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How CIT Teachers are Rising to the COVID-19 Challenge

Earlier this year the AEU ACT Branch asked members to tell us about how they have faced the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic. In this interview, Danielle Lynch tells us about how she and her team have been helping the Canberra Institute of Technology to continue to deliver results for staff and students in the most challenging of conditions.

What is your role as an educator and how have your plans and preparations for the 2022 academic year changed in response to the pandemic?

My role is to prepare students for industry, to work with them to develop and refine the necessary skills, knowledge and attributes to deliver high quality, empowered support to vulnerable members of the disability and ageing population within the Canberra community.

2022 will pose new challenges in both the Vocational Education and the Aged and Disability support contexts. We are almost 2 years into this pandemic and this time has allowed me to apply the lessons learn from 2021 & 2020 to make sure that, as an educator, I am as flexible and as responsive as possible to the dynamic nature of both sectors. I am prepared to teach both in a traditional classroom setting, especially in relation to practical skills, but also online when appropriate, using tools and supports to ensure the quality of both the education and the workers produced is not compromised.

Unionism is about solidarity and bringing people together to fight for a common cause. Did we see people showing solidarity during the pandemic?

Absolutely! During times where the world can change with little or no notice, what has given resilience and strength to my team has been the extraordinary capacity to pull together and tackle this complex time in a united manner. Collaborating both formally and informally, within and across teams, with a commitment to the continued delivery of Vocational Education has meant we have been able to learn from each other, share skills and resources and draw on the strength of our peers.

Schools and TAFEs always have education as their first priority, but they fill a number of other roles in the community. Did the balance of those priorities change due to the pandemic?

During the pandemic, supporting students on their pathways and assisting to meet their educational and career goals has still been the forefront of the work we do. However, the need for trained, skilled staff has grown significantly during the past 2 years, particularly within the Ageing, Community, Disability and Health sectors. Industry needs these staff to be truly job ready and prepared to fill roles supporting vulnerable people to live their lives. CIT makes a significant and meaningful contribution to this workforce in the ACT and region, ensuring we endeavour to meet the needs of the students, industry and broader community, especially during these unprecedented times.

CIT, like all TAFEs, is going through a transitional period where it is redefining its role and the way it engages with people looking to learn new skills. Has the pandemic taught us any lessons that will help to guide the future of TAFE?

CIT has always been flexible and responsive to both students and industry. This flexibility has been paramount to the continuation of the delivery of Vocational Education during this period. Having more tools, skills and knowledge, particularly in relation to the remote delivery of learning, has enabled this. CIT has had to meet students where they are at and consider the needs and expectations of its’ students when developing and delivering education to each cohort.

For some students, they were we well prepared to make the switch to online learning, for others the barriers in relation to digital literacy or even the technology and internet access to study remotely, proved too much. As a vocational education institute, we must be prepared and committed to delivering education that meets the needs of the enormous spectrum of students and their capacities, or these students and their contribution to the community will be compromised or lost completely.

Educators and students had to learn new skills and new ways to work over a very short time. How did you manage the challenges that came up and what opportunities do you see to build on those new skills?

Having had only a taste of delivering remotely, my skills and access to tools and resources in this space was quite limited. However, given opportunities to engage in workshops and support from within CIT, I have been able to become quite effective in teaching remotely. Being able to draw on the skills and knowledge on other team members, enabled the development of skills and confidence to teach in a flexible and blended manner – utilising both remote and traditional classroom settings. Seeing a portion of students struggle with remote learning meant I introduced more forums and models for learning, such as small group workshops and additional 1:1 supports where possible.

I’m not certain I always successfully met the challenges, and there is still work to be done to refine these skills. However, having these skills and flexibility as a educator, broadens the range of students and ways I can deliver in the future, and my capacity to be more flexible to engage a variety of student on and off campus.

There is no doubt that the pandemic has been stressful for educators in all sectors. How did you maintain morale when people were divided or under stress?

Ensuring the stayed connected to my team and continued to communicate and reach out meant I was able to maintain a sense of connectedness and normality. I had a school aged child, learning remotely, and being home with her kept me focused and motivated to do both my work and support her.

My managers/supervisors were incredibly supportive and approachable throughout and continue to be so. I felt the pressure was relieved by their reassurance and guidance during a very challenging time both personally and professionally. My team is small but cohesive and collaborative, we genuinely respect and trust each other – not to mention a generous dose of humour and patience as required.

If you could see one thing change in your workplace, what would it be?

I’m convinced that with better funding models and a more realistic measure of the time, energy and hours that educators put into their practice, then students, teachers, industry and the community would benefit from the outcome of this. There is still an expectation that educators put in so much of their own time to deliver quality education and particularly over the pandemic, this seems to go unacknowledged. The system of measuring outcomes through student completion rates and measuring accountable hours taught through TMS is deeply flawed. But that’s 2 things…

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