Education has been at the forefront of every media bulletin since the COVID-19 pandemic began to impact our way of life. How schools offer continuity for each and every student as they travel on their own learning journey during these unsettling times has been the biggest question.
For Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta (CEDP) schools, it has only highlighted the need for all schools to step up and take part in the transformation learning journey its Western Sydney schools have been on for the past decade.
CEDP Director of Learning Maura Manning said very early on when the COVID-19 pandemic hit Australia, CEDP came up with a strategy to provide support and tools for schools which they could use discreetly and would complement the learning program they already provided.
Mrs Manning started with CEDP as its new Director of Learning at the beginning of the year and has held senior roles at Mount St Benedict College, Pennant Hills, Pymble Ladies’ College and Abbotsleigh, Wahroonga and taught at SCEGGS Darlinghurst, plus worked as Leader Professional Learning for the Diocese of Broken Bay.
Prior to commencing her work in education, she has had experience working in both business and journalism and also as the National Fair Education Director of Australian Schools Plus, a not-for-profit dedicated to seeking philanthropic support for disadvantaged schools.
Throughout her career in education, Mrs Manning has demonstrated she is prepared to think outside of the box, challenge traditional thinking and test the boundaries to ensure students are ready for a world that is changing fast. She has a Master of Educational Leadership and a Master of Education through the University of NSW and her research interests include leading innovative learning design and creative teaching practice as well as gifted education.
Her approach to the COVID-19 situation and its impact on schools was to help provide tools and support which was complementary to the good work already in place.
“A lot of conversations were had with our schools. We checked in with them to find out what their needs were and we kept reshaping what tools and support we could offer them. In fact our Learning Exchange team moved mountains to get schools the resources they needed,’’ Mrs Manning said.
Mrs Manning said CEDP is now about to develop a set of system design principles which will underpin the learning programs in place at schools.
“We want our students to be the owners of their learning journey. In a way, what COVID-19 has done is made us take a step back and observe what is actually going on at our schools. What we have seen has been amazing. Students have just run with the online learning and adapted to become more independent in their learning,’’ Mrs Manning said.
On the other hand, there have been challenges and one of them has been the issue of equity. “It is not a level playing field and these challenges affect our families so profoundly. However, one of our most responsive teams has been our attendance team and they have come up with some creative solutions,’’ Mrs Manning said.
One of those solutions has been the redeployment of the Up and Go bus, which is usually used to transport some of CEDP’s most vulnerable students to and from school. In a bid to continue to use the bus service to assist families in need, a great alternative solution was devised to provide access to learning resources. The bus became a learning pack drop off service!
“Schools are the glue which binds our community together. Schools are the place where people can come together and know there will be structure, routine and consistency to the children’s day. It also highlights the importance of the student teacher relationship. In its essence our kids and teachers have a relationship which should not be compromised and it is our work as a system which must help maintain those relationships’’, Mrs Manning said.
“It is important we don’t revert back to doing things the way we have always done it because it is easier. We need to consistently keep practicing and refining our new way of learning. Yes, for most of us this is a sudden normal. However, when we are challenged, it is human nature to want to prove to people we can transform. Now we need to refine and get better at it.
“These are unprecedented times and pressure makes diamonds and the greater the pressure the bigger the diamonds. I feel proud to be part of an organisation that has responded in such a honourable and thoughtful way during this time,’’ Mrs Manning said.
With thanks to Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta.