Conversations with Teachers in Holland and Denmark
Lisette Martin, International Professional Development Manager at Oxford, talked with teachers Anniek Bruijnzeels from Holland, Camilla Juulsgaard and Louise Hojen from Denmark, about their experiences in returning to the classroom following recent school closures as a result of the Coronavirus lockdown.
How did the lockdown impact Anniek, Camilla, and Louise?
Anniek teaches first grade at a small international school in Holland. She teaches the smallest with just 13 students on a normal day. Her school shutdown on 16th March and started remote learning a couple of days later. Her school returned at half capacity a couple of months later and returned to full capacity earlier this month. Social distancing isn’t required for children under 12, however, teachers must adhere to 2m social distancing guidelines.
Camilla teaches second grade in Denmark. Her school shutdown on 11th March and began remote learning at the end of that week. The school returned to half capacity the following month and full capacity another month later. Camilla and her fellow teachers were only given a week’s notice for returning to school. Although her school is back at full capacity, they are operating on shorter days (reduced by 2 hours). At first, teachers were required to wear gloves but now that rule has become more lenient.
Louise teaches at a boarding school, also in Denmark – a “self-governing residential style school”. Louise’s school shutdown on 11th March too, and students were sent home the following day. A month later, boarding schools re-opened, but faced the added challenge of how to manage social distancing for residential students
Innovation at School
When faced with something new and challenging, teachers around the world had no choice but to adapt. Anniek’s school has adapted to the government guidelines by giving students individual trays to hold their learning materials and using sticker footprints to guide the children in certain directions.
Camilla’s students stay safe by enjoying activities outside, she cleans every marker pen after use and the school have also developed 2m long ‘distance poles’ to help students to visualize social distancing.
Louise’s school has developed a creative way to play and keep active. Students play with ropes connected to both ends of a fenced area, the ropes are 2ms apart and have shirts connected which the students climbed into, they maintain the social distance but still have fun.
How did students respond?
Anniek‘s students have found it hard to integrate back into the full capacity classroom after spending a month at half capacity. Her students are enjoying the smaller class sizes and the benefits it offers in individualizing teaching. Camilla’s students have been enjoying the remote learning and online activities. However, she has noticed a 10% decline in student attendance and engagement with online classes. Her students have been excited to be back with their friends doing outdoor activities, even if from a distance. The first day back was the most difficult for Louise too, her students struggled for the first few days getting used to the new setup but have adjusted as time has gone on.
How did parents respond?
When schools quickly turned to digital teaching and learning solutions, parents became “homeschool teachers” on top of their other responsibilities, and Anniek noticed her students’ parents struggling with online learning. For parents with multiple children or busy schedules, this was a big challenge. Parents have been supportive and understanding of students going back to school. And Camilla has noticed ‘a renewed respect towards teachers everyday’.
How did teachers respond?
Anniek said she prefers the new setup of her classroom and the rest of her colleagues have “adapted really well to using the new guidelines. The most difficult one is the staff trying to keep distance from the students especially in the lower years”. Camilla expressed having quite a few concerns about the restrictions in the classroom but was pleasantly surprised how it played out. “Most of the staff are doing extraordinary work every day. They are helping each other out in all these different crazy situations where no one knows what the correct thing is to do, what the guidelines say, can we actually do this, can we not. I’d say everyone has been helping out a lot. It’s challenging, but it’s made new bonds between colleagues”.
Louise had a different set of challenges at her boarding school. For her, the hard part was figuring out when and how the students can mingle given that most of them live in small quarters. Louise shared, “It was a bit more difficult to plan for the actual return and aspect of what to do in eating situations and what if someone gets an injury and that they are not allowed to leave the school premises for groceries.”
Advice to teachers
Anniek offered advice on creating a calm environment; “One of the things of being a teacher you have to try to also, even outside of Covid-19, you leave your own life at the door. So if you are stressing a lot in the classroom it comes off to the students”. Louise shared advice on taking it one day at a time; you “have to be adaptable and have to accept this is a completely new situation that can’t be controlled so it’s really important to take a deep breath before you do anything or react”. She finished by saying that “supporting each other is the most important thing”.
How are you innovating and adapting during this challenging time?
Whilst no classroom will be the same, hopefully this conversation with teachers across the globe can help you start to imagine what your classroom might look like or give you some more ideas if you have already made the return yourself. Thank you to Anniek, Camilla, and Louise for sharing their experiences – you can see the full conversation via our free webinar.
This article was written by Madison Westphal, Education Consultant at Oxford University Press.