It’s time for a coffee

Peaks, we are told, have been passed and there is a glimmer of hope emerging that we could be over the worst of the coronavirus pandemic. As schools around the world prepare to return to lessons, we take a look at the issues that might arise. 

As we have learnt over the last few months, the situation can change very rapidly.  Just this week, throughout our collaborative learning community, after homeschooling has dominated the agenda for well over a month, the leaders of our education systems are turning their minds to the nature of schooling after the lockdown. They have all accepted that some constraints on movement and contact will still be imposed and these will have major implications on how schools then operate. However, this is not just a health crisis but a burgeoning economic one and to deal with it they need to mobilise the workforce and unlocking access to schools is essential.  The key question for the governments with due deference to the scientist is: when is it safe to start?  

The start dates being proposed vary from early May in Quebec, with staff going in on the 4th and students on the 11th, and early June in England. The Dubai Department of Education has not made a pronouncement as yet but they have seen the greatest relaxation on movement.  In fact as our photograph shows, you can see they are now able to enjoy a coffee away from home. 

A lot depends upon how the pandemic is unfolding in each country and how they feel they can contain it once it has reached a manageable level. There are now lots of statistics  and myriad conflicting advice allowing us to draw our own conclusions, which do not necessarily agree with those setting the agenda. 

For the education systems the big question is what is now a viable school setting? How many students can be accommodated safely in a school?  It’s certainly not 100 per cent.  Is it something around 30 – 40 per cent? Quebec has suggested that class sizes should not exceed 15 students. For a comparison London Underground is suggesting 15 per cent as a safe level of occupancy on its trains. Once this figure is determined, who should be allowed to access it?  Year groups or parts of them at a time or focus on students soon to take public examinations such as year 10 students in English secondary schools? Or do we start with those who as a result of their homeschooling circumstances need support, or as the Quebec Ministry of Education has proposed, leave it for parents to opt in and then for the Board to make the decision?  

Another issue is access to the school by the students and staff. Many of the schools in England are in urban areas and the schools are in safe walking distance but for a significant number of other schools, access to public transport is essential.  The availability of this will therefore be critical.  Many of the students in the Western Quebec School Board rely upon transportation provided by the Board and therefore this is more under their control.

There are not only students to consider but also the staff.  We know that the over 60s are more vulnerable than others and this has been recognised by the Provincial Ministry of Education which has issued a directive stating that teachers over this age  should not return at this time.  However, as our checklist outlines later in this post, there are more factors at play for our staff.  In addition, for the Western Quebec Schools Board, more than 20 per cent of their staff live in Ontario, which has taken its own approach to this which does not match that of Quebec. This has the potential to make the situation difficult for those living there and homeschooling.  Finally, for all the pronouncements made by their governments, explaining the reality and taking responsibility for it falls upon the principals and headteachers of our schools.  This is an onerous task with some parents and staff asking the impossible question: “Can you ensure my child does not contract the virus?” In some cases this has already made a fractured relationship even more challenging.

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Staff check list

We know many of you will have a coaching role with your staff or you will be responsible for allocating and monitoring their work. We are certain that during your conversations with them, you are supporting those directly affected by Coronavirus.  In addition, for the remainder of the staff  you are running through in your mind a checklist of factors that could effect how they are coping with their change in circumstances.  In our conversations, you have identified the following potential factors.  

Self

Self isolation – either themselves or a close member of their family

Being identified as a key worker – either themselves or a close member of their family

Not having access to activity that they relied upon to maintain their work-life balance, such as exercise, playing in a band etc. 

Access to IT (1)

Personal wellbeing (2)

Homeschooling responsibilities (4)

Relationships

Ageing parents at risk in their homes and in care homes. (3)

Self isolation – either themselves or a close member of their family 

Being identified as a key worker – either themselves or a close member of their family

Work

Capacity to harness IT for their teaching

Homeschooling responsibilities (4)

Missing the supportive contact with colleagues

Role inversion (5) 

Notes

(1) As with a number of students, not all of your colleagues will have excellent IT equipment or connectivity.

(2) Colleagues might already be suffering from stress and this might make it worse. 

(3) With self isolation recommended for most people over 70, colleagues may have had to take on the responsibility of ensuring food and medicines are regularly provided for those they care for or make other arrangements.

(4) Staff who have taken on the role of homeschooling for their own children may find it very taxing when they are also required to provide lessons for other children at the same time as providing them for their own. Conversely, those without this responsibility might find they have more time on their hands than normal to dedicate to their work.

(5) A number of the above factors might result in an experienced member of staff feeling that they are going through a period of role inversion. Their circumstances dictate that they have to hand over leadership to colleagues who have less experience but greater opportunity to take advantage of the situation.

This list is by no means exhaustive. The more we are aware how these factors affect our colleagues, the more able we are to support them. It is worth remembering that each of us will respond in different ways to the above. In these changing times our individual capacity to deal with events and our resulting responses are constantly being reshaped by the relationship between ourselves, our friends and relations and our work. We are not alone in this. 

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We have attached three artefacts from the Western Quebec School Board to this blog which we felt we would like to share. One is the letter outlining the new schooling arrangements and the others are videos they have circulated to their community. 

Video one is a short film from Ralph Mason, Principal of Onslow Elementary School. This was put together by staff to their students.

The other two videos from Stuart Gray and Lisa Diner are dedicated to staff and students, based on the theme “We will get through this together.”

Day 2 montage

Day 1 montage

Take care and stay safe. 

 

George