Over the last few months, the pandemic has created many challenges for teachers, students, and parents as they transitioned into home-based learning.
It is true that, in the age of Covid-19 ,as an educator ,especially in a State Greek Primary School,you have two options: to do… nothing and to let the situation overwhelm you or to continue working hard during the day and worrying at night. Concentrating on research on creative, experiential and student-centered teaching that you have been doing for so many years, BUT, when the system around you is collapsing this doesn’t seem so easy to do. You don’t have much room left, you want to keep in touch with others. You dedicate yourself, SOUL AND BODY, to doing your homework, keeping in touch with your students, feeling alive, moving forward into life.
During the lockdown,on any given day, in schools across the World, many students exchanged warm greetings with a smiling teacher, then perhaps moved on to a morning check-in, followed by a quick mindfulness exercise to start the day grounded and mentally focused. Surrounded by peers they’d known for months, or perhaps even years—and a teacher they saw regularly—kids felt connected.
In spite of some critics who downplayed the importance of social and emotional learning and the value of belonging, to me it is clear and has been for some time: When students spend their daytime hours in safe, supportive schools where their teachers work every day to build strong relationships with every student, they are simply better, more engaged learners.
I personally believe that, yes, it is mainly about the technology—the mechanics of how to teach remotely. But it’s also about how we are going to hold our students’ hearts!
Food for thought ,by Dimitris Primalis:
“School ditches tablets”. Catchy titles like this one, banishing technology from the classroom, seem to be out of date after school closure and the need of thousands of teachers and educators to keep education alive in the midst of a pandemic. Whether you are a tech-enthusiast or you were forced to use technology, this crisis has brought to the surface the potential of learning technology, which has been tried and tested under extreme conditions.
To me, the good news is that , as teachers, we have overcome our greatest fears and biases against using technology so now we can make the most of it to facilitate learning, during the lockdown !
My own first shock concerned online classes & COVID-19:
How will the pandemic affect me as a teacher and my teaching?
I have always thought that, teachers are leaders, guides, facilitators, and mentors. We encourage students when they struggle, and inspire them to set and reach for their goals. We ARE role models, leading by example and giving direction when necessary.
A computer can give information, but a teacher can lend a hand, or an ear, and discern what’s necessary for a student to succeed, and to want to succeed.
So yes, technology is going to play a critical role in the future of education. But not as big a role as that of a teacher.
My next step was to create our online, asynchronous learning classes!
The creation of those classes was mainly aimed at maintaining the contact of our students with the English language course and allowed me to quickly carry out my work, communicate between different computers and exchange data, sharing useful links.
That service allowed me to organize, present, store, and retrieve the material, which students are asked to use without time constraints, as is usually the case in the classroom. Our e-classroom platform was basically designed to enhance the educational process as it takes place in the classroom and operation in a secure environment and I admit that I was really excited about learning how to use it properly .
Overall, the benefits of the #e-me platform we have been using all these months, are many. It was relatively easy to use, allowed the use of useful educational material, promoted communication and interaction between teachers and learners and served the needs of maintaining contact with the lessons and repetition.
The ‘key’ to the success of such a platform, however, lies in the frequency of visits of the students to the platform! I personally, found it really challenging to be able convince my students to visit it ,as often as possible, during the lockdown!
Of course, parents and teachers, we were invited to dedicate some time and accompany the children’s first steps in that new environment, to suggest that they regularly connected with the electronic classes of the courses they attended and gradually helped them to become independent in their use.
My initial thought was to find the way to encourage my students to express their thoughts and feelings, while staying at home.
Obviously, when we can share our sensations, thoughts, and feelings, we feel a sense of relief, safety, and calm, and I believe that sharing our feelings and learning about them is one of the most powerful ways to regulate our nervous systems during stressful periods of time.
Many of my own students reported feeling isolated, depressed, and overwhelmed. The lack of a support system had definitely been the hardest part about not physically attending school.
I decided to launch the “FEELINGS project” on e-me inspired by Growth Mindset.
Last year, I was introduced to Growth Mindset by Jennifer Schmidt of The Cogent Construct based in Spain.
Jennifer, had partnered with Pilgrim’s based in the UK to offer a new and innovative online teacher coaching / mentorship program and I was asked to contribute to it!
