Why embracing teachers' home lives made lockdown easier

When teachers work remotely, family life will cross over into working time – we should embrace it, say these leaders
1st November 2020, 10:00am
Sarah Findlater and Naomi JN Charles


Why embracing teachers' home lives made lockdown easier

Coronavirus: Why Schools Should Embrace The Fact That, When Teachers Are Working Remotely, Family Life Will Cross Over Into Work

Mixing work with home life this year has been a new concept for all of us. 

After all, most of us were used to waving our children off in the morning and going off to work.

But when lockdown came, we knew that for staff home and work would now be crossing over all day long.

Coronavirus: Teachers working remotely

This was why we were clear from the off that remote learning must be real, human and embrace our wonderful staff and student families in all their glory - pretending that staff didn't have family lives to contend with as they worked would have been unrealistic and damaging.

As such, we planned the learning timetables to cater as best we could for those families who could manage full-time school at home as well as those juggling family commitments, multiple siblings, lack of space and devices and so on.

We used a combination of live and asynchronous lessons, recorded live lessons, PowerPoint recordings, video guides and more so families could opt in to join as the lessons happened or fit learning around their schedule or work around lessons when there were multiple children in the home within our families.

Embracing unexpected visitors

Of course, we also knew that there would be bumps in the road -- after all, managing a family at home, full-time jobs and a full timetable of lessons for the children was no joke. As parents with husbands who also teach and lead in the school, we knew this first-hand.

As a result, we now know how to quickly switch the mute button on and flick on a video chat background when a child runs into the room shouting during a meeting.

We all also quickly became fond of lockdown moments that featured pets on-screen, baby brothers and sisters making guest appearances and toddlers joining in with the live PE lessons. 

Juggling school work and family life

Indeed, we went further, though, than just accepting that family life would cross over with remote teaching and learning - we embraced this as a school.

Our staff video projects featured the whole family; they read together, sang together and danced together to bring a little cheer to our screens. We never knew we had so many family bands! It was fun, it really was, but my goodness we were in new territory.

We knew the importance of focusing on staff wellbeing for all of our school community during this time. Staff took part in virtual dinner parties, virtual football watching, staff quizzes and lots more. 

We even created a number of wonderful staff videos for the students, which also brought us all together, focused us on the positives and gave us hours of fun and lots of laughs. A new virtual community was forming before our eyes.

Keeping in touch

Regular contact was key, not only with the fun activities like those above but also just through regular calls and chats with all of our staff to make sure that they had all they needed to continue to thrive in this situation. 

We were open and honest with staff about the fact that this was a challenging time for everyone and, through doing this, we made it easier for others to admit that things were not trouble-free or that they needed to just have a chat with someone.

When you are working abroad, the international community does become like a family, so it was vital we were all there for each other in this way, rather than closing ourselves off into our own worlds.

Was all this perfect? No, of course not. There was much we reflected upon and learned from as the weeks progressed and we made many a change throughout our time working remotely to enhance the provision; timetabling, online resources and CPD to name a few.

But as we face the prospect of another potential lockdown in Malaysia, we now feel positive, confident and better prepared to allow all children to thrive and face the challenges head-on.

Knowing our strength together as a community and our experiences during the last lockdown, we know that if faced with this again we will all pull together to be the best we can be. 

Sarah Findlater is head of secondary at GEMS International School in Penang, Malaysia

Naomi JN Charles is head of primary at GEMS International School in Penang, Malaysia

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