It was the news that everyone expected but dreaded.
Another full-scale nationwide lockdown – including the return to remote teaching across England and Scotland – was announced on Monday evening by Boris Johnson and Nicola Sturgeon.
A familiar journey
In Malaysia, along with the UK, the first nationwide lockdown began in March 2020 and continued until late June. After the summer holidays, we were able to return to the classrooms, but this was sadly short lived as Malaysia’s cases started to rise rapidly and restrictions in many states were tightened.
After just six weeks of face-to-face teaching in the autumn term, my school resumed online lessons.
And now, as schools across the UK are beginning to enter a second period of online learning, schools in Malaysia have started returning to the classroom once more.
For teachers in the UK just entering their second period of lockdown teaching, here’s some advice from someone who has made it to the other side.
1. Create positive vibes
With a second intense lockdown and another period of online learning, concerns about examination year groups, vulnerable students and the risks of Covid-19 can rise to the surface, making way for anxiety and stress.
As such, it's important to find ways to lighten the mood and spread positivity – both for students and you.
Teachers across Twitter have been sharing ways to bring a smile to their students’ faces, including beginning the lesson with music playing and a dance party, or changing their video call backdrop to a tropical beach or other interesting location. No doubt you'll have your own ideas or in-class games or jokes, so whatever works, go for it.
It may be small moments of joy but it helps make it that bit easier.
2. Establish engagement
One of the biggest challenges to online teaching is engagement with the students.
As teachers, we thrive on the interactions we have on a daily basis in school; the immediate feedback we receive from students’ expressions of enjoyment or boredom and seeing sparks of interest ignited in lessons.
Online, this is not so easily observed and sometimes it can feel as though you are speaking into a void.
If you are pre-recording lessons for asynchronous delivery, Loom is a great tool that allows you to record a video of yourself, as well as your voice, as you deliver content such as a presentation.
FlipGrid allows students to record their own responses to a task, viewable to you and their classmates.
There’s also a number of apps and extensions such as Mote that allow you to voice-record your feedback to students, rather than writing it out. These, and many other online tools, encourage students to feel connected to you and engage with each other.
3. Make use of online resources
It's easy to think that perhaps by now you should be a remote-learning whizz, but with thousands of teachers across the country in the same situation, it's still definitely sensible to take advantage of existing resources.
Some teachers and school departments are even sharing entire schemes of learning, fully resourced and created with online delivery in mind. Don’t reinvent the wheel – make use of what is already available.
Twitter, too, can be an excellent way to get suggestions and ease your workload burden, so don't be afraid to voice your questions and share ideas when you see others looking for inspiration. We're in this together.
4. Stick to your routines
A second national lockdown and a return to online teaching is a challenging situation.
Initially, I found it a lot harder to motivate myself during our second online learning period. I also found it easier to slip into bad habits, like not getting enough sleep, staying in pyjamas all day and regularly eating unhealthily.
I realised I needed to set clear routines for myself.
This included a consistent bedtime, continuing to meal prep on Sundays as I would in term-time, and a clear separation between my work and chill spaces.
Be firm with yourself – you’ll be thankful in the long run.
5. Reflect and be adaptable
While none of us has been trained for this, we now have the benefit of experience. Reflect upon what worked well during the first remote teaching period and ditch what didn’t.
Think about ways you could make your life easier this second time around. In our department, we looked at our curriculum maps and decided to swap around the order in which units of work would be delivered in the academic year.
This meant that during our second period of online learning we were able to deliver content that had been delivered remotely last academic year, and had therefore been adapted for remote instruction already.
This saved a lot of additional planning and resourcing time involved in adapting a scheme of learning for online delivery.
While it is disappointing to be back in a situation where school closures are required to keep people safe, it is important to focus on the things within your control.
Return to the basics: plan; deliver; feed back. And ultimately, remember: you can do this.
Caitlin Gray is a secondary English teacher and extended essay coordinator at an international school in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia