Silver linings: How PLC Sydney made the most of remote learning

How PLC Sydney made the most of remote learning.

Online Learning, Skylar Lovelle Tapia, Year 3

The coronavirus induced transition to remote learning presented a huge range of challenges to schools and families, with many parents fearing that their children would be disadvantaged by the disruption.

But at PLC Sydney it was far from a bad experience. In fact, it was a great win for us, thanks to swift action and a lot of hard work.

By the time NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced the closure of schools as part of the non-essential services lockdown, PLC Sydney had already taken classes online.

In fact, it was a great win for us, thanks to swift action and a lot of hard work.

We actually started on the Thursday before the premier made it official on the Monday. We decided when the curve really took off that we would try to avoid having a case and look after our staff [who] were particularly vulnerable because of adult-to-adult transmission.

Using Zoom video conferencing software for lessons and Google Classroom for homework and assignments, the school of almost 1400 students didn’t skip a beat. Even the technology cooperated, with PLC Sydney encountering far fewer problems than anticipated.

The hardest part was keeping students engaged with learning, especially in the early years. For Years 3-12, it worked really well. We were primarily concerned for the young ones, as they needed more assistance.

The hardest part was keeping students engaged with learning, especially in the early years...

Dr Paul Burgis, Principal, Presbyterian Ladies College

To provide that, we employed a “multi-modal framework” with lots of activity-based learning and problem solving tasks, supplemented by explanations and individual follow-up, he says.

Creative Challenges

“Power Up Wednesdays” allocated a day every week to creative, physical and wellbeing projects to help students cope with the emotional burden of isolation. A competition to “Walk Around the World” saw the girls collectively take enough steps around their homes to get to Florence, Italy; while the “Portrait in Isolation” project challenged students and staff to express their feelings in a self-portrait.

Year 12 student Helena Law’s self-portrait for PLC Sydney’s Portraits in Isolation exhibition.
PLC Sydney students engaging in one of the many online physical challenges during the pandemic.

We also did a living history project, where students wrote their experience of working at home to pass on to future generations. One of the museums in Sydney thought it was a great project and they’re going to do something with it.

I’ve been really impressed by how calmly the girls have gone about things. Across the whole school the students have been fantastic. We haven’t had any increase in wellbeing issues; if anything slightly less.

I want to pay tribute to the teachers for that. The comment from the students was that the teachers were really there for them.

Positive Outcomes

Positive outcomes from remote learning can be felt throughout the school. Zoom has worked so well that we’ll be incorporating it permanently for classes at PLC Sydney’s Jindabyne-based Winter School. Boarders stranded overseas and in country NSW have been able to return to school virtually, and taking P&F meetings online has tripled attendance.

Parent information session have gone digital too. Our inaugural webinar for 130 prospective parents was logistically challenging but ultimately very successful. I presented, one of our vice-captains spoke and we did a virtual tour of the college. Our executive were all on standby to chat. Parents typed in questions and I answered as many as I could and the executive were all typing away answers. The feedback was very positive and we did receive quite a few enrolments, so we were all extremely pleased with the outcome.

As constructive as these past few weeks/months have been though, nothing can replace the social aspects of school. Students really missed their peers. After a while, working from home becomes a bit like Groundhog Day, every day follows the same pattern. With 'face to face' we read the nuances and enjoy the physical company of others.

Remote learning has many advantages but it’s exhausting in the long term and requires heavy lifting from teachers, students and parents to make it work.

I’ve really appreciated how the staff, teachers and executive have come together to make sure the learning worked. They’ve all been working extremely hard and they’ve done a fantastic job. And of course, we’ve all been incredibly grateful for the amazing support of our parents, students and the community in general .... and because of that, online learning throughout 2021 has worked really well.

Dr Paul Burgis

PhD (UNSW), MEd, BEd, Dip Tch (Eng/His-sec), Dip Div/Miss

Dr Paul Burgis is the current Principal of the Presbyterian Ladies College, Sydney. Paul is married and has three daughters and lives in Drummoyne, Sydney. In his leisure time he enjoys reading history, theology, philosophy and poetry, supporting the Cronulla Sharks and wild bird photography. He worships with his family at Drummoyne Presbyterian Church.