What should teachers and schools do during Covid-19 Lockdown

1. Distinguish between online learning and on-screen learning 

Online may sometimes be continuous on-screen interaction – a maths game, for example. But it could also be setting up an activity involving making collages from pasta, or models from mud, or doing origami, or constructing a robot from Lego.

2. Get materials to parents that don’t have them

For some, this means digital tablets. But for many others with few resources, this could also mean pencils, colouring pens, Playdough, glue, paper, Scotch tape, books, magazines etc.

3. Develop strategies for children who are just above the line

These are children who are not vulnerable enough to be sent to school, but in the group just above – they are often most at risk as they are not explicitly targeted. Such children may have parents who can’t or don’t read, separated parents in conflict, or be part of families that live in cramped spaces with no room for outdoor play etc.

4. Concentrate teacher resources and time on children who need it most

Many middle class professional and managerial parents will be able to self-organise home-schooling with some online help. So instead of always doing whole classes online, concentrate disproportionate amounts of teacher online instructional time and support with smaller numbers of high-risk children who are struggling learners.

5. Target support for students with learning and emotional difficulties

This can happen by teachers and learning support teachers calling parents and students one-to-one, emailing, going through individual education plans, maintaining personal relationships by Skype where possible (vital with vulnerable children), giving structured feedback on work done online (it can be handwritten, coloured or constructed, then photographed on a smartphone and sent) or other ways online where possible to ensure these students don’t struggle more than they need to and fall behind.

6. Think about how communications can be inclusive of all kinds of students and their families

Canadian TV had an item on how parents are dealing with home-schooling – the family was a mixed-race lesbian couple with a single child. Include students and student voice in communications on national TV – Norway, Canada and New Zealand have done this especially well. Don’t just pitch to the same median middle-class white students all the time. This is a time when our values come alive. Being inclusive in our communications isn’t just something we should do when things are going well and we have extra time, but it also should define how and to whom we communicate, all the time, unless it creates distraction and delay regarding the urgency of the message itself.

7. Consider an early, phased start to the new school year (in the northern hemisphere) or school term (in the global south)

Children will have had a long time away from classroom routines. Many will have spent months being in close quarters with parents plunged into poverty, hardship and stress. They will have had fewer learning supports than modal middle-class families. So, school in the northern hemisphere at least may need to start earlier in the calendar. Some professional development days should be sacrificed and the rest redirected to dealing practically with the issues of the vulnerable and the left behind. Students who are known to be more vulnerable through contacts that teachers will have kept with families over the isolation period may need to start school before the rest. This will be hard on teachers, but for a few months they may need to be as turbo-charged in their professional approach as health workers have had to be.

8. Keep up collaborative professionalism

Working together collaboratively is always important and never more so than now. Try to ensure that time is built in for professional collaboration, department planning, learning teams and so on within the school. Also leverage networks of ideas and support across schools at this time, especially where those networks already exist. There’ll be a temptation to think there’s no time to collaborate with adults or engage in existing networks because everyone is too busy churning out stuff for their kids. The role of all kinds of leadership here is not to abandon networks and meetings but to ensure they are used to provide the best possible learning and caring at a distance for all students in these unprecedented circumstances.

Author: Professor Andy Hargreaves, an honorary professor at Swansea University, a visiting professor at University of Ottawa and president and co-founder of the Atlantic Rim Collaboratory

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