Day 2, Self-Isolation. Lessons planned: 15, Google Meets held: 2, cups of tea made: 4 billion, cups of tea drunk: are we counting cold ones?? Number of children on Google meet: 29, number of pets I was introduced to during Google meet: easily double. Ah, the joys of remote teaching. Add to this two children of my own (8 and 4) who are both also self isolating and need home schooling…and a seemingly endless supply of food and drink…and a classroom of 30 children seems a sweet and peaceful distant memory.
So how do we approach self isolation, while making it productive for the children, but also making it fun and not stressing out working parents for whom the thought of home schooling seems insurmountable? The answer is with care and empathy. Empathy for colleagues who are in the remote teaching predicament, empathy for parents who are struggling to juggle work and little ones before adding learning in to the mix and empathy for the children, who are scared, frustrated and just don’t understand the situation we are all in.
As of Thursday 19th November, I am in self isolation for two weeks, due to several positive cases (children) in my class. No one enjoys this. When someone tells you not to do something, you immediately want to do the opposite. All I can think about is a Costa latte. Purely because I can’t leave the house to go get one. So, self-isolation isn’t great. I got a text this morning saying my nursery child needs to isolate. Also, my year 4 child has been in contact with a positive case. So she is self isolating. They both have remote learning to do. I am a single parent. I have a classroom to run. When I first heard, I was calm; I drank coffee, got my thoughts together and put a plan in place mentally. Then I panicked more than Jordan abseiling down the cliff on ‘I’m a celebrity’. How was I going to make this work? So I drank another coffee (recurring theme here), turned the laptop on and formulated a plan. That works for me, my children and their parents. Here goes:
First of all, I was actually really looking forward to next week’s teaching in school! Our school was due to be offline for a week, switching computer systems, so we had planned a fun, uber-crafty Christmas creative week (those who’ve read previous blogs of mine know this is just my cup of tea). As we all know, setting tasks for children to complete at home comes with its own challenges: some don’t have access to printers or even paper, some don’t have access to support from another adult due to work, time constraints or even the adult’s ability to help, so there was no way I was going to ask the child to complete the Christmas cards and calendars that we had planned, using sparkly salt paint, ribbons, PVA glue, etc – that can wait until we’re all back together again and give us something to look forward to!
What I did…
My first step was to send a note via our Seesaw app (it’s a lifesaver, honestly) to parents, asking them to bear with me while I sorted a concrete plan for the following week. Our parents like to know in advance what the week will entail. Immediately the questions came: Will there be Google meets? When will they be? Can I resend the child’s login details for the 400th time? Why doesn’t their internet work at their house and what can I do to fix it? (I may have added the last one but it certainly feels that way sometimes!) Given the sum total of my IT knowledge is “Have you tried turning it off and back on again?” you really don’t want me providing technical support.
Launching the Project…
Friday was due to be our project launch for our mini topic “Let it snow!”, four weeks of craft and Christmas cheer to brighten the spirits and to include: cards, calendars, Enterprising Elf Day (making and selling items to parents), decorate your classroom door competition, advent calendars, Christmas performance (whatever that looks like this year), etc, etc. The children were to come to school in winter woollies for an exciting day of wintery themed activities. So I planned a project launch via Google Meet. I had many conversations on the Thursday with my lovely TA and we planned what to do on the Friday’s meet. We decorated the space behind us with Christmas decorations (including my own Elf on the Shelf), I found a Christmas fireplace-y gif which flickered and everything, and children arrived on the Google Meet wearing their winter woollies to the sounds of Michael Buble (must be about time for him to come out of hibernation any day now…) We said hello, met the pets (seriously, every time…I see more of their dogs than my own family) and I asked the children to write their favourite Christmas memory onto a piece of white paper. I then (they loved this bit!) asked them to scrumple their memories into a ‘snowball’ and throw it at their screens (ie a snowball fight!) We then shared our Christmas memories and I saw joy and smiles on every one of my previously sad and confused 6 year old children.
In order to launch the project, the children needed to figure out the title. I’m telling you – Ant and Dec need to watch out, because next year, that presenting award goes to me and aforementioned lovely TA Mrs M. I had three ‘snowballs’, she had three snowballs. As I counted to three with the children and ‘threw’ the snowball, she had stationed her husband primed to do the same so it looked like she was catching my snowballs. The children loved it. This revealed the three words on the snowballs – ‘Let’ ‘it’ ‘snow!’ I then explained to the children that their task of the day was to make a winter picture with whatever resources they wanted. In school, our plan was to make ‘snow paint’ – shaving foam, PVA glue and silver glitter, which some of them did. I then took five minutes to screen share with my parents the plan for next week – the timetable, the ‘must do’ activities and the suggestions for those parents who wanted the extra. I took any questions they had and everyone left smiling. Within an hour, I’d had the learning from over half the class and lots of messages and pictures of people putting up their Christmas trees because the Google meet had put them in the mood 😊 (I also caved and did mine that night – may as well have something pretty to look at during isolation!)
As for next week, my approach was to hold three Google meets – Mon, Wed and Fri, with a choice of two time slots each day. I’m planning to deliver my inputs during the meets and then set a simple task for the children to complete. On the days when I don’t have a meet, the learning is simpler – practise the days of the week song using a video link, research which animals live in the North Pole, etc. For the afternoons, I have planned a choice menu. Children (and parents) can select which activities they can/want to access and undertake them as and when.
All I’ve asked is for parents to share photographs and videos of learning so I can respond to the children and keep a positive channel of communication open. It’s so important that the parents know we are here to support, but also that we are human too, with families and pressures of our own. We are all trying our best – we’re teachers, that’s what we do. I want the children to know that I am still here for them, still their teacher, and they are very much “my” children…even from a distance.