Our back to school experience is joyful and yet it presents its own challenges. Our students were out of school from December at the start of the Winter Holiday until May, after four long months of learning and connecting through Zoom classes and Seesaw. Students returned in stages with Grades 4 and 5 first, followed a week later by Grades 1-3 and this week saw the return of very few of our Early Years students.
We returned to mask wearing, social distancing, temperature taking, handwashing and sanitising at every turn. Thankfully from this week we have been able to chose not to wear a mask in school, although many students still are. The students cannot share resources and touch things without them being cleaned with alcohol afterwards. They have to sit at separate tables all facing the same way. In this respect we are lucky as we can fit our small numbers into our rooms still and are not having to break classes up or stagger the school day.
These tables look so old-fashioned in a school where we had done a lot of work with developing flexible learning environments; where students had some autonomy and choice in where to work and sit or stand. Previously they were able to get resources as they needed them, but now they are in baskets on the desks and they may no longer share. Group work and collaboration become challenging with children keeping a minimum one metre distance between each other. Teacher conferencing and support present other challenges.
I find myself walking around the school doing actions as if I am badly swimming breaststroke to remind students to keep the metre distance. When I was wearing a mask it made me realise how much I use my face and mouth to offer cues and clues when I am teaching and instead I perpetually looked like a weird fish! The challenges are many but the overriding feeling is one of joy. A school does not feel right without children in it with the sounds of playing and laughter. Teachers are smiling again and remembering how important that human connection is. We have all got really good at ‘air-high-fives’ and ‘air-hugs’.
As we celebrate our last few weeks with the children I have come to realise the challenges that those locked out of the country and unable to rejoin school are facing. As the English Language Acquisition (ELA) teacher I have had one to one Zoom sessions with some students which I am continuing. In fact I have increased the frequency as I think for those students this contact is even more important now. They are brought into class with their peers through Zoom but I think this personalised interaction and check-in time has taken on a whole new meaning for both sides. I wonder if there will be a case for continuing this interaction even after school closes in the summer as the children will probably still be locked down and isolated.
This pandemic has thrown up so many questions and it is, I fear, not over yet. When school is over I will leave this place and go to quarantine in the UK before taking up my next teaching post on another continent. I will re-live lockdown for a few months. I intend to spend some of that time reflecting on these last few months.
- What have we learned?
- What have we done well?
- What could we do better in a do-over?
- And most importantly – what do the kids think?
- What did they like/not like
- What worked for them/didn’t work for them
- What would they have liked more of/less of
If we had asked our students to plan the online learning and then back to school, what would they have done and what would they wish us to do if/when it happens again?