Online training during COVID-19: a necessary evil or a silver lining?

By Emma Dove

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

During the first UK COVID-19 lockdown educational psychology services had to find new ways to support children and young people, their families and schools. One example of this was through the delivery of online training sessions for school staff. In my experiences of online training for schools during COVID-19, I encountered both strengths and barriers to effective training development and delivery. Despite this change in the way in which training was delivered evaluations from school staff were positive and suggest that further use of online training may be a more permanent feature of service delivery.

My experience 

Working remotely on placement in an educational psychology service during COVID-19, one of my key roles was to work with educational psychologists to develop and deliver training on supporting school staff wellbeing. The intended audience was school senior leaders and the focus was supporting wellbeing and normalising the anxiety people may be experiencing given the COVID-19 context. We felt it was important to steer clear of being yet another list of ‘to dos’ for how to look after wellbeing. We were keen for the training to focus on positive psychological models which encourage the nurturing of a range of aspects of wellbeing. Rather than a one size fits all model, this could be applied by each setting to suit their staff’s needs. With a colleague, I delivered the training on a weekly basis via Microsoft Teams. It was conducted synchronously (live) with a small group of 12 school leaders at a time. Our aim was that this would allow for discussion and peer support.

Soon I found myself preparing to deliver my first online training session from my ‘office’ (i.e. the chair closest to the wireless router). It was an anxiety provoking experience. My typical nerves before delivering training were mixed with additional fears. Would the IT work? Would online learning support collaboration and learning? And was anyone even out there?

Was it successful?

My reflections after delivering the training session online over a number of weeks, were that it was a really useful tool for the EPS to support schools. I enjoyed the opportunity to repeatedly deliver training and be able to refine and improve it. The initial strangeness of speaking to a screen subsided and on the whole the technology worked. However, I found it challenging to ‘read the room’ in the way I usually would during training and adapt to the needs of the group.

Building reflection and planning time into the training session was very powerful as leaders were able to provide ideas and ask questions of each other. The use of the chat function facilitated contributions by making it less intimidating for people to share. This also helped me to feel connected to the attendees. The experience of the training showed that the peer support it provided was vital, especially at a time when staff were often isolated by remote working themselves. Staff views from the evaluation questionnaire confirmed the positive impact of running online training. They reflected that the training was very useful in supporting their own wellbeing as well as that of their staff team. They felt that the delivery and materials were very clear and high quality. A number of attendees noted how useful they found the psychological models for reflecting on their own and their school circumstances. The feedback also supported how the staff found the sharing of practice across settings beneficial.

What next?

Whilst online training was brought about in response to the circumstances of COVID-19, after such a successful foray into this approach I feel it shouldn’t be restricted to a COVID response. As one attendee asked, is this the “way of working for the future?”. The move to increased remote working has been a steep learning curve for many of us but there are some benefits from this way of working that we can take forward into whatever future awaits us.

Emma is a trainee educational psychologist who is currently in Year 2 of the initial training course at the University of Birmingham

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