-face creativity generates great results, but we’ve all been pleasantly surprised to learn how productive we can be with little more than an internet connection, audio and a camera.

Two weeks into teaching our lessons online, and as we bring Term 1 to a close, I can honestly say the experience has been overwhelmingly positive - in spite of the bizarre run-up. I’ve been touched by how attentive my students are: engaged, joyful and proactive as they participate in tasks, perform their rehearsed pieces and update me on how many teddy bears they’ve spotted outside their homes in the week since we last spoke...

Taking our newfound online teaching skills forward

It feels as if we are all going through something monumental together, bridging gulfs in age range and experience, and I think we teachers are as grateful as our students for the opportunity to continue lessons during this uncertain time.

As the Easter holidays begin, we are overwhelmingly pleased by how many students and parents want to continue with us during the lockdown period - until we can meet in person again - and we are so excited to roll into the Term 2 lessons from the 13th of May.

Thanks for joining us on this journey, and we hope your child continues to enjoy their speech and drama lessons, in whichever form they take!

Jess Macdonald Head Held High teacher

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