Nurturing our school community when the country is in lockdown!

Written by John Nicolls, Principal of Bilingual European School

The Bilingual European School is based in Milan and is just entering its third week of closure to students. Being in Milan, our school was closed before the order was made to close all Italian schools. The news came quite late so we had to establish a strategy that worked straight away but could adapt as the situation changed.

From the beginning, our mantra as an Educational Leadership Team has been