This is a guest post by Jamie Taylor, Primary School Deputy Head Teacher at Craigfelen Primary School in Swansea, Wales.
Since March schools in Wales have been repurposed as emergency childcare hubs. Staff have been busy working in these hubs and delivering online learning to pupils. We all know how important a school is in its community, to me it should be the heartbeat of the community. Delivering accessible learning to all of our pupils has been important however we also needed to keep the vital community aspect of our school going. This wasn’t going to be an easy task.
Over a number of years, we have learned that the most popular method of communication is through social media, however we do also use Seesaw to communicate about learning. As a school we currently have social media accounts on Facebook and Twitter. Over the 12 weeks that education in Wales has changed. Social media has proved vital in communicating with our families and creating a sense of community. We have held virtual story telling sessions, celebration assemblies, online school discos, family quiz nights and a virtual sports day. Feedback for these events are that they are creating a consistent normal for our community in an ever changing outside world. Depending on announcements due in Wales we plan to hold online residential trips and also an online fun day to replace our annual school one. These events have required our fantastic families to support us in a new way and they have amazed us with their response showing how amazing the community of Craigfelen really is!
When I originally thought up the wacky idea of Virtual Sports Day, I did not even have a full plan of how it would work. My own wife thought it was a silly idea and that I was creating work for myself. I had a look on Twitter and saw some fab ideas from a school in Cardiff and a school in England who had held sports days in different formats. From these ideas I formulated a plan and took to social media to launch this plan into action. I wanted there to be a community feel to our virtual sports day and for everyone to feel part of a special occasion, possibly even have something fun to remember from their time in lockdown.
The plan I created involved pupils doing 6 events at home whilst still competing for their houses they normally would in our annual sports day. These events had to be carefully planned to ensure children had access to the resources needed for each event, I wanted this to be truly accessible to all. The events I planned were split into morning and afternoon sessions. The morning contained an obstacle course (each child could design their own in their gardens), egg and spoon race (or whatever you could balance on a spoon) and throw catching (how many times could you clap between the time you throw an item in the air and then catch it.) Our afternoon events were balancing something on your head, racket bounce ( or frying pan bounce if you had no racket) and the washing line challenge (how quickly could you peg 5 items on a washing line) These events were added onto our learning platform and onto Seesaw over the weekend so the community could plan for them.
We had our events but we still needed to get that community feel and sense of occasion that sports day deserved. I decided I would introduce each session with demonstrations of the 3 events so went live on Facebook and Twitter to launch and demonstrate them, I used my own children to demonstrate some of the events. This allowed for interaction between me and those watching and created the community feel. Another vital action to creating a sense of occasion was getting staff to create video good luck messages to pupils, but why stop at staff? We had local celebrities, international sports people and politicians all sending messages or tweets of support. This motivated our families and pupils further and created a true sense of occasion. I went about getting these messages by turning into nag on Twitter and tweeting everybody and anybody I could possibly think of, some replied with support others didn’t but overall, we had a massive amount of support. I posted messages on Twitter and Facebook to show our community the support they were getting which were really well received.
Another vital aspect of the day to create that sense of community was posting any pictures and videos that came in. We asked our families to send in as many as they could and were overwhelmed by the amount we received. My phone and laptop were recharged on 3 separate occasions as the battery ran out. These constant photo and video updates showed that we are one community and we are all in it together. It was lovely for everybody to see everyone else and to see families in their gardens doing something together. We even had parents sending in videos of themselves competing!
In my opinion sports day is not sports day without a winning house. We managed to create a winning house by asking everyone who competed to fill in a Microsoft Form to calculate points for us and by the end of the day we had our winners but in truth everybody who competed was a winner as they had all enjoyed. We finished the day with a sports day school disco which again was a massive success. We have received great feedback about our virtual sports day and 100% of those involved enjoyed it and could not suggest any improvements. To me the smiles in the pictures and videos say everything you need to know.
My advice to others would be plan something that will work for your community and utilise what is there, one size cannot fit all. As a school we are already looking at different ways we can bring our community together in these challenging times as we believe our community is stronger when we are together. This pandemic has truly shown me how special our community really is!