By Elspeth Kernebone – Bendigo Avertiser, 13 April 2020

Students, teachers and parents across central Victoria are preparing to enter completely new territory as the school term begins on Tuesday.

Lessons will be largely online, with students and teachers working from their homes.

It comes after Victorian schools closed for all but the children of essential workers to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Teachers have spent weeks planning the transition to online, but are still expecting teething difficulties.

Bendigo Senior Secondary College assistant principal Bronnie Bishop is preparing to teach Year 12 psychology from her kitchen table.

Three times a week she will write a lesson plan for her students in learning management system Compass, with very specific instructions.

Mrs Bishop will live chat with her students using a web-link at least twice a week.

She has also created narrated instruction resources such as slide shows, where students can see and hear her talking.

Mrs Bishop said there was a nervous excitement about beginning to teach online. It was a chance to try something vastly new, but she would also lose the part of teaching she loved: being in the classroom with students.

She said connecting with her students as people would be the most important thing for her live-sessions.

“I can really still connect with them as humans, and check with them [about] their whole feelings about this new world that they’re in,” Mrs Bishop said.

“We’re really physically distancing, but socially staying connected.”

BSSC principal Dale Pearce asked students and parents to be understanding as they all entered new territory.

“As much as we’ve prepared and worked as hard as we can to put our plan in place, we expect there are going to be some ups and downs along the way,” he said.

Mr Pearce said it would be difficult for many families, with parents facing sudden unemployment or working from home. He said many teachers would also be parenting while working.

Primary school students as young as five are also among those learning online from Tuesday.

Maiden Gully Primary principal Craig Arrowsmith said plans for teaching online would depend on the age of the students.

He said younger students would spend less time online, while older students would complete a mix of online requirements and hardcopy tasks.

A small percentage of students will still attend school physically as the children of essential workers.

Mr Arrowsmith said teachers were trying to give children the chance to extend their learning.

He said it would be a challenging time for many, with parents managing work and childcare, or unemployment, and staff having to look after their own children.

“We’ve been able to use the curriculum days well to get our plans in place,” Mr Arrowsmith said.

“We’re fortunate enough that we’ve got a really dedicated staff and are keen to try something a little bit different.

“There’s going to be teething problems, we know that. But well attend to those and hopefully make the best of a bad situation.”

How to handle the brave new world

At home, online-based learning will be new for students, teachers and parents.

The Bendigo Advertiser asked educators for their best advice for those about to begin the new term.

Bendigo Senior Secondary College assistant principal Bronnie Bishop said motivation would be the hardest thing for many students.

She suggested creating a plan for each day, writing a checklist, and marking what had and hadn’t been done before finishing.

Mrs Bishop urged them to talk to their teachers if they were having difficulty, so they could make changes.

She also asked students to be patient with their teachers – they’re also learning new skills.

Maiden Gully Primary School principal Craig Arrowsmith said the only advice he could give parents was to be patient and work with the school.

BSSC principal Dale Pearce said he would encourage students to keep to their usual pattern of study, and maintain good sleeping habits.

Mr Pearce asked for understanding for teachers as they learnt new skills and balanced work with home responsibilities.