Life in Danish primary schools 4 weeks after reopening

Danish primary school pupils returned to classrooms four weeks ago – this headteacher explains what happened next

Shirley Jacobsen

Outdoor social distance lesson at a Danish school

It’s now four weeks since our school in Denmark reopened. With teachers and children learning, laughing and playing, the noise and feel of school are back – or, at least, some of it.

Under strict guidelines from the Danish Health Authorities, primary schools in Denmark were part of the first phase of the reopening of Denmark, which started on 15 April. For us, as an international school, this included reception classes and Year 1 right up to Year 6.

While it has been challenging, the reopening of school in a gradual and controlled way has been accepted by staff and parents and things are going well.

Here are some of our observations and developments from the first four weeks.  

Classroom management changes

The learning environment has changed entirely. Before, children worked with partners on the carpet or in groups, moving around to help each other complete assignments.

Now, children sit one pupil per table with the next student two meters away at a different table. This setup has required us to utilise the secondary school's classrooms as well as our primary classrooms as the classes are now split into smaller groups.

This also means we have required more teachers. Fortunately, our part-time teachers are happily stepping up to work full time as a way to help both the school and society at large.  

Furthermore, although the teaching style has had to change, the key thing is that children are still learning.

In fact, one big change is that the children are learning how to be more independent and get on with the learning themselves. For example, children have learned how to self-evaluate their work more effectively.

The smaller class sizes have also had their advantages in that all children are seen at all times. This allows for more oral feedback.

Self-sufficiency

Students have also learned to be self-sufficient in that they can't share anything and, as such, need to bring their own water bottles, pencils, pens, and other school materials to get through their school day. Sharing is just not possible.

Teachers are also learning their way around problems, such as not being able to collect exercise books.

Instead, they are asking children to leave their books open when they go out to play, so the teacher can quickly assess the work and put a note on the work, as a way of giving written feedback.

Other teachers of infant children send the written work home for the parents to go through it with the children.

For maths, each child has their own small individual whiteboard and marker pen. This allows them to show their working out and answer to both the class and the teacher. The teacher can also use the interactive whiteboard to model a mathematical sum to the children.

Any joint equipment must be washed and disinfected before and after use. Deep cleaning of critical areas like classroom tables, door handles and bathrooms takes place twice a day.

In the same way, since gatherings are not allowed, instead of hosting assemblies, classes are visited by the headteacher ten minutes each week for a Thought for the Day session.

Covering the curriculum

As noted, we are seeing children continue to learn throughout this period and they also continue to consolidate the day’s work at home.

The focused, concentrated time spent at the desk in class means that the children are getting through the curriculum, often at a quicker pace than they would do normally working in groups or with a peer.

We have also been blessed with many sunny days, which has given teachers the opportunity to take classes outside where there is more space to spread out.

While deep learning may not be as evident, and teachers are frustrated at times that they can’t do some of the fun things they usually do to introduce or consolidate a topic, staff do not perceive that children are falling behind, but are learning different skills during these uncertain times.  

Accepting a new reality 

Of course, opening a school under these present circumstances means that it’s not only lessons and learning where things have changed – the entire environment is different.

The children are not with all their friends, only those in their immediate class. They play outside in restricted areas, class by class, often without any equipment. This, however, has led to the children being more creative in their play.

They have learned that they can't share anything with others and learned a lot more about the importance of personal hygiene. Every time they pass the sanitiser by the door, they use it.

Washing hands at least every two hours on a rota so that children do not bunch up at the toilets and sinks has also become part of the new routine.  

Adapting to new routines

While the very first week required a lot of extra coordination, guidance and reminding, we can see that now, several weeks later, the children are so used to the new routines, the new normal, that when we asked them what they thought of being in school under all the restrictions, the vast majority responded positively.

We are still learning, we are always adapting, but day-by-day it gets better and more streamlined. 

Of course, the reopening has and still does require adjustments, and we remain vigilant.

For everyone to feel safe, children with any symptoms of illness are sent home immediately. Children from high-risk families continue to receive work at home.

Families returning from abroad are asked not to return to school for two weeks.

A positive focus

At Rygaards, we have a values programme and our current value is hope. Little did we know how appropriate this value would be for this year.

While we come to what most would say is a very different school environment than we are used to, our community and values help us navigate these uncertain times and give a positive perspective looking forward.

Our children are learning, they are becoming even more self-sufficient and reflective. It requires a lot of extra coordination, alternative and creative solutions to common problems, but it’s working.

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Shirley Jacobsen

Shirley Jacobsen is the Head of International Primary School at Rygaards International School in Copenhagen, Denmark.

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