About growth mindset
This is a term introduced by Prof Carol Dweck and a concept that many schools are now introducing as a way to support a positive learning mindset. Those with a growth mindset (as opposed to a fixed mindset) believe they can improve with hard work and perseverance and that their intelligence isn’t fixed. They display better self-esteem and increased resilience. The journal encourages a growth mindset through checklist prompts and use of daily quotes to remind children about the importance of not giving up when faced with challenges.
I realised that during the lockdown , we were all developing empathy.
Empathy is the act of meeting someone in their pain and helping them feel like they’re not alone.
In order to inspire students to take that journey, we as teachers should not pretend that human feelings were something to which we were immune.
Therefore, I had to feel with students, which required both an acknowledgment that my own feelings existed and a desire to understand the feelings of my students. If I could create a fertile space for empathy to grow, I could also provide the opportunity for meaningful connections with my students.
I also used some writing opportunities for my students to get their thoughts, feelings, fears, and questions down in a creative format. I gave them an option to share with their e-class.This did not only allow them to share out their feelings but also gave me a place to check on them and follow up when I saw any of them expressing sadness, fear, etc.
Most importantly , I was honest and as understanding as possible to let students know we were all in that together and would likely all need a little grace.
After the first shock, I decided to FOCUS my teaching ON SUPPORTING MY STUDENTS EMOTIONALLY.
The very first inspiring idea which I used in our webex meetings during the lockdown, belonged to my dear colleague and friend Effie Kyrikakis.
It was mainly about sharing our wishes and sharing positive messages within our families and the local community and about committing small acts of kindness.
The message to my students was:You can always fly with your imagination! Spread your positivity! #PlanesofHope
Th idea was that each adult in their lives -teacher or parent- focuses on helping them bolster their strengths, discover their affinities, and realize their personal visions for the future.
I always have to remind myself that, especially under the circumstances, each teacher should be a role model of calm reflection within their class. We should avoid exhibiting our own frustrations, especially in emergencies.
Within those two months in lockdown ,they became more likely to think of setbacks as temporary. They recognized that by using more effective personal strategies ,they could overcome obstacles and turn setbacks into triumphs.
Rather than jumping in to fix the problem when my students were bored or unmotivated to do online work, during self-isoalation,I let them feel their feelings as they faced those challenges. The key was to listen to and encourage them so that they felt comfortable taking control.
In a nutshell
Let’s let our students discover their own ways to cope. This is phenomenal emotional growth and skill-building for the future.
To me, it was highly important that I should encourage my students to talk about their feelings but express gratitude, too.
To be able to do so, I decided to incorporate another inspiring idea to our webex online meetings during the lockdown, which belonged to our amazing colleague Theodora Bogiou.
It was mainly about sharing and spreading positive messages, in the local communities.
Practising gratitude not only helped my students to see the goodness in their lives but also to realise that it can come from a number of sources, even inside their homes .
All in all, it was highly important to enhance our practical optimism, through focusing on gratitude, small acts of kindness, emotional mindfulness, brain exercise, and positive surroundings, especially in those difficult times of self-isolation.
THE MAIN #I_love_ME_project IDEA, IN BRIEF
We hang some messages on a tree in our backyards and balconies.
The first messages was on a red heart and they started by saying I love…
The second message was on green leaves and they started by saying I’m grateful for..
The third message was on suns and it was a message to somebody they loved, like advice or a love message. It started by saying My message to you is…
To sum up, thanks to Theodora Bogiou‘s idea, I managed to promote emotional growth by encouraging my children to talk about their feelings, helping them identify those feelings and validating them. That kind of communication also fostered a stronger class connection.
In addition to practical steps to prevent illness (like washing hands and keeping a safe distance from others in the grocery store), I wanted to stress to my students that there were many other areas of pandemic life that they could control: how they spent their time at home, what they did to manage tough emotions, which self-care tools they utilized to reduce stress, etc. Me and my students discussed those coping methods and even made a list of them together.
Consequently, the next idea for our webex online meeting, came from Effie Kyriakakis’ #re-bloom project
They actually wrote about their inner strengths ,on their artwork, on flower petals and shared them with the class both synchronously and asynchronously.
