November 29th, 2020Principal and staff rise to COVID challenge
With its historic, picturesque building, including the imposing original clock (despite a bent minute hand) and set among stunning gardens, the walls could tell a thousand stories.
None possibly as unbelievable and unprecedented as the story of remote learning 2020. When Daylesford Primary, along with its annex schools Yandoit and Drummond, faced the challenges and uncharted COVID waters like millions of schools worldwide, it was important to view the situation as something unique. School principal Brett Millott also realised that this would be a time that everybody in the community would need to learn a lot of new things very quickly.
Supported by the teachers, education and administrative staff and backed by the school council, Brett worked with his team to organise the 250-plus students, their families and carers in an effort to get the best possible result from the first lockdown phase.
Brett admits while all schools have action plans in place for unique scenarios, no-one could have really foreseen a pandemic.
“Immediately we knew technology was the vital component. Families needed IT equipment and internet connection and we made sure they got it. We tapped into the community and we ensured every family had the support and access they needed for remote learning,” he said.
“Teachers, like thousands of Victorians, were working from home. It was an enormous undertaking and I don’t think anyone in the school community underestimates the work the teachers did over the two remote learning phases.”
While every family was faced with its own set of challenges, Brett said the first approach adopted was to try and replicate school with a focus on literature, numeracy and physical education as guided by the Education Department.
“That was our starting point. To encourage everyone to get into a rhythm and try to stay in the rhythm. But during the first lockdown we realised the importance of flexibility, knowing that every family was unique – many with multiple children, parents working from home, and uncertain times faced by everyone,” he said.
“Immediately following the first lockdown, the school council suggested that we survey families in order to generate vital feedback about the learning process. The response from the families was extraordinary and certainly influenced the way the school responded the second time around.
“’The survey feedback was about flexibility and individual needs. So, we started planning for the scenario of another remote learning phase and worked on models that were tailored for individual families. Teachers engaged with the school community so we could meet the needs of all students and their requirements within their individual context,” he said.
Brett looks back over the past year and said it certainly had its challenges. But when he made the decision to move to Daylesford a few years ago, he was “looking for a challenge”.
“When you’ve been in the principal gig for a while you start looking around for other challenges,” he said.
“I’d been at schools in Melbourne, taught in the UK for a year, spent time in Austria on a short-term teaching exchange and taught in Vienna with a high migrant population which spoke three languages. Thankfully I could speak some basic German, and many spoke English so we engaged in multiple languages which was fantastic.”
“So, when the principal’s position became available in Daylesford, I took it. I wanted the challenge of working in a regional school in a small community environment,” he said.
But the area wasn’t new to Brett. He has a long family connection from when his grandfather bought a property in Blackwood in 1938 – the property is still in the Coleman and Millott families.
“I’d spent a lot of time in the area as a child and the welcome shown by the community over the years was tremendous. Moving here to take on a principal’s role was a way of giving some of that goodwill back.
“The encouragement and advice I have received from Paul Nolan (senior education leader), local principals and the team from the Ballarat Regional Office has been fantastic. And the support from the local community has continued to this day,” he said.
Brett is a principal who, through his leadership and his team, has driven remote learning with compassion and courage over a one-size-fits-all curriculum style.
“We all had our ups and downs during the time but when the kids came back, they came back as a group, really switched on and it was like they really celebrated learning alongside their friends. It was a joy to see and the kids were fantastic throughout remote learning. The staff, students and families should all be proud of what they achieved,” he said.
…About that bent clock hand. A little digging has revealed it was local boy Nigel (small town, you’ll work it out) who, in grade 6 thought it would be a good idea for him and his mates to wrap a tennis ball in tape for additional strength. A pretty swift attacking shot sees the ball smash into the minute hand where it remains like that today…40-something years later.
Daylesford Primary School Principal Brett Millott with school captains Amelia (below left) and Tate (below right) with Naidoc Week Ambassadors Bianca and Bohdi who are among millions of kids around the world happy to be back at school following remote learning
Words & image: Narelle Groenhout