There was a lot to take on board when my phase leader first outlined how the "hybrid learning" model would work at our school.
How would we support groups of learners requiring specific support if some were in class and some at home? How would they access specific resources for science, art and PE? How would children in class hear those at home and vice versa when sharing ideas or asking questions?
However, fast-forward two terms and now it is second nature to jump on Zoom in the morning and catch up with my home learners while the rest of the class filter in.
In fact, so much is it second nature that I can’t help but wonder if this hybrid model could be here to stay.
Covid: The hybrid learning curve
Of course, the context in which it started was anything but normal, with students sheltering for a range of reasons: poor medical health or that of their immediate family; concern they would mix with students carrying Covid; or perhaps waiting on a test result.
The majority, however, were able to return to school and with the local governing body, KHDA, running weekly checks to ensure regulations were adhered to, many parents were happy for their children to return to face-to-face learning.
As such, we were clear from the start that learners unable to attend school could get into a routine as quickly as possible.
But, although we encourage all set work to be completed, we also gave these pupils a timetable that only requires them to be online for a few hours a day, as we knew we needed to ensure that there was a balance of on- and off-screen time for those not directly supervised.
Although returning to a "normal" way of life with all children in the classroom would be lovely, that prospect still seems fairly far into the future and therefore leaves me pondering the benefits of this new system.
Benefits to pupils
First and foremost, despite the fact that it is the end of Term 2 and I am still yet to physically meet some of my students, I have been able to get to know them and teach them with the support of our hybrid model.
It has given the children who have no choice but to isolate a chance to be part of the classroom and still interact with their peers.
We can’t underestimate the impact that distant learning is having on the mental health of our home learners but we can be their advocate and make sure everything is being done to support them – even if it is just flipping the camera on the class, taking my mic off and letting them communicate with each other.
You can truly see their faces light up by making them feel part of our class family, and that is my current priority. If this model had not been available, these children would have had a very "remote" experience.
Benefits to parents
Furthermore, parents with anxieties, of which we recognise there are many, have had their mind put at rest knowing their child can still interact with their teachers and peers on a daily basis without falling behind academically.
I have had multiple communications with a parent who, due to her line of work, has seen the impact of Covid first hand and, as a result, prefers her family to continue shielding.
Social distancing is now a day-to-day norm. However, it can be difficult when you daily invite 20 to 25 people into the classroom. I know that within some schools classes are required to split amongst rooms across the school in order to accommodate their "distanced" children. My class has not needed to be split up.
Giving students the option to learn at home has meant those students in school have space, as class sizes are now reduced.
Lastly, and maybe the most controversial benefit, is the possibility that some children are thriving from working from home. Dare I say it but what if some children have come on leaps and bounds during this time and not having the rigid routine or time pressures or the competitive nature of the classroom has perhaps allowed them to flourish?
Flexible learning options
Throughout the year so far, I have had requests from parents for their child to join online learning “just for the day”.
There have been a range of reasons: “Harry has a violin exam, so it would be easier than us having to collect him”; “Eleanor has a school Skype interview, so we want to ensure she is neat and tidy for it”; or even “Gwen isn’t feeling 100 per cent but she is well enough to jump online”.
At first, this niggled me – this is not what hybrid learning is for – however, if it means the pupil remains up to date with the lessons and therefore I or my TA won’t have to sit 1:1 with them in a stolen five minutes to catch them up, then actually we are all winning.
It has certainly been a time in which reflective practice has been paramount, and with Dylan Wiliam ringing in my ears – ‘‘Every teacher needs to improve, not because they are not good enough, but because they can be even better” – I regularly sit and wonder how it could be further developed.
I know my practice is not perfect, but by talking to colleagues I am regularly learning new tricks of the trade.
Something that there is to be proud of, though, is how far we have come and how we have adapted and grown to make the experience better for our students.
Steph Weller is a Year 6 teacher at Kings' School in Dubai. She tweets @TeachingWeller