We also talked about resilience! Talking about resilience and the positive things that can come out of a crisis was not an attempt to paint a happy picture of those times, but to create real, measurable factors that can be gained by coming through a difficult time.
I believe that teachers can demonstrate how they face challenges and frustration head-on and use different coping tactics like meditation, talking to loved ones, making art or playing music, and actually, that is exactly what I did!
I often give my students’ brain and body a positive workout, in the school classroom . I decided to do the same , during the lockdown.
-I believe that finding ways of calming the body can help some children, too – for example, using breathing or meditation techniques. Many of my students told me that being very active and ‘keeping busy’ stopped negative feelings and reduced stress levels to them.
Routines that foster connection are a core part of classroom life, and finding ways for students to experience these at home ,too went a long way toward easing my students’ transition to home-based learning.
-For almost everyone, physical movement and exercise are very important. Scheduling time for that ,especially during the lockdown, helped my students to make sure they remembered to do it. I decided to ask them to use physical movement, at the beginning of each online class meeting.
– I also encouraged them to find an activity which they enjoyed that was completely separate from any homework tasks – it was cooking, art, a new sport indoors, catching up with friends on a regular video call, etc.
-My suggestion to them about doing things for others had also been found to help my students manage their own stress. ie helping around the house.
Being mindful of our emotional state, matters.
We came to understand that challenges were opportunities for growth. Because, it is through life’s challenges that we find its greatest gifts, but we need to know how to look for them, and, more importantly, appreciate them.
A few weeks later, I decided to teach them about true and authentic confidence.
I taught them that, that’s how we survive when our confidence takes a hit, and how we can actually enhance our self-assurance when we struggle.
Believe it or not, even my youngest learners, got the message!
I couldn’t agree more, that’s why I am sharing part of his post, here!
*Dimitris Primalis, is a frontline teacher and teacher trainer, currently working in Doukas Schools, Athens.
“Let’s take a minute to reflect on what we have done so far with our (online) classes that we can keep doing in the post Covid19 era. We:
-Flipped the classroom
We assigned time consuming activities such as watching video or reading at home
You were given the opportunity to send easier tasks to weaker students and more challenging ones to stronger learners, who are usually utterly bored in class, when we assigned revision tasks asynchronously (offline). We also had the chance to give personalized feedback in a discreet way through emails .
We introduced web 2.0 tools that promote gamification like Kahoot in class .
-Used material outside the coursebook
In the first two weeks of lockdown, when everybody hoped that this would not last for a long time, we assigned revision exercises and then we became more resourceful.
-Promoted learner autonomy
Having guided them to the resources mentioned above, we have guided them to become more autonomous as learners. This time parents were more open to using the internet and less worried about the potential dangers.
-Applied formative assessment
We have discovered numerous new tools that allow our students to share reflective writing.
Because of the pandemic, more and more students realize that education should not be taken for granted. The majority missed their teachers and classmates, their routine which offers security .
-Beware of oversimplifications
I know that some teachers mistake the emergency online lessons during Covid19 for online education. Building a raft to survive a shipwreck cannot be compared to an ocean liner.
-A lesson taught for educators
I firmly believe that learning technology is a medium that can boost learning and student engagement.“
Summarising my own thoughts
-We learn everywhere and always, we learn by all means.
– The desire to change or improve the learning process is paramount in the use of technology.
– Teachers need to learn and evolve constantly.
– In the years 2020, technophobia holds up well in Greek school reality.
– We use technology as a tool for exploration and learning.
– The issue is not more or less technology, but its effective use.
– We choose those digital tools that enhance students’ engagement and interest.
– It’s not technology. It’s what you do with it.
– It takes effort and time.
-Technology is not what makes it possible. It’s what makes learning easy.
– Pay attention to the developments in learning, not to the developments in technology.
– The cutting-edge technology in a school is the good teacher.
Much like developing the skills and knowledge that we need to advance as a teacher, becoming more optimistic , especially in emergencies, entails deliberate effort!
And as with maintaining other competencies, sustaining a positive outlook may require a practical maintenance routine of being mindful about the good things in life, in us, in our work, and in our students
*THE BLOG POST TITLE has been inspired by this site:
Education Cannot Wait (ECW) is the first global fund dedicated to education in emergencies and protracted crises.