Queensland independent school principal Anne Donoghoe has just steered her staff, students and parents through one of the most tumultuous times in the school’s history.

But while the COVID-19 pandemic delivered plenty of upheaval for The River School, at Maleny in the Sunshine Coast hinterland, a number of silver linings are now emerging.

“We have all been through the biggest transition,” Ms Donoghoe (pictured above) says, “but we have been surprised at how successful it has been and especially how resilient the children have been.”

New ways of communicating

Like almost every school in Australia, establishing a remote learning system under tight deadlines was The River School’s first challenge as Term 1, 2020 came to a close.

The new “parent portals” the Prep-to-Year Six school decided to create on their website for Term 2 online lessons were such a success that the school will now keep them as a permanent communication channel with families.

“Parents know how to use them now, so we’ll keep it going,” Ms Donoghoe says.

“They are going to be really beneficial for many things: we’ll upload our newsletter there rather than email it out and we’ll post the weekly timetables and any additional work and projects.”

Good communication between school and home is something the school has always prided itself on, but that information sharing strengthened during home learning thanks to weekly Zoom catch-ups between teachers and parents and more regular emails.

“I think parents also now have a greater understanding of how their child is as a learner and that benefits everyone going forward.”

Resilient, independent students

Watching how her 121 students have adapted to the new drop-off and pick-up arrangements in Term 2 has been another big learning.

To comply with new health regulations restricting parent-mingling on school grounds, the leadership team had to devise a new kiss-and-ride system for morning drop-offs – a confronting change for many parents who were so used to the school’s open-door policy for families.

“The Deputy Principal or myself supervise the kiss-and-ride from 8.15am and each class teacher has a designated spot for their class to gather. The teacher and students all chat for 15 minutes or so then walk up together to the classroom. All that creates a nice feel to start the school day,” Ms Donoghoe says.

A new morning routine: Students from The River School find their teachers and gather into class groups before school.

“The children have dealt with a lot of changes really well but I think children are more resilient than we give them credit for.

“I think given the right nurturing and communicating and that the change isn’t too harsh, they adapt.”

Lots of take aways

Ms Donoghoe says the challenge now was not to lose any of the learnings the pandemic had provided.

“I’m really looking forward to all the good things we can take forward with us from this period,” she says.

“We’ve all stepped outside our comfort zone to get through the last few months – the question now is: “what can we learn from it and take with us?”.