A reflection on how the College handled the COVID-19 crisis

June 22, 2020

Students join in class from home via Microsoft Teams

The word ‘unique’ is, at times, used far too freely to describe a situation or event.

However, the period of time since the declaration of COVID-19 as a pandemic can indeed be described as ‘unique’.

Clearly, every student, his family, the entire College staff and all areas of the school’s operations were affected by this virus.

Had someone said at the start of the year that by mid-April the College’s 1350-plus students would be engaged in full-time online learning from home, and that our teaching staff would also be working from home, they would have been deemed insane.

How could it be possible that an organisation as large and as complex as St Patrick’s College could manage such a fundamental shift to its existing procedures?

Such wholesale changes, if planned, would probably be managed over a five-year period.  Due to the sudden surge of COVID-19, we effectively managed such a change in five days.

“The recent weeks have only served to highlight what I tell everyone I meet about why I work at St Patrick’s,” Acting Principal Stephen Hill wrote to parents in mid-April.

“This is a great school to lead because it is filled with boys who love their school, parents who support their son’s learning and an incredibly capable and talented staff.  The efforts of staff, students and parents over the past few weeks stand as clear evidence of the truth of this statement.

“Many of you may have heard me speak at assemblies and information nights in the past about the strong partnership that exists between parents and teachers of St Patrick’s College.

“Never before has this partnership been more important than in the current environment. The worldwide COVID-19 pandemic has created a period of disturbance the likes of which none of us has endured before.

“Our daily routines and rituals have been put on hold indefinitely. Many of us are housebound, fearful that a loved one may fall ill to this easily communicable disease which has already killed so many around the world.

“At St Patrick’s College, we remain steadfastly committed to doing our bit to help stop the spread of this disease while also maintaining our commitment to working with parents to provide the best possible educational outcomes for your boys.

“I am incredibly proud of the way our staff have worked tirelessly over the past few weeks to prepare our community for the move to remote learning. This has been a massive challenge – one which normally would only be enacted over a period of years, not mere weeks. Parent feedback over the past week tells me that, for most of you, this has been a great success.”

The College managed its remote and flexible learning environment using Microsoft Teams. In the final days of Term 1, staff and students were urgently trained in the management of this emerging platform. While there were hiccups and mis-steps along the way, overwhelmingly the period of online learning was seen as being successful.

In fact, many of the lessons learned during this period will shape the future teaching and learning offerings of the College.

After a few weeks of students and staff working from home, parents were asked to respond to a survey.

Of the 315 responses, 91% said the College’s transition to remote and flexible learning this term had either met, exceeded or far exceeded their expectations.

Equally pleasing is the fact that 88% of respondents said their son was coping either as expected or better than expected.

“This feedback is incredibly encouraging for our staff who continue to work so hard to make the best of a difficult situation, and also for our students, many of whom are working just as diligently to make this experience as successful and engaging as possible,” Mr Hill said.

“We are also thankful for the many constructive comments parents supplied in the survey, particularly around student workloads, and have worked to implement changes in our classrooms.”

Mr Hill said many staff worked tirelessly through the Easter holiday period to prepare the College community for the transition and that those sacrifices were greatly appreciated by all.

“So many people worked so many hours – long days and long nights – at a time during which they would normally be on holidays to make this possible,” he said.

“They put the educational and welfare needs of our students at the forefront of all their thinking and they should be justifiably proud of the results.

“On behalf of all students and parents, I thank these staff members for the dedication and unwavering commitment.”