March 2020: Students arrive with smiles ready to start another school year.
Eight school days later, as we stood in the staffroom to watch the Peruvian government announce the latest Covid news on TV, none of us expected to then spend a whole school year online.
It was not easy but over the year we all learned a lot, struggled a lot, and found new ways of working that all helped our students get the best possible learning outcome.
While 2021 has not exactly suggested good times are on their way, it is important that we reflect on what teachers everywhere achieved in 2020 and how it can help us in the year ahead.
Coronavirus: What I learned as a teacher in 2020
1. It taught me to prioritise
In education we have so many things thrown at us; changes to systems, parents' emails, students' concerns, meetings, planning, teaching, CPD, to name but a few. This year has forced me into looking at what is a priority right now.
For me, this was often: “Yes, you have permission to leave that marking for one more day, while you cover a tutor group for a colleague.”
Sometimes what is called a “traditional” priority in education is not always a priority for your professional wellbeing. Through the endless juggling of home life and work life online, 2020 taught me to identify what is actually important.
2. I learned to look after myself
Working online and being at home was a blessing in so many ways – but it also created blurred lines between time for work and time for home.
At the beginning of the year, I found it difficult to stop working as my work laptop was always there. But after I noticed the hours increase and took part in some wellbeing conferences, I took ownership of my wellbeing.
I set times when I would stop working and I exercised routinely. I also moved my workspace to another room so my living room no longer reminded me of work. This is something important to take forward when we do finally get back into school in person – keep the boundaries!
You cannot be your optimum self if you are not healthy and in a good state of mental, physical and emotional wellbeing.
3. I've boosted my skillset
Using online platforms within our lessons and workplace is not new for many of us. However, the move to a more online and remote environment highlighted any areas for improvement – from CPD to technology skills.
During this time, I have managed to research more initiatives/tools that can be used within my lessons than ever before.
These include how to record effective videos for students to watch, different ways of the students demonstrating their learning, identifying what students might need for their future in a world that will no doubt become more online, and the endless options there are to document students' learning in an easier way.
In addition, there have been so many amazing opportunities to attend conferences and training that would have previously never been accessible as they would not have been online. This is all good stuff that we must not lose sight of.
4. It reminded us of the importance of relationships
Relationships are key – this is one thing everyone talks about but often forgets until times get tough. These are not only important with students and parents but also with colleagues.
Who knows what goes on behind the closed doors of anyone we speak with? And 2020 has accentuated this fact, with the move to working online. So it’s important to be kind.
Take the time to learn about your staff, their families, what they like, how they are and much more. It’s what keeps everything going.
5. We redefined the word failure
Many of us teach students to not fear failure but to learn from it – but so often we teachers feel ourselves to have failed if we think that things didn’t go how we expected, usually that means perfectly.
But what if we reframed the world "failure"? Brene Brown and Dr Sarah Lewis discuss in a podcast how the word demonstrates a dead end; that nothing continues.
How about we frame the discussion instead as, “where do we have opportunities to learn?” or “what spaces have arisen to allow for creativity or innovation?”
Rather than getting flustered that things have gone wrong or “failed”, which, let’s be honest, 2020 made us feel on numerous occasions, we should reflect on opportunities for development – whatever this may mean for you.
Teaching is a journey, a chance to develop and a leap into the unknown. So if you look back at the past 12 months as a grind and a wasted opportunity, take the time to reflect on what you learned during the time. I guarantee you will not be disappointed.
Annie Finch-Johnson is a head of year and physical education teacher at Markham College in Lima, Peru