Teaching during Turbulent Times

Faculty Responses to COVID 19, Quarantine, and the DLP

Teaching+during+Turbulent+Times

It was on March 13th, an hour or so after our final classes had ended, when the Hessen government announced the closing of all schools within the Hessen region. We had heard the news from friends in schools located in Seoul, Zurich, and more, yet it was still a shocking thought that took us time to process: our very own school was shutting down. We had been preparing for this time by attempting Zoom sessions and speaking with teachers about the coronavirus. This was the time for us to put the theory into actual practice. 

Despite the hectic situation with the cancellation of the May 2020 exams as well as moving the entire student body and faculty online, faculty members gave me their time to tell about the effects quarantine had on their lives and their teaching. 

Ms. Conley, the Mathematics Head of Department – also known as the Girls Varsity Basketball Coach – told us the adaptations she has had to make while teaching students during the quarantine. She began online teaching by teaching from school. This was made possible by FIS providing a big bus, so the passengers could spread out and commute to and from Frankfurt. As the situation progressed however, she decided it was better to stay home, where she has been using an iPad in place of the Smartboard. 

I still have the option to go to school (…) but I’ve found that I can do what I need from home and it seems more socially responsible at this point.”

— Ms. Conley

When asked how she adapted her teaching to the distance learning plan (DLP), she referred to a “Flipped Classroom” approach in which students learn the new content ahead of time using videos and other resources she provides. Zoom was then used to discuss specific problems together. As one of her students, I had to agree that this approach was an effective method for learning during the quarantine.

“The planning takes longer, but there are also advantages in that the students seem pretty focused knowing that we are using the 30ish minutes to solidify what they have already started to learn via videos and the resources I am providing in the google docs,” she added. “I’ve been extremely impressed with the maturity and responsibility that I’ve seen from the majority of my students.”

To finish it off, Ms. Conley gave students and teachers alike advice and recommendations to make the most of the quarantine period. For students, she gave a variety of methods to fight off procrastination such as hand-written to-do lists and setting small rewards for when you complete a major task (such as a yummy snack, a power nap, a 30-minute break to watch TV or take time to read your favorite book). For teachers not yet accustomed to Zoom and online learning, she encouraged them to talk to each other and share resources. “(…) We can still have meetings on Zoom and we can reach out (…) to discuss what is and what isn’t working with our classes,” she said.

I also had the opportunity to speak to the Grade 12 Year Head and Upper School Geography and TOK teacher Mr. Stothard. As a Year Head, he gave me a unique perspective on the issue. He was currently working at home as he felt that it was the safest option for him and more importantly – his family. 

We are so lucky to have all those things in place. Most schools have nowhere near the capacity to facilitate the DLP that we have established. ”

— Mr. Stothard

When asked about how DLP has affected his geography course, Mr. Stothard had many positive things to say. “The biggest joy I have with teaching geography is in the rich discussions we have as a group. Zoom has worked surprisingly well in that regard.” One flaw that he did notice was that it was difficult to have individualized conversations, although break-out rooms seemed to ameliorate the issue. From the perspective of a Year Head, he also missed the impromptu connections that teachers and students made in the Tech Deck, hallways, homerooms, cafeteria. However, he still hoped that students took this time to make connections with their family members instead. 

Mr. Stothard gave me a variety of sources for any struggles a student might undergo during the quarantine period. If tech is a problem, Mr. Stothard suggests contacting the Tech Deck (+4961712024300 or support@fis.edu). If stress bothers you, he advised getting in touch with your counselor. Finally, if classes do not go the way you expect, he directs students to Year Heads like himself. Finally, he encourages all students not to get stuck procrastinating, because if you hadn’t been proactive in your learning, there would be much more work to do after the pandemic ceased.

For teachers, Mr. Stothard advised them to take advantage of this opportunity to learn new skills. “Teaching and learning go hand in hand, so we have to look at the DLP as an opportunity to develop as professionals”. He stated that many teachers at our school have Google Certification and that there was no better time to up-skill and participate in some micro-credentialing. 

