On Friday 29 May 2020, ITV ran a story on the London regional news about a primary school whose pupils were reported to be ‘traveling the world’ through the adoption of video conferencing (VC) technology in the midst of the school closures resulting from the UK response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Glade Primary School,* an east London school in the borough of Redbridge, is a longtime user of VC technology for learning and teaching, supported through the work of Video Conferencing for Global Learning (see Kidd, 2020). They use VC as a ‘window’ to other places and spaces to make deep connections with other content providers around the world. This is as much a matter of spatiality (Massey, 2005), and the location of social activity in space and time ‘at a distance’ (Giddens, 1986), as it is one of pedagogy. However, there is another side to the story, perhaps a more significant one for what we might refer to as the ethical craft practices (Sennett, 2008) that teachers at the school have adopted: they have drawn upon VC tools to synchronously teach all primary-aged year groups each week for a month, replicating the ‘classroom’ in ‘home learning’ contexts. They do this, as Sennett (2008) says, out of the desire to develop the ‘skill of making things well’ (p. 8) and ‘the desire to do a job well for its own sake’ (p. 9).
‘With the overwhelming diversity of schools and schooling in the UK comes a diversity of responses to our ‘new normal’ of home schooling. For some, video conferencing tools and remote teaching have allowed the “usual” to be maintained within unusual contexts.’
As a teacher educator and ethnographer interested in virtual methods (a ‘netnographer’ [Kozinets, 2010]) I have had, prior to this media reporting, the opportunity to have access to staff at the school for a series of online focus groups exploring their practice at this significant moment in history. As might be expected, with the overwhelming diversity of schools and schooling in the UK comes a diversity of responses to the home schooling that is, at least for a time, our ‘new normal’. For the teachers of Glade Primary, VC tools and remote teaching have allowed, within unusual contexts, the ‘usual’ to be maintained. For example, this ‘usual’ even extends to children continuing to raise their hands for bathroom breaks while in their own homes. Yet these ‘usual’ practices are highly agile and flexible, as are the teachers: one colleague gives the example of her cat walking across the table in front of her screen, causing a tangent in the lesson. These new flexibilities are intensified in online spaces.
This is certainly a new ‘space’ for the teachers, pupils and parents, yet it is one that is dependent upon the old ‘space’ of the school – a space that everyone is keen eventually to return to. The teachers at the school see the importance of community within these new spaces. They are very conscious of the increased collaboration they have had with parents to make this VC teaching possible – an unintended and highly positive outcome of the Covid-19 crisis. In this sense, despite initial worry about ‘how different it will be’, teachers at Glade are ‘grateful for community’, and they also see their VC teaching as ‘maintaining community in difficult times for families’. Teachers speak warmly of an increased sense of an ‘even more special relationship with pupils’ fostered and enabled by the move into these unusual spaces – the kitchens and front rooms of home learning. As one teacher explains,
‘I am the same me, but not in the same way. I teach the same and the pupils are the same, but I feel closer to them now than before… I am having to be more flexible’.
In this regard, the adoption of VC tools by the school develops ‘the sense of understanding things, experiencing them, learning how to do them and getting tangible results’ (Sennett, 2008: 16). It is a craft practice developed for and accommodating the unusual times the school community currently finds itself in. The teaching is remote, the spaces are new, but the relationships are not remote: they are as close as always.
*Please note the school name is identified here with the permission of the headteacher.
Giddens, A. (1986). The constitution of society: Outline of the theory of structuration. Cambridge: Polity.
Kidd, W. (2020). An ethnographic perspective on teachers-as-designers in Video Conferencing pedagogy: A matter of craft, ethics and identity. Research in Teacher Education, 9(2).
Kozinets, R. V. (2010). Netnography: Doing ethnographic research online. London: SAGE.
Massey, D. (2005). For space. London: SAGE.
Sennett, R. (2008). The craftsman. London: Penguin Books.