“A surreal experience” – Kirby Short on teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic

10 May, 2020
Retiring Brisbane Heat and Queensland skipper Kirby Short is one of Australia’s 288,000-plus teachers navigating their way through the impact of COVID-19.

The dual WBBL Champion is Deputy Principal at Brisbane’s MacGregor State High School and has remained in the classroom alongside staff and students throughout the pandemic.

“I think from a teacher’s perspective, it’s been a bit of a surreal experience and it’s been a period where we've had to be pretty agile and flexible as an entire profession,” she told the Australian Cricketers’ Association.

“Schools all around the country, are having similar conversations in terms of the steep learning curve we are experiencing as we navigate the possibilities and opportunities of learning remotely. It does not matter what department, faculty, role or school you are in, I think the feeling and challenges are quite similar. It may well present a great opportunity with work across sectors and even states” Short said.

As governments and health authorities across Australia have tightened social distancing and self-isolation procedures, schools across the country have remained open. And while it’s a challenge for schools to adhere to social distancing measures, Short explains that members of the education profession are placing their faith in the advice directed from the government and medical professionals.

“There are obviously dangers and challenges associated with proximity and direct interaction with people, and that's been made quite clear. But equally, there are really clear precautions that sit around those protocols. The bottom line is, schools wouldn't be open if it really wasn't safe. We put our trust in medical professionals and the government to make responsible choices about that. Ultimately, we just want to continue to provide opportunities for our students to keep learning.”

“I can probably appreciate both the pros and cons [of keeping schools open]. In a way, it has been difficult to engage with the gravity of the situation, because from our perspective, with schools remaining open a degree of routine has been maintained. Given the ambiguity and uncertainty of our society at the moment, and how confronting that can be, any normalcy we can offer students, is important.”

Kirby Short - Queensland Captain & Deputy Principal

To us, Kirby Short is known as captain of the Brisbane Heat & Queensland Fire. But to others, she's known simply as Miss Short, Deputy Principal at MacGregor State High School 📕

The heightened social distancing measures however have taken their toll on school attendance, with class sizes dwindling in the lead up to the Easter School Holidays.

“Attendance was certainly lower than normal leading into the student free days (week 10) – there was a stage where we had about half the school community in attendance. This was potentially a reaction from parents to government announcement, which translated to reduced school attendance.”

While teachers are offered special leave during these trying circumstances, Short along with the majority of staff have remained at school, planning for what the future holds, whether it be in a classroom or remote learning.

“We've been really fortunate with the kinds of leave that have been offered to us and I think those who have expressed any sorts of concerns, which is a natural human reaction, have been able to access that leave, and still work remotely.”

“I've been at school every day. We're pretty deliberate with how our meetings etc. are set up. Given the possibility of remote learning, we have been experimenting with conducting meetings via online platforms so we are sitting in our own office, or alternate locations around the school. This allows us to appropriately distance ourselves, whilst preparing for a different way of working” she said.

In the week leading up to Easter school holidays, the Queensland government enforced five mandatory student free days. However, with no confirmation about whether schools will remain open or closed following the holidays, that ambiguity is providing a real challenge for teachers. If schools do remain closed, remote learning will be a reality facing students and teachers.

“It is quite difficult, and obviously different contexts experience different challenges. Broadly, there are questions of equity and ultimately, schools just want to offer quality learning opportunities for students. For us, there are some staff who are utilising flipped classrooms and videos to deliver content and utilising Skype and OneNote, amongst a lot of other resources. I think there are some staff who see it as a great opportunities to continue to explore what they are already doing in the IT space. There are also other staff, particularly in practical areas who are quite challenged by the prospect of such a significant change to learning.”

In extreme cases, that impact [of teachers] can be quite profound. We might be the only hope that a child has.

Kirby Short

With many people now forced into home schooling, parents have taken to social media to reinforce just how important and valuable teachers are.

“We understand the impact that we [teachers] can potentially have. In extreme cases, that impact can be quite profound… we might be the only hope that a child has, if their situation at home is complicated. That's where that notion of building relationships and their importance are so significant in the context of what teachers can provide. We are faced with the potential challenge of doing that remotely.” she said.

“I think if you asked most teachers why they entered the profession, something in their answer would be about how they want to help students and find satisfaction in supporting their growth and development as people and learners. I think it's really easy to underestimate the impact those relationships have on student learning, not to mention the value of a teacher.”

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