The unprecedented closure of schools around the world due to Covid-19 brought a lot of stress and worry, but it also created unexpected opportunities for togetherness for many.
And as technology brought more and more learning online, teachers around the world have taken the opportunity to create and strengthen partnerships with other schools across the world.
Josh Guthrie, assistant head at St Mary Queen of Martyrs primary school in Hull, was able to use WhatsApp, Facebook and email to keep connecting with Ibrahim Kamara, headteacher of Empowering Children School in Freetown, Sierra Leone.
“There were a fair few elements of teaching during the height of the lockdown which were really positive,” Guthrie says. “With the smaller bubble sizes, the learning became extremely tailored to their interests, one of which being the joint project work with our partners in Freetown.”
The partnership, which is supported by the Connecting Classrooms Through Global Learning programme, funded by the British Council and Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, has been running for several years now and has seen students 8,000 miles apart working together on projects focused on the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.
Coronavirus: International schools sharing their experiences
Guthrie and Kamara had previously visited each other's school and, when lockdown began, their students continued communicating and were able to focus on their joint work, including a project on “17 ways to make a better world” and Talk for Writing. Students have also frequently sent video messages to each other to stay in touch during these challenging times.
“One of the things that has kept our partnership enjoyable is the love we have to share with our friends in Hull, and the passion we have to help our cities and our world to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030,” Kamara says. “Teaching during the pandemic actually helped us focus on these more.”
Kamara explains that the crisis brought a greater urgency to the sustainability goal of zero hunger, so he worked on a farm and brought food to his community. And he was able to ensure that the benefits of the partnership continued to be felt by staff, he continues.
“With help from Josh in Hull, I was able to continue delivering training to our staff [during lockdown], as Josh was giving me the virtual training and resources which I could share with our cluster of schools in Freetown. This meant that the staff could maintain professional development, which was a good thing when not teaching.”
Guthrie says that the pandemic has allowed people to “reprioritise”, and he hopes that “a lot of that will remain as we progress”.
“For example, the focus on peer-led activities,” he says. “This has been a great strength of the Hull-Freetown links and one which the schools will continue to build on as we start new projects.”
Kamara is also looking to the future with optimism. “We are looking forward to connecting with our partner school via Zoom or Skype or Google Hangout to share about our school farm and to talk about what we all have been doing during lockdown," he says.
“Covid-19 is still with us, it has changed the way we learn and interact and has changed the way we live. But we will be working with our partners on how we are all coping and making our school communities safe to learn for everyone.”
Angela Farrell, assistant head of Barton Hill Academy in Torbay and Luisa Lenta, a teacher at ICS Di Codogno School in Italy, have a long-established partnership, sparked by the eTwinning online community for teachers in Europe (which is managed by the British Council in the UK).
Years on, the two schools have developed this cross-continental collaboration with a variety of creative projects, where contributions are created in each school and then “shared and put together as an individual piece of work”, Farrell explains.
The two schools have recently been working on a two-year project called Proud to be Me, which involved students learning about themselves and their own culture, as a way to introduce the idea of learning about other countries and cultures.
“The main aim of all our projects is that we celebrate our differences while realising so many similarities despite living in different countries, speaking different languages and the diversity of cultures and communities we are part of,” Farrell continues.
When the pandemic hit, Lenta’s school locked down first, but soon both classes were learning from home. A group of Farrell’s students asked to send messages to their Italian friends to “let them know we were thinking of them”, and Lenta decided that this would be a good opportunity to “work together to share our experiences”.
“The children have connected in a number of ways,” Farrell explains. “Video conferencing, using our eTwinning twinspace, using Padlet, sharing photographs and videos.”
Both schools were focused on helping students to feel as safe and happy as possible, so they used their digital connection to share feelings, activities and songs. David Gray, a music teacher at Barton, was inspired by the project to write a song entitled Stay Safe, based on the shared experience of students in the two countries and around the globe.
“The project did really help us to stay connected during lockdown,” Farrell continues. “Not just for the pupils, but also the teachers. It helped us to motivate the pupils – some were in school, others were working on the activities with their families – so it gave a real community spirit that included everyone. The children all loved the project work we did and many of our children benefited from our project positively whilst learning at home.”
And now that students are back in school, the connection is continuing.
“We’re working with Luisa and our other partners on ways to help the children settle back into school,” Farrell says. “The children are sharing their thoughts and feelings about what it is like to be back at school, and continue to work on a range of shared activities, especially supporting their wellbeing. They are also sharing their hopes and dreams for the future."
International partnership activities are a fantastic way to connect with schools across the globe and bring real voices and interactivity to the curriculum. The British Council offers a number of different ways to find a partner school, plus a range of ready-to-go joint projects to get you both started. Discover more about how to find a partner and the support available