Like many other schools all over the world, Kaunas Jesuit High school, in Lithuania, has been conducting the educational process remotely for more than a month. Before the start of the quarantine, we all had definitely heard of virtual learning, but only a few of us had some experience of working with the students remotely. Such limited experience with distance learning was for an understandable reason: there was no need to switch to distance learning since this demand arose only from those who did not have the opportunity to attend traditional classes, but it was not the case for our students. However, the situation changed momentarily and radically. The danger of the corona virus not only changed our daily living habits but also reshaped education by moving it into the virtual space.
Technology proves to be a powerful tool supporting education in many ways making learning easier and more attractive to our students. We have no doubt that traditional teaching will no longer be the same as distance learning has become its integral part.”
This new situation brought not only new challenges for us, but also an exciting opportunity for innovative ways of teaching and learning, communicating, and working collaboratively. For all of us, it was a real test of unity in our community as well as of the capacity to mobilize and adapt ourselves sufficiently to the abrupt changes in living and working circumstances. It seems we managed to handle this challenge. It was hard to believe that we were able to set up a fully virtual school in just three days. We use Google Hangouts Meet and G Suite for Education, and some teachers work with Microsoft Teams and OneNote. Individual virtual classrooms were created for each student group. 9-12 graders have lessons in smaller differentiated groups, therefore we created different subjects’ classrooms so that every teacher could work in his/her own virtual space while students have to join their classrooms. We also created the virtual teachers’ room, technical support room, administration room, psychological and spiritual support rooms. Each morning half an hour before classes start, teachers and non-teaching staff gather in the teachers’ room to share any news, important information, on Mondays and Fridays we start our workday with common prayer, while on Wednesdays we exercise all together.
Distance learning opened up new educational opportunities and maximized creativity. Who would have thought a year or even half a year ago that we would completely move into a virtual environment where not only lessons would be held for students, but we would also celebrate Holy Mass, lead retreats and daily spiritual exercises, offer online Pilates classes and other activities seeking to live a normal and full life as much as possible. Technology proves to be a powerful tool supporting education in many ways making learning easier and more attractive to our students. We have no doubt that traditional teaching will no longer be the same as distance learning has become its integral part.
But still much needs to be done. Our main concern is to find the most effective ways to help students and staff ward off loneliness while in self-isolation, to manage student and teacher workloads in online learning, to create online tests for admission to grades 5 and 9, to ensure quality communication and maintain healthy interpersonal relationships. We encourage students to ask questions and share their thoughts and feelings about the current situation. Teachers practice active listening strategies, seeking to hear students’ concerns and anxieties, to respond to their reactions in a positive and supportive way. The role of the social pedagogue, psychologist, chaplain and pastoral staff is particularly important in the current situation. For us, as a Jesuit college, daily reflection and feedback from teachers, students and their parents are very important.
Our main goal is to unite the whole school community into one integrated system, in which we can support one another to survive and even grow during this difficult pandemic situation. We feel that this collaboration greatly strengthens us as a community.