The end of May had marked the end of an era. Bring on June and a structured return to school for Years 1 & 6 and Nursery & Reception. How did we get here? Catch up here: Teaching in 2020 - School Standby.
With the decision to delay the return date until June 8th, we had the first week of June available to prepare the classrooms, our resources and importantly, meet with the parents of every child intending on returning to school. For the new school systems to be implemented correctly, we needed to ensure that all parents understood the protocols for drop offs and pick ups and knew what the new rules were around bringing things into school.
So what was changing?
Here’s a quick rundown of the changes our school made to make the school environment safer for all:
One-way systems in and around the school
Signage and markers on the ground to encourage social distancing
Year groups split into bubbles - Red, Yellow and Blue
Cafeteria and outside play area split into 3 zones only to be used by students in the corresponding bubble
Hand sanitising pumps and outdoor sinks brought in
Strict break times and routes through the school to avoid mixing of bubbles
Staggered times for using the bathrooms and students to always be escorted/supervised by an adult
Year 1 students in school from Monday-Thursday with home learning on Fridays to allow teachers time to plan for home learning. Year 6 in school for 2 days per week to start with.
Students not allowed to bring anything in from home other than a packed lunch in a disposable bag. No book bags. No PE gear. No drink bottles. Water had to be provided in plastic cups in class and students were not to return any work sent home to school.
1 table per student spaced out around the room. Each student to have their own tray and equipment. All soft furnishings to be put into storage.
Any reading books used to be placed in a box (quarantine) for 3 days before being reused.
Flashback to the early 2000s and our good old Nokia bricks. Each of us got one of these for our classroom in case we needed to contact the senior leadership team about any urgent matters.
One proposed idea was that we use these long yellow hoses to help children socially distance when walking around the school. A couple of Teacher Aides picked up the unfortunate job of sticking on orange strips of tape to mark handholds...and then we never ended up using them. The vision of one cheeky or clumsy student tugging on the hose and a class of children tumbling down the stairs was more than enough for us to reject the idea.
Pre-return parent meetings
If parents expressed that they wanted to send their child/ren back, we needed to arrange a 15-20 minute slot with them to meet us (socially-distanced) in the school outdoor play area. We had to get them to fill in some paperwork before talking through the new systems and rules. Now, the most important part of these parent meetings was to ensure that they understood how to enter and exit school.
Somehow I managed to fail on that part with one parent. 🤦♀️
Coming to my last meeting of the day after already having a couple of smooth-running parent meetings, I assumed that this would be just as seamless. At the end I pointed to the walkway 20 metres away (covered in red arrows directed towards the exit) and told my student to walk with her dad around to the black door exit. They set off in the correct direction so I headed inside to the reception area to catch up about the day with a few other colleagues.
2 minutes later, a confused voice came from the top of the staircase. Next minute, a member of our senior leadership team called out “Excuse me what are you doing?! Who did you just meet with?” I wish I could’ve sunk into the ground but I had nowhere to hide so had to raise my hand and admit that I was the one who’d messed up. The parent was clearly a bit distressed about being stuck in school and had to be escorted out of the building.
I was equally embarrassed as I was confused; I’d mucked up but I had no idea how he got up a flight of stairs and along the hallway when the main road was literally on the other side of the wall to where we’d just met in the outdoor area. Even worse, this mishap was mentioned during staff briefing the next morning...oops!
Back at school...with 6 students
Drowning under numerous revisions of Health & Safety plans but armed with freshly printed A3 copies of our new timetables, we were like BTs (Beginning Teachers) all over again; a bit nervous but at the same time excited to see how everything played out.
As the clock struck 9, the school gates opened and in came a small stream of socially-distanced families. A couple of thoughts sprang to mind: What a beautifully orderly school arrival; Something about this feels post-apocalyptic. Most children looked stunned a lah Monty Python’s Dead Parrot but thankfully a few looked over-the-moon to see their friends again. Sadly we had to stop children from hugging their friends and instead direct them towards their own spot on the court to wait on. The poor kids just wanted to be kids.
I led my tiny class upstairs, reminding them to keep their distance before sending them one at a time to wash their hands. After each child was seated at their own table, it was eerily quiet. Ok. Well I guess welcome back everyone! Let’s uhh...take the register and move into some handwriting.
I thought that the children adjusted really well to being back at school. They picked up the new rules and routines pretty quickly and, on the whole, showed good attitudes towards learning. It was clear though that some of them hadn’t picked up a pencil in a long time. What they all lacked was endurance; sore hands after 5 minutes, brains maxed out after half an hour, sleepy after 3 hours (I did have a girl fall asleep at her table on her first day back).
Other than trying to stay on top of the new schedule, the day was very calm and it was fantastic having a Teacher Aide with me to help out - these children were getting such a good deal with a 1:3 adult to child ratio. In our new timetable, we had half an hour allocated to PE each day as well as plenty of time for Arts & Crafts and well-being activities. We were able to get through lots of whole class Maths and Literacy and had opportunities to do one-on-one Guided Reading with our emergent readers.
It was weird not being allowed to call children onto the mat to do group work and a big pain not being allowed to lean over children's shoulders to check their work and mark during lesson time. Even though it had taken more organisation, each child having their own sets of stationery, books and equipment kept at their table, saved so much time. Normally as teachers, we have to account substantial time in lessons for students moving from the mat to tote trays to tables, transitioning between activities and tidying up so this was a welcome change.
And after all that, we got to leave school at 3.40pm! The school would close for staff at the new time of 4pm so that people weren’t lingering on premise any longer than needed.
Managing home learning AND in school teaching
As well as planning and resourcing our in-school lessons, we still needed to prepare home learning work for the majority of our students who were stuck at home. Fortunately this didn’t end up being too hard because: We were old hands at creating home learning packs by this stage, the in-class work was just an extension of what we sent home, our team leader took on the responsibility of doing wellbeing calls home, and we were only working 4 days a week at school. We continued to read stories for students at home and posted these on the school website.
The trickiest part was keeping track of what lessons we were up to (don’t worry about trying to understand the following ramble):
We had a Monday deadline to finish our new home learning packs and a Wednesday hard deadline for work being ready to print for collection by parents on Fridays between 11am-1pm. To prepare for this, we needed to plot out the Learning Objectives and experiences for our delegated subject about 3 weeks in advance and explain these in weekly team meetings. Each of us was then responsible for preparing a couple of full days of home learning packs and a week of in-school activities for one subject. We had to go through our slides and resources for in-school work with the rest of our team so everyone knew what they were doing the following week. We also had to do our daily prep for each day of in-school activities and delegate out various tasks for our Teacher Aides to do on Fridays when we weren’t on site.
So what I’m trying to say is that I simultaneously had my head in Literacy planning 3 weeks in advance, a home learning pack 2 weeks in advance, an Arts & Crafts activity 1 week in advance and my next Maths lesson coming up in 2 minutes. Not a bad test of multi-tasking ability. 🤹♀️
All in all though, I found this return to school a pleasant surprise and think that it was a positive experience for all students and teachers involved.
Class numbers slowly picked up so I had 11 students by the end of term (still dreeeamy!). Year 2-5 students had the opportunity to come back on rotation for one week each before school closed over the summer holidays. To make up for all the lonely days spent at home over the past few months and with no chance of a school trip, we all hosted little parties for our classes on the second to last day of term. It was just what our students needed; music, food, fun and games; a chance for kids to be kids.
📘 Next article: Teaching in 2020: Scanning for Viruses...Case Confirmed.