Education in the Midst of a Pandemic; Changing the Face of Teaching

As I reflect on my teaching this year I can’t help but contemplate whether or not I am reaching all my students effectively during this pandemic-emotionally that is. Being a veteran teacher I knew that I would be able to continue to teach the educational requirements to my class but COVID had changed the “how” in administering those lessons.. I look at my students’ faces in the classroom, and only their eyes give me clues of their understanding and mental well-being.I have become exceptionally intuitive in reading their body language, tone of voice and the sparkle in their eye. The other day I wrote on the board “Today is going to be a great day!” Every student came in, read the board, and asked me “Why?” My response…”Why not?” That stimulated great conversation that day within the classroom.

The students may be quieter at times, but I encourage them to work together, to collaborate, to brainstorm and to come up with different ways of working together within the classroom. It’s important to maintain some familiarity during these stressful times. I have to remind them that it is ok to laugh and joke around. At first, they were all hesitant. Questioning me..”What about social distancing, and what about touching things?” I explained to them that they are far enough apart to safely work together. If they need to touch things, I give them disposable gloves. Soon, I could see the class coming together. My class was back to the sound of laughter and chatter among the students-learning and having fun. Hurtle one– conquered for now.

Hurdle 2- Distant Learners- These are my students who feel safer staying at home instead of coming into the classroom. This was NOT in my teaching manual. How do I teach online and engage with my students in class at the same time? Just the thought sends me into a panic attack. I know I have to stay calm, and figure out what will work for my group of students. I want my online learners to engage in classroom routines, as well as work with my in-class learners. First, I had to create some sort of routine, similar to a school day, for my online learners. I slotted in classes and lessons and that worked great…for a while. I noticed that some of the students needed more time then the lesson called for. I had to think of a solution to reach my online learners. My in-class students began to speak to them as if they were sitting alongside them in the class. In class students came up to the screen and worked with my distant learners. They engaged in group discussions and learned how to take turns and not speak above one another. Is it hard work to ensure everyone is engaged? YES it is. Is it worth it? YES IT IS.

My class is now normalized. Everyone has a routine to follow. I am not worried about who is listening behind the screen because I know I am doing my best and all the children are working as best they can, with the added pressure of their mental well-being. My Zoom is always on and my online learners alway have the option of being logged in all day if they want. We are making it work. We laugh, we engage in stimulating conversation and we keep it real. Most importantly I can see the sparkle back in all of my students’ eyes and that is what is most important to me.

When our campus closed following March Break we had to think quickly and act even more swiftly. I knew we couldn’t leave families in a lurch. Not only was the continued academic success of our students important but giving each child (no matter how small) reassurance they weren’t abandoned was our top priority – and the distance learning program offered this. It served its purpose as a bridge to when we can gather again safely; and now the time has come to do so.

Since March, we have worked countless hours to ensure that this transition is as easy, safe and healthy as possible for you and your children. Not to brag, but we’ve always been leaders when it comes to school-based health and safety. We were one of the only schools (or daycares) pre-COVID-19 where our Health and Illness Policy indicated that children cannot attend school if they showed any signs of illness (got a runny nose? Cough? Sorry, can’t attend school!). Pre-COVID-19, we were also lauded for having a full-time cleaner in our staffing arsenal that was dedicated to sterilizing and keeping spaces clean at all times.

With all that we did before, we have gone above and beyond the Ministry’s requirements for reopening safely. When your child returns you will see the following protocols in place:

  • PPE worn by all staff
  • Mandatory masks for students grade one and up (provincial standard is grade four)
  • Social distancing measures in place
  • Children will be asked to wash wands frequently with touchless soap and hand
  • sanitizer stations
  • Constant cleaning and disinfecting of high-traffic areas by staff
  • Temperature and health checks to be completed daily and upon entry into the school
  • Reconfigured entrance and exit points to minimize hallway traffic congestion
  • More outdoor time utilizing our beautiful campus and all it has to offer

This is just the tip of the iceberg. As the year goes on, we will adapt and change as needed. We have proven time and time again that MSK is ready to take on any task that is necessary to keep everyone here safe. This is an incredible school community that is resilient and one that truly cares about the well-being of one another.

Simply put, we look out for each other. That is just what we do at MSK.

We are grateful for the outpouring of support and dedication we have received from our school community. This school is just a structure but what makes MSK so unique is each and every one of you. Each child plays an important role in making MSK what it is – they are our heart and soul. And now, we are grateful that the time has finally come for students to return safety and fill the school with joy again.

In the meanwhile, we will continue to get ready for our students. This means more training, preparation and planning is in the works. Come September 8 when you drop off your child, I want you to feel secure and happy you chose MSK and I know we will not let you down.

Enjoy the last few weeks of what summer has to offer and I can’t wait to kick off our 19th year of operation with you.