Coronavirus: 5 lessons from a school in lockdown

St Louis School in Milan prepared well for being closed owing to Coronavirus, but principal Jennie Devine explains these five things still took her by surprise

schools on lockdown

As the threat of Coronavirus spreads and governments are beginning to take more drastic action, virtual schools and online learning are becoming more widespread. 

Here in Italy, we are in our third week of school closures and we have gone through a very steep learning curve. 



Some of the challenges posed by creating an e-school are apparent, but there were a few unexpected things through this process. 

1. Willingness of staff

Even self-proclaimed technophobes have risen to the challenge of online provision.  We had expected much more resistance to the adoption of new teaching methods, but with support communities, training, and mentoring, all of the staff are on board, albeit after a few challenging days.   

Learning communities also help teachers find solutions and share best practice.

2. Reality of the home situation

When creating our online provision, we had thoroughly considered the logistics of online learning in terms of access, instructions, timetables and curriculum. We also have built-in moments to support the students. 

However, we did not build in any emotional support for parents. 

Our parents have been incredibly grateful for the online school and the sense of normality it provides.  But in retrospect, explicitly acknowledging parental stresses and offering more support to them would have made the school/home link even stronger.

3. Complete overhaul of planning

The first instinct when putting up content is to keep the curriculum going completely, just slightly adapting lesson plans. 

However, for our early years and primary sections, we have had to reduce the amount of work as students were taking twice as long to complete tasks. 

This has meant totally new approaches to planning and content to ensure that we deliver objectives in a timely manner, while also seeking to reduce screen time.

We have had to bear in mind that students may not have certain tools or supplies with them. 

Though this approach to planning has been time-consuming, it has led to dynamic lessons and creative problem-solving by the staff.

4. Need for time management and limitations for staff

During the first four days of online learning, teachers were extremely responsive and felt that every comment or query had to be dealt with immediately as they were committed to making the online learning a success.

However, this led staff to feeling exhausted after being chained to the computer for several hours a day. This was before content creation and lesson planning.

Once this became clear, expectations for responding to work and supporting students were firmly in place  – when teachers would be online, in what time frame should they respond to comments, when should marking and feedback be returned.

Setting these expectations for teachers made clear that we are not offering a 24/7 service; school days and times need to be respected.

It also helps create a culture in the school. If a few teachers are responding immediately to comments, it sets an expectation for all staff to do the same – it is unsustainable.

5. Importance of face-to-face contact

The students have really embraced the online learning environment and lessons, but one thing that is really helping them maintain a sense of normality is seeing their teachers and their friends in conference calls.

It can be challenging to manage students in a video call, but it helps reduce the isolation and reminds students that we are still part of the same community.  As a teacher, it is also invaluable because otherwise we are losing contact with what makes our job enjoyable in the first place – our students.

 As staff members, the shared spaces in a video conference make everyone feel less alone.  Some staff have instigated virtual coffee breaks together to help stave off feelings of isolation.

 

The past few weeks have not been simple. However, it has been interesting in the best sense of the word.  We have updated our practice, shaken up our lessons, refined our curriculum and learned a huge amount in the last few weeks.  No doubt we will continue to improve over the next few weeks. What an adventure!

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