Could it soon be time for a coffee?

The pandemic is far from over but nations are beginning to consider the possibility of easing restrictions, offering a glimmer of hope for all concerned. Among the first establishments that could see an easing of lockdown conditions would be those relating to education. 

Global update

Canada: Mike Dubeau in his weekly newsletter to staff in the Western Quebec School Board reports that the Premier’s latest letter suggests signs of light at the end of the tunnel.  The lockdown is working and in time normality will return. Mike also published this poem that Dodie Payne, the Principal of Philemon Wright sent to her students. 

A similar debate about a possible return to work is starting to happen in the United Kingdom.  However, nearly all of the schools are still on their Easter holidays and staff, parents and carers are gearing up for the significant period of homeschooling to come.  Some are finding this easier than others both at a school level where the use of ICT to directly support learning is variable and at home where there is also variability in the provision of an effective learning environment and access to the internet.  Talk has moved to strategies that could be implemented to safely exit the lockdown. Among many measures being considered globally included in a review by William Sutherland of the University of Cambridge was to split school classes into smaller groups. These would have dedicated teachers who would rotate their duties on a one-in-three-week basis.

In Spain, all schoolchildren have been told they will pass this year. Students will be given a mark that reflects their performance and all, apart from only “very exceptional” cases, will be allowed to progress to the next year or apply for a university place. The move is designed to reduce strain on teachers and pupils who, unlike other countries, have been confined to their homes.

Now we have all adapted to a degree to the physical restrictions that have come with Coronavirus, we have started to miss the little things. Especially the social aspect, such as sitting down for a coffee with a colleague and sharing the latest news. So imagine the reaction of our friends and colleagues in Dubai when they heard on Tuesday that the Dubai Government is considering relaxing the rules around visiting coffee and tea shops.  Potentially even restaurants. Social distancing rules would still, of course, apply. This after a period of severe physical restrictions, which included allowing only one family member over 18 years of age to leave the home twice a week to go shopping. Even then they had to obtain a license to do so.  

Despite it being 40C-plus out there, we still feel a touch of envy.  Let us hope this proposed relaxation is not temporary but rather the green shoots of a return to normality.  In our experience you cannot underestimate the significance that tea and coffee holds for school staff.  We know that when two large secondary schools were merged, the only issue of dispute was over coffee and tea cups.  Closer to home, as a new teacher I was informed that I needed to heed three pieces of advice – stay on the right side of the caretaker, don’t sit on a chair in the staffroom until everyone else has sat down and bring your own coffee cup. This proved sound advice as I was often locked out of my classroom and needed the caretaker to bail me out, saw the disdain bestowed upon a new member of staff when they were found sitting in the favourite chair of a senior colleague, and the lifetime of ostracisation that came from being caught drinking from a cup belonging to another member of staff.  While this was back in the late 1960s, long before a national curriculum, accountability and PISA test, we are sure these staff room politics still retain some relevance today.  

Taking a coffee with colleagues remains the perfect  reminder that we all have a life beyond school and a chance to step back and relax amid a hectic schedule.  We have a social as well as a professional life and socialising with colleagues is the glue that helps bind us together into a professional learning community.  Professor Sir Tim Brighouse, the main architect of the London Challenge, thought that a good meal between colleagues was the best way to achieve this connection, but maybe in these times we can settle for having a virtual coffee break together.  In this new learning environment it is easy to miss this fundamental aspect of school life. The use of video conferencing can confer a sense of business, business, business. Maybe we ought to ensure that time is put aside every day for us to share a cup together, albeit virtual, and thus recognise our colleagues’ social side and support them in this as well as their professional life. 

As ever take care and stay safe, and for those of you who are directly or indirectly affected by this situation either through family or colleagues and friends, our thoughts are with you. 

George