Coronavirus has changed everything. We’ve been constantly adapting to changes in advice and guidelines, both at home and work. But what about when things start adjusting back to some sort of normal?
This week it was announced that schools in the UK may start phasing back to the classroom from June.
Other countries have already announced their own phasing back plans. So, what does this process look like from a teacher’s perspective?
We spoke to Camilla Leistiko, an English language and maths teacher from St. Joseph’s Institute in Copenhagen, Denmark. St Joseph’s is a bilingual school, with both Danish and English pupils. After government guidelines changed around 4 weeks ago, St. Joseph’s opened its doors once again for students aged 6-10. Camilla explained to us how this process has worked, and what it’s been like for teachers.
“Going back to school has been really nice. It’s been great to have smaller groups of children as it changes the dynamic and the pace.”
St Joseph’s closed on March 11th after a public address by the government to stay home if possible. Then, as with many teachers around the world, those of St Joseph’s had to adapt to working from home.
For 2 months, classes moved online in one guise or another. “I’ve never been more stressed in my life!” Camilla admits. She’s taught for 21 years, both in the UK and Denmark, but nothing had prepared her for the change. “I’m not of the generation who has learned IT at school myself… To me, that has always been my biggest hurdle, to keep up.”
They started with the basics and worksheets were emailed. After 2 weeks, she learned new technology and Google Meets were created with small groups. The children took to online lessons incredibly well and enjoyed learning via video. “They loved it! They’ve never been so quiet, so concentrated!” Camilla herself soon started to enjoy the new challenge of navigating the right technology to deliver her lessons.
With lockdown initiated early, Denmark felt confident to begin a phase-back plan after just over 4 weeks. The State Minister told the country that years 0-5 (ages 6-10) could go back to school. Immediately following this announcement, St Joseph’s leadership team spent a long weekend planning out what this return would look like and how to implement it safely. The teachers came into the school where they were allocated new classrooms and spent time spacing out desks and pegs. They ordered hand sanitiser and soaps and created new guidelines.
The school day is now just a morning, with a 9am start and 1pm finish. With only half the school returning, classes could be split across multiple classrooms. There are currently 12 pupils per class, with one teacher who spends the whole school day with them. Desks are spaced with children sitting 2 metres apart. “We literally measured! It works very well while we’re in the classroom,” Camilla shares. The school has also implemented much more outdoor teaching and while Denmark has had great Spring weather, it’s been easier to learn outside where space is easier to maintain.
Pegs are spread out for coats and bags and bathrooms have been made exclusive. One bathroom per class, clearly labelled. An extra cleaning crew comes into the school twice a day to clean down desks, handles and bathrooms.
The playground has also been modified to reflect social distancing rules and is split into 3 areas to prevent too much interaction, but sometimes the children can get too close. Camilla explains that children play and it’s not always easy to keep them apart every minute. “But we’re in the fresh air and we have clean hands. We sneeze in our sleeves and if anyone is remotely unwell in the morning, they’re not allowed in school.” So far, the school has had no coronavirus cases since they’ve been back. Even the climbing frame is sanitised daily.
Hand-washing and sanitising are still key. “I worked it out,” Camilla says, “and it’s 6 times a day. When we come into school, before a snack, after a snack, before lunch, after lunch and before we go home. So in a 4-hour day, that’s quite a lot of time spent on that.” The children don’t need reminding any more, it’s just become a routine part of their day.
The school still do their morning assembly, but it’s now online. This way, they can maintain a routine for the pupils but it also makes the whole school feel united even when they’re apart. “The classes take it in turns to stand in the big hall, where they join our music teacher for a prayer and a song. She then has an iPad on a trolley and rolls it down the rows of children who can see and wave to their classmates watching down the hall in their classrooms. It gives a good sense of community.”
One thing that hasn’t made it through the new regulations is toys. “We banned all toys, otherwise you’d have to sanitise every single toy and Lego block 4 times a day. You just can’t do that. So toys are out of bounds. And [the children] are not missing them!”, Camilla says. “They play hide-and-seek and they haven’t missed any of the normal toys they share usually.”
The next step is bringing the whole school back to the classroom. The older children are due to go back to school on Monday 18th May. There will be very strict guidelines on this return to allow the lower school to continue safely. These are still a work in progress, but Camilla believes lessons for older students will run later in the day, with a break between sessions for the cleaning crew to sanitise the school. Older students have been missing the social element of being with friends, so this is important to address. Camilla imagines classes could look different for them and rely more on autonomous learning outside the classroom.
We asked Camilla what tips she has for teachers who may be getting ready to phase back to the classroom and school environment. “Don’t panic! Take your time and spend one more day on planning the return, rather than having to return too quickly. Try and think every scenario through, how’s it going to work? You have to feel comfortable with the kids coming back and you are doing the best job you can in the new surroundings… Don’t rush into it.”
Camilla is happy and doesn’t feel like she’s in a position of danger. “I personally was just thrilled to get back to work and back to my kids, but I appreciate that people are worried.” Overall, the situation has been very positive, and Camilla has never felt more appreciated as a teacher. “We’ve all had the nicest comments from the parents, and so much kindness.”
Are you interested in the experiences of teachers around the world who are adapting to teaching in new ways? Try our teacher experience articles:
- Moving online in Los Angeles;
- Don’t hang up! Keeping adult learners on track online: part 1 | part 2;
- Tips for switching to online classes.
We’ll be continuing to share advice, tips and tools to help you adapt to teaching in new environments and motivating children at home. If you’d like to read more blog articles from the Supporting Every Teacher series, click here.