What might schools look like in the fall?
We can learn from schools that have already welcomed children back to school.
In the United States, many of us (teachers, parents, and students) are filled with anxiety about what the fall might bring—there’s so much that’s unknown. We have so many questions. Will young children be able to maintain social distancing? Will everyone wear masks? How will kids enter school in the school in the morning or head outside for recess? What if some teachers are worried about getting sick—will they be able to teach from home even if schools reopen?
There’s no way we can answer all of these questions now. That’s where the anxiety comes from—not knowing! If only we could look into the future!
In some ways we can. Many countries have already reopened schools, and we can learn lessons from their experiences.
On June 1, Matt Glover, a former teacher and principal who now consults internationally on best literacy practices, invited a small team of international school leaders to share their experiences. I was lucky enough to join the call, and I learned so much. I’m excited to share some key take-aways!
The panelists were incredible.
- Shaz Bailey is the Assistant Principal and PYP Coordinator of Auburn South Primary School in Melbourne, Australia
- George Dolesch is the Principal of International School Basel in Switzerland.
- Beth Dressler is the Primary Principal and Deputy Director of Dresden International School in Germany
- Erin Threlfall is the Assistant Principal and PYP Coordinator of the International School Lausanne in Switzerland.
The call was hosted by Chad Hiliker and the Hamilton County Educational Services Center in Cincinnati, Ohio, and it was moderated by Matt Glover. The conversation was lively, practical, and inspirational.
You can view the video at the bottom of this post, or through the Hamilton County ESC site.
There were several big ideas that came up over and over as school leaders shared their experiences.
Maslow Before Bloom
Take care of students’ basic needs first. Students need to feel safe before they can learn. Make sure to help all children feel a sense of belonging and connection.
Quality Over Quantity
We know we have too much to teach during normal times. Now’s the time to focus on the most essential learning. Cut out activities that aren’t vital. Less is more.
Keep Doing What’s Working
As you move back to school, don’t lose what’s been gained over the past few months. What elements of remote learning have worked? What new skills do adults and kids have with technology? Keep a blended approach going to maintain consistency.
Take Care of Teachers
Educators will be returning to school on high-alert, worried about their own health and safety and simultaneously anxious about teaching all children as well as they can. Consider having a quiet retreat in the school where adults can relax and reenergize.
Student Voice Matters
Have students generate ideas for how to make blended learning work. Make sure to give students some power and control over their learning. Student engagement and empowerment is more important now than ever.
Plan Logistics and Be Ready to Adjust!
As you can imagine, much of the discussion was about sharing details about how the logistics of school is working. Here are some of the ideas I was able to capture. Keep in mind, these ideas are from four different schools and weren’t necessarily consistent from school to school. These schools are all taking their cues from their governments.
- Two entry times: In one school, 3rd-5th graders enter at 8:15 and K-2nd graders enter at 8:30. They are also utilizing different entrances to have fewer kids entering in any given place.
- Parents can’t come on campus: Families wait outside of one school (which has created social distancing challenges) but don’t enter the building at arrival and dismissal times.
- Limiting adults who work with kids: One goal is to reduce the number of adults who come in contact with children. Classes stay together with one adult through the whole morning.
- Some teachers teach online: Some adults are uncomfortable returning to schools. They may teach from home through Zoom. In one school, special area subject are now taught in the afternoon and remotely—again to reduce the number of adults coming in contact with children.
- Blended learning: One school is still having students use Seesaw and Google Classroom to maintain consistency as they move back to school. This may be especially beneficial if learning needs to move home again for a while.
- Decrease class sizes: One school is taking an all-hands-on-deck approach, breaking classrooms into smaller groups of 8-10, and having people who didn’t normally do classroom teaching work more consistently with groups.
- Playground zones: One school has many (nine, I think) zones on the playground, and children stay in one zone area as they play. The school leader who shared about this said that an unintended benefit is that children are making new friends as they play with kids in their zone.
- Not all children are at school at once: In one school, Group A comes to school every other day. Group B comes on the other days. Group C children have parents who are essential workers and need to be in school every day. Group D are the children who aren’t yet coming back. The principal who shared this said that it hasn’t been as complex as they feared and that it sounds harder than it is.
- Young children no longer need to practice social-distancing: In two schools, the governments have determined that the risk of young children sharing COVID-19 with each other is low enough, that they can play and work closely together, even without wearing masks.
- Adults are wearing masks: It sounded as though all adults in schools are wearing masks, even if their children don’t need to.
- Videos help: One school has shared lots of short videos with children and families. Some are practical—they show what it will look like to enter the school, or walk in halls, or eat lunch. Some are silly and goofy (Can you guess who’s behind the mask?). These videos have helped ease anxiety for both children and families.
- Demonstrate vulnerability: One leader encouraged school leaders and staff to model being learners and leaders who doesn’t have all of the answers.
- Build excitement: One school had signs welcoming kids back and staff clapping and cheering as kids were dropped off. They set a tone of excitement that helped kids and families fell energized and welcome.
- Be proactive about parent communication: One leader said that a bunch of parents started a conversation on What’s App, and it turned nasty. Some people were saying that all kids should be back in school and others were saying that no one should go back, and people were bad parents if they let their kids return. Someone from school had to jump in and moderate. This leader recommended getting in front of this sort of thing if possible.
The hour-long session flew by, and much is lost in my hasty summary. I must say, that I felt better about opening schools up at the end of the conversation. It’s not going to be easy, but people are doing it, and they’re the needs of children first. We can do this, and it’s going to be okay!
The recording of this conversation is below. Enjoy!