It took a pandemic to revive The Amaryllis.
It doesn’t need to be said, but I will anyway. This has been a challenging start to the school year. No one can ever be prepared for teaching during a pandemic. Our year started with 82 new safety protocols – regimented ways of doing and being that, fingers crossed, might keep our school covid free.
I will never forget the dystopian first day of school. Teachers in masks, face shields, and protective clothing stood by pylons labelled to help children identify their teachers. A voice over a megaphone commanded the masked children to go straight to their class lines and stand two meters apart from their peers while their parents, no longer permitted to enter the school yard, stood outside the fence watching in dismay? horror? disbelief? The children sat down, a welcome back to families message was given, and then we went over the protocols that they would be expected to follow as they entered the school.
I don’t want to diminish how intense, challenging, and exhausting teaching duirng covid-19 is; however, I would like to point to a few benefits brought on by this forced change.
- The school start in our district was delayed by one week so that schools could prepare for the new context. This allowed teachers the time to reach out to parents either by email or phone and establish a relationship before the first day of school. We were able to learn from the parents’ perspectives about almost every child before they entered our classrooms. This was incredibly helpful and should become standard practice.
- We began the year with staggered starts. Half the classes came on the first day; the other half came on the second; all came on the third. What a difference that made for building a rapport with students! The smaller groups meant there was time for personal connection. I took my class outside and let them play while I had one on one conversations with each student. This gave me time to get to know them and tell them how happy I was to have them in my class. The half clasess also allowed teachers to teach routines well. This made such a smooth start to the school year. A common sentiment was that we should keep this going forward.
- Children’s lives have been disrupted and there is great concern about their mental health and well-being. Many children have not seen their classmates since last March. Feelings of loss and fears about the impact of isolation are real. Children are hungering for friends and a sense of normalcy. Many are struggling to make sense of covid-19 and have worries about the future. We have been directed to focus on mental health and well-being especially during the first 30 days. Not leaping into academics immediately, allowing children time to socialize, creating playful activities, focusing on self-regulation skills … has helped establish a wonderful culture across the school. Resource: The First 10 Days and Beyond
- We are fortunate to have a lovely school yard. Teachers have shifted practice and many classes are now spending extended time outside. It’s really nice! Music classes, art classes, gym classes, drama classes, language classes … are happening daily. This causes me to wonder how we came to be so trapped by the four walls of our classrooms. It shouldn’t have taken a pandemic for this to happen. All children have been told to keep rain gear at school because we will go out no matter what the weather. Children are dressing in layers for the cool mornings and warm afternoons. Teaching outside is not without challenges and requires a whole new level of planning, but it is nice and the children like it.
- Entrance, exit, locker, washroom, nutrition breaks, lunch procedures have all changed. This change in routines driven by safety concerns has unexpectedly created a calmer feeling in the school. Less time is wasted during transitions.
- The school is sparkling clean! Caretakers work hard. Over the past few decades, however, there have been extensive cut backs to cleaning staff. Our schools in spite of how hard caretakers work are often grimy. Now though, we have 2 caretakers on during the day and several on in th evening. After every transition all high touch surfaces are cleaned. The school sparkles! It’s really nice to be in a clean environment. Why it took a pandemic to have thoroughly clean schools is beyond me.
- Our dystopian morning entrance and end of day exit routines have changed thanks to our gym teacher. Upbeat music now blasts as children arrive or wait for dismissal in their socially distant lines. This has changed the atmosphere in the school yard. It feels joyful, celebratory.
There is much that is difficult as every aspect of how we teach has to be reinvented; that said I am grateful to my colleagues and to our students who are working so hard to figure out how to move forward.