This week, as the physical parameters of our world were constrained, we found our minds being stretched and our horizons broadened in different ways, as pupils and staff at Brighton Girls got to grips with working from home and demonstrated just what it means to “learn without limits”. As far as the response from our pupils is concerned, I know that parents will have witnessed the full spectrum of emotions: some adrift without public exams; some overworked; some underworked; some simply struggling to make sense of the world. I am yet to gather detailed feedback from the girls (this will happen from Monday) but I know that many have excelled in their first week of learning in the virtual version of Brighton Girls. I have heard some great stories: vlogs have been established; Year 11s have been challenged to recreate scenes from their set texts using items found in the home; we are running the hustings for Head Girl remotely, using videos produced by each candidate. I have been pleased to see projects coming to fruition, like Mrs Tyson’s Brighton Biscuit Project with Year 8. The challenge was to design some Brighton Girls biscuits, shaped and flavoured to represent the values of the school. There was a feminist biscuit “for strong women” and then this: “My idea is to do a vanilla cookie with added oats and maple syrup, and a light bulb for the shape. This light bulb represents people thinking for themselves and bright minds, which I think is represented well at our school”.

On the subject of people thinking for themselves and bright minds, I would like to give you an insight into what the staff have been up to this week.

The BOOC (Brighton Open Online Course, and our answer to remote learning) got off to a slow start on Tuesday as, nationwide, Firefly struggled to cope with the volume of traffic but, back in Brighton, staff were quick to respond: Google Meet lessons were up-and-running from Day One, as planned, and (largely thanks to the enthusiasm and creativity of Mr Higgins and Ms Kerridge) by Day Two, staff were engaged in bespoke online training in how to make the most of Google Classroom, both as an organisational alternative to Firefly and as a tool to encourage collaborative learning. As is often the way, the initial glitch forced us to find creative solutions and this accelerated our progress. I, too, found myself on a steep learning curve: the same false start with Firefly led me to seek an alternative platform for daily assemblies; by 9am, I was being up-skilled by Miss Pearson, who gave me on-the-spot training in how to publish video content to Instagram, allowing me to reach a wide pupil audience quickly and efficiently. As of today, I am using daily polls in Instagram Stories to capture the mood of the pupil body. As I type this, 78% of pupils are telling me they are enjoying learning from home. That’s not bad for a Friday morning.

I have said it many times since I arrived, but the sense of camaraderie amongst the staff at Brighton Girls is second-to-none. What has struck me this week has been the resilience of our teachers and their willingness to adapt – two important traits we want to instil in our pupils. Seeing staff respond in this way, in such exceptional circumstances, gives me great hope for the future.

On one of the many podcasts or news features I have listened to recently, I heard someone question the use of the term ‘social distancing’. The suggestion was that ‘physical distancing’ would be more accurate and more appropriate. I couldn’t agree more: remote working has, in many ways, brought us closer together; it has at least enhanced certain aspects of our behaviour and brought the things we value most into sharp relief. This week, teachers have continued to observe morning break, for example; Mr Marsh has continued to inflict on us his repertoire of bad jokes (if anything, this habit has got worse); Mr Sherwood has established a virtual social club within WhatsApp – there is no dress code, every hour is happy hour, and everyone is welcome (even former staff are invited). Every day, the staff at Brighton Girls have demonstrated that physical distance has done nothing to diminish our community; in fact, it seems to be making us stronger.

Next week, I will be checking in with each class through Google Meet and gathering stories from the girls. I suspect there is some anxiety about the loss of conventional teaching time, but I hope to encourage pupils to engage in a different, and arguably more important, form of learning: that is, learning to recognise what they value most.

Until next week, follow our various social media feeds for assemblies as well as updates on what is happening at Brighton Girls:
Instagram: @brightongirlshead or @brighton_girls
Twitter: @RosieMcColl or @BrightonGirls