“The priority (…) is stopping the virus, please follow the rules that [the government] has set” Mr. Stothard concluded. “The quicker we can get through this together, the less suffering and damage COVID 19 will do to our lives. Our responsibilities as a learning community haven’t disappeared though. The more unified our response (…), the better the outcomes will be for all members of the community.”

The final member of the faculty that I had the opportunity to interview was our very own Upper School Principal Mr. Switzer. I had been avidly keeping up to date with the emails and updates from Mr. Switzer, but through this interview, I was able to gain a deeper insight into how Mr. Switzer personally felt regarding the DLP and quarantine. 

The past week he had stayed on-site to support any teachers who needed assistance in the transition to the DLP. However, even in school, almost all meetings that had more than 2 other people took place via Zoom. Similar to Ms. Conley and Mr. Stothard, he will be working from home now. “As many of the teachers are also working from home, I think it is important that I also try and get a sense of what this experience is like for our teachers,” he said. “I’m also a parent of two Upper School students, so being at home while they are working at home will also give me some perspective on their world too!”

Mr. Switzer had just listened to a great podcast by Professor Adam Grant on procrastination.  He summarized it briefly by stating that Grant argues that procrastination is not something we do because we are lazy but because we are trying to avoid negative emotions such as anxiety, frustration, and confusion that said task might cause. In addition to a great podcast to listen to during the quarantine, he also added some ideas to fix this.

 

  1. Practice Self Compassion by reminding yourself that you’re not the only one who is procrastinating. It’s part of the human condition.  Apparently even Margaret Atwood is a procrastinator.
  2. Use your calendar/planner.  If you write down your tasks in your planner, you are much more likely to complete them in the time provided. 
  3. Remove temptations like video games/phones.  If you need to get a task done, get those things out of sight.  Maybe ask someone in your house to actually hide them from you!
  4. Make a to-don’t list: a list of things you won’t do when you’re working.  Like, I don’t go on social media while I’m writing an essay.
  5. Try to be a pre-crastinator by getting things done as quickly as possible as soon as they are assigned.  You can start this by breaking down a big task into smaller ones that can be completed quickly.

 

He understood that the “constant barrage of news about [the coronavirus]” had caused many of us to be distracted from our schoolwork and addressed the community’s fear of catching it or passing it on.

While healthy young people who contract the virus rarely need to be hospitalized, many elderly people or those with underlying health issues are very much at risk. For now, we should focus on practical steps:  limiting social contact and practicing constant hygiene.”

— Mr. Switzer

Mr. Switzer followed this up by giving advice to other teachers during the DLP. He had been really impressed with how quickly our community had embraced the DLP. However, he noted that they still “needed to get the balance right between synchronous (Zoom) learning and asynchronous (homework, activities that can be completed later)”. As for classes in Grades 6-10, he emphasized assigning most of the work to be completed during class time. 

Additionally, he addressed some problems that the students had been having with the miscommunication over Zoom. “ I think it is also important that teachers are clear and consistent about where and how students can access the lesson plan and the necessary resources,” he continued. “Some students have told me that sometimes they can’t find the instructions for the class and are nervous that they might miss a zoom lesson.”

As the Upper School Principal, Mr. Switzer gave us some final words of encouragement to all members of the school community. 

“I think it is really important that we all find ways to feel connected even though we need to be working in isolation.  Homeroom check-ins, break times, lunchtimes, are a great way to keep in touch with your classmates via Zoom or other communication tools. I also think it is really important to not stare at a screen too much.  Get out of your chair regularly and get some exercise throughout the day. (…) And finally, practice gratitude. Write thank-you notes to your friends, teachers, parents, family members to tell them why you are grateful for them. It will make you feel better and it will certainly brighten their day.”

Overall, through the series of interviews, one thing became extremely clear: the incredible response of both the school and the community. When speaking with students from different schools in different countries, I realized that it was rare to see such a successful and effective implementation of Zoom. Finally, I’d like to remind us all to express gratitude to the teachers and staff that are aiding us while also being faced with a hasty transition to Zoom and online learning. During this quarantine period, it was the teachers that truly shone and showed the students that anything, including teaching, could be done during these turbulent times.