How virtual 'home visits' helped a Dutch school reopen

One international school explains how video calls with parents and pupils helped to ease any anxiety about reopening
22nd May 2020, 3:02pm

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How virtual 'home visits' helped a Dutch school reopen

https://www.tes.com/magazine/archive/how-virtual-home-visits-helped-dutch-school-reopen
Coronavirus: Video Calls With Pupils & Parents Can Help To Ease Anxiety About Schools Reopening, Says One International School

At the British School in the Netherlands, staff and students have been back for two weeks now.

Preparing to reopen was not straightforward, but one initiative we implemented that helped was engaging in pupil-led video conferences the week before the reopening.

Hosted by the class teacher, each 15-minute conference involved the student, their parent and an additional known adult from the school.

Planned carefully ahead of the time, these became an opportunity to prepare the student for their return to school-based learning and proved invaluable.

They were a huge success and provided benefits for staff, pupils and parents alike. Here's what we did and how it helped.

Coronavirus: Preparing pupils for reopening schools

1. What preparations did staff do for the video calls?

Staff planned age-related activities that were sent out a week ahead to structure the meeting.

For example, as a prompt, the Foundation Stage 1 teachers had made a list of interests that pupils had shown on the Tapestry platform - eg, paintings, junk models, toys, counting experiences - that could be used to initiate or sustain a conversation.

The Year 6 students, meanwhile, were asked to prepare a presentation about their experiences during the school closure and how they had demonstrated the school's character during that period. 

Having these rationales for the chats enabled the class teacher to re-establish their relationship with the student, while also addressing any specific worries they might have about returning.

2. How did the students respond?

The pupils were delighted to be able to speak to their teachers and teaching assistants.

Families had prepared for the session in different ways. There were some students who were incredibly well prepared and had been thoroughly briefed by the parents. These students were able to lead the conversation but found it more difficult to deviate from the script.

Most pupils, though, had prepared their tasks thoroughly and led the conversation in a natural way.

A very small minority had to be led and only wanted to respond to questions, rather than being able to have a conversation as they would at school.

It was interesting how some characters were amplified and how some pupils responded in unexpected ways. Some pupils who are shy at school were very confident and talkative.  

The Foundation Stage 1 students were very confident and most were able to occupy the length of time by showing and talking about their favourite toys at home.

On the few occasions where the pupil was tearful or silent, the teachers told them a story to relax them.

The Year 6 students ranged from those who needed prompts to answer one or two questions, to those who read and displayed pictures, and to those who delivered a TED talk with follow-up questions and elaboration on the theme.

The overriding attributes that came across were perseverance, curiosity, collaboration and compassion.

3. What was it like from the teacher's perspective?

Teachers said it was wonderful to see the pupils talking about their learning with such confidence.

Irrespective of their age, pupils demonstrated that they had been engaging with the email feedback provided by the teacher and the comments placed on Tapestry by the Foundation Stage teachers.

The teachers enjoyed seeing the pride in the pupils' faces and reconnecting with them in person.

For the children returning to school, the teachers felt the conferences prepared them well and any question and anxieties were addressed.

4. What was it like from the additional adult's perspective?

Staff who were present on the call as the additional adult valued the experience tremendously.

Most introduced themselves at the beginning and then switched off their video so that the pupils could focus on the class teacher.

The additional adult then switched the video back on at the end to wish the pupil well and say how much they were looking forward to seeing them.

The additional adults were the teaching assistant assigned to the class. In all cases, the additional adult took notes for the class teacher, which were reflected on later. They also provided support if there were any technical problems.

The additional adults commented on how being part of the conference made them feel part of the school again and connected to the whole learning process.

5. What we learned about the wellbeing and readiness of the pupils to return

During the conference, the teachers were able to get a sense of the mood and attitude of the children.

They tended to become more relaxed as the conference progressed and opened up more, particularly if they were able to talk about something funny and personal - eg, how much someone's hair had grown.

The teachers asked open, positive questions to move the conversation along: questions like "what has been your favourite thing about remote learning so far?" and "what are you most looking forward to in coming back to school?".

Teachers specifically asked each pupil, "Do you know what to expect next week? Would you like me to talk you through it?"

This opened the way to talking about any excitements or concerns for that child. It also helped to highlight who might need a little more nurturing when they returned.

Some pupils asked questions about hygiene and how the school would be once they returned. Others wanted to know about playtime arrangements and if they would be with their friends.

Being able to answer all these sorts of questions in the presence of their parent reassured the family as a whole, too.

6. What other aspects went well?

Teachers were impressed with how well parents let their children engage in the sessions, rather than treating the session as a parent-teacher conference.

We also timetabled the conferences carefully so that there was a buffer time between each of 10 minutes. Parents were able to sign up for times in the morning, afternoon and evening across three days. 

We communicated clearly beforehand about the technology requirements needed to make the calls work well.

Parents also really appreciated the opportunity to witness how their child interacted with the teacher and to see the relationships their child has with adults at school.

Some staff carried out the interviews from school so they could show the pupils their classrooms to reassure them that all was well and what the new classroom layout looked like.

I also spent time talking through the way to respond to any awkward or problematic questions that may have arisen from parents, and providing staff with scripts and exemplars of how they could respond. This elevated some staff concerns and also enabled them to use these as support.

Overall, it was a huge success and definitely made the return easier, not least by ensuring that the changes to school were not a shock and pupils were used to engaging with their teachers once again.

Sue Aspinall has been the headteacher at Junior School Vlaskamp at British School in the Netherlands since 2013. Before that, she worked as headteacher at the British School of Tokyo

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