The Covid-19 lockdown might have provided a challenge to schools and students around the country but, for King's College in South Auckland it also created an opportunity.
The eight weeks the school shifted to off-site education meant the chance to trial a distance learning system which will stand it in good stead in the future.
Headmaster Simon Lamb says the school was ready to move to teaching remotely as soon as the level-four lockdown was announced in late March.
"We were well-prepared — we had been watching what was going on and could see the lockdown coming," Lamb says. "We did our research and worked out how we were going to deliver distance learning a few weeks in advance.
"It's not something we had fully engaged with previously, so we had to train our staff and set up software and systems, but then we were quickly ready to go."
Once the government announcement was made on Monday, March 23, the school's 1100 day and boarding pupils were sent home, apart from a handful of boarders who lived on site during the lockdown. Then, from the Tuesday morning, it was back to class as usual — just at a distance.
Instead of setting lists of tasks and checking in with students via electronic meetings, King's delivered its teaching synchronously, with teachers delivering content in real time according to the timetable. The school used the Webex video conferencing platform for online class meetings with students as well as iTunes U and other online tools and apps (such as Verso) for class and group collaboration.
"Webex suited what we were trying to achieve with its ability to group students – and the way teachers can share screens, including videos and presentations, and annotate materials in real time. We found it was a very stable and secure platform," Lamb says.
As well as being effective from an educational point of view, Lamb says synchronous distance learning also provided social benefits and improved how students felt during lockdown.
"Students still saw each other online and teachers could see their students, which meant classes were able to retain their connection and the rhythm of learning during lockdown," he says. "It was important for them to have to be somewhere and see people who are familiar.
"They didn't feel the same isolation or sense of loneliness they might have if they had just been given exercises and activities to do in their own space."
Lamb says the distance learning offering was received positively by both students and parents, some of whom were able to witness their children's schoolwork up close for the first time.
A survey conducted by the school showed 95 per cent of parents and 87 per cent of students who responded thought the distance learning was effective, with parents feeling the programme gave students an opportunity to develop skills and traits such as independence, self-discipline and motivation, time management, resilience and adaptability.
While maintaining academic standards was a key priority, the students' physical health and cultural education didn't go by the wayside during the lockdown. In keeping with the school's new health, fitness and wellbeing policy, regular physical activity was encouraged.
"We ran PE classes using online tracking guides to measure student activity and students were provided with specially created stay-at-home fitness plans and encouraged to participate in an interschool fitness challenge," Lamb says.
"King's has a genuine commitment to students being fit and well; maintaining the rhythm and routine of the school's health and wellbeing programme during lockdown has been really important."
Itinerant music lessons and group cultural activities such as choirs also continued remotely during lockdown.
"We have seen from the music industry during lockdown that there are various ways to continue making music — you don't have to be playing or singing in the same space. You can be in many different places and still put together items and performances using technology," Lamb says.
The lockdown period has been an excellent opportunity to develop and trial distance learning systems, he says – systems which now remain part of the school's teaching and learning repertoire which can be called upon in the future, if needed.
"In some ways, lockdown has been a positive experience because it has given us the understanding that we have a combination of skills and technology to deliver distance learning effectively," he says.
"It has been a chance to prove to ourselves what we can do and I've been really proud of the fact we have the flexibility and resources to continue to deliver high-quality education under different circumstances.
"It has been a great experience for us to be able to explore distance learning, and we see it as a new opportunity that can be added to our raft of learning options."