Compiled by a few of us in Literacy Aotearoa…
Maintaining our national connectedness, adaptability and a sense of humour became the mantra for Literacy Aotearoa during lockdown. For a national organisation that covers the motu from Cape Reinga to Bluff, it was critical for our organisation to have a sense of connectedness and continuity during this intense moment in our history – and lessen the anxiety and negative effects of lockdown.

Karakia became a daily channel for virtual face-to-face and a check in with everyone’s wellbeing. All staff could Zoom in if they wished to as well as members of our Board. Naturally, with all the dynamic personalities of our people in the room, it wasn’t hard to go into the day with a lightness of spirit. Who wouldn’t smile at the light banter and teasing, the jostling to promote each other’s area as the best place to be and pride for each one’s local area shining through, the ingenuity of virtual backgrounds, the positioning to catch the best Zoom angles, the North Islanders (ok Aucklanders mainly) remarking on the cold when actually it was t-shirt weather in the South! There might be a closedown at the Kapiti Coast border soon as this sounded like the place to be as touted by our local peeps.

And not one for missing the opportunity, karakia was a perfect opportunity on a national scale to introduce Te Kupu o te Wiki in te reo Māori and introduce some Pasifika Greetings. It became part of the morning ritual. Well done to all our staff for embracing this moment. We have champions of Ngā Kupu o te reo Māori and Pasifika greetings throughout the motu.

Added to this, it was a good time to remind everyone to take an ergonomic break and stretch as well as taking the opportunity to remind everyone to take a break from the computer and exercise.

Within no time, Zoom became the buzzword! If you were easing into Zoom before the lockdown, that went out the door. From karakia through to tuition, everyone became Zoom supercharged.

If the tutoring was going to be a challenge, I knew that it was one that we, as an organisation, would have to face together. It may not have been an easy transition, as one of Literacy Aotearoa tutors outlined his experiences, but it was definitely a time of experimentation as everyone explored this new and unfamiliar territory:

“Two days prior to lockdown I had little insight into what the implications for tutoring would be. I was skeptical about my chances of success; that the teaching would be engaging and effective. How to build the centrepoints of trust and rapport? How to structure the class? How best to support people online? Monitoring and helping out when needed is clunky at best.

“I contacted my learners, brought home a few resources, and checked in with students about the state of their connectedness. This ranged from full internet with laptop to a cellphone with no credit (uh-oh). There were casualties – a small high-needs group in the too-hard basket was placed on hold. The last day in the office saw me delivering a laptop to a young mum so that she could stay with her work-ready course.

“The first week was a blur of finding an online platform that worked, learning what works with teaching online, and connecting with learners under lockdown. Some, being essential workers, had other priorities. The responsibility to make teaching work and nine or 10 hours per day interacting with a computer screen did not make for a restful week’s sleep.

“Expectation setting and planning turned out to be key; we approached the first session as an experiment and I was frank with the students – if this is a waste of your time, then we don’t continue. It helped that the groups were small but the range of connection and capability made things challenging. Some creative solutions came out – dialling in to lessons both with cellphone and computer in order to have sound, vision and screen sharing.

“There was a LOT more admin and prep than I gave credit for. Everyone needed emails, calls, texts, links, reminders, more calls...

“Maths was simplest: watch online videos (a different voice and saves your own) and solve problems together. It helped that the group was at a similar level. The group of eight healthcare workers doing introductory computer skills was a disaster! We split the group and the levels. This worked better.

“The Work Ready programme was compromised. A lot of the informal learning is raising self esteem, facilitating discussion of the anxiety resulting from the job-hunt and supporting the job-hunt. This was unrealistic under Level 4 with a melting employment market. We focused on unit standards and on the introspection that you need to do in order to know the work that you are suited to and how to present your most employable side to the world. They enjoyed the communication, especially those who lived alone.

“So we found that tutoring by distance is not like face-to-face, but it can work. It works best with learners that self-manage; it is a much harder job when they need support that is best done in person, kanohi ki te kanohi.”

We all, staff and learners alike, have come so far. We are Zoomers now – in all stages, some being more advanced than others. Zoom training and other online platforms were explored and tested. We are excited about the prospects of online training and delivery.

On a serious note, it was important for Literacy Aotearoa to acknowledge the constant challenges and changes this lockdown period created for staff, on top of learning how to sustain this new Zoom way of life, and to be aware of everyone’s state of wellbeing. To this end and in response to the request from staff, a daily ‘Update 2.30pm’ bulletin was provided to everyone. It was a dedicated channel for responding to staff queries about the alert levels, forum and opportunity to flag the potential implications to the organisation about delivery, information about wellbeing and Covid-19.

We continue to ease into a new normal as we cautiously allow some of our people back into some delivery sites throughout the motu.

The light-heartedness of some of the comments above may give the perception that we weathered the lockdown well. We did in some aspects. However, we also came away with a greater sense of reality in that we urgently need to improve some other aspects of our work. If Covid-19 is to provide a lesson, it is that for Literacy Aotearoa, the health of our national organisation remains one of being interdependent and interconnected in all aspects of our work. We are grateful for the fortitude and continuing commitment of Literacy Aotearoa staff and learners across the motu.

Literacy Aotearoa learners speak:

It’s OK, sometimes it’s frustrating as I only have a cellphone. I miss interacting with my classmates but at least I can still see them online. I am more independent now I guess. I can source the info I need online. It’s good that I can do a class while sitting in my living room.

I have been receiving tutoring at Literacy Aotearoa with Cameron to help with my numeracy and literacy in preparation for my psychometric assessment testing for the Police. Even though our classes have been running online due to Covid-19 we have had no disruption to our learning. The transition from face-to-face to online was smooth, professional with a twist of humour from my tutor which makes learning easy with Literacy Aotearoa! If you are wanting that little bit of extra help then Cameron's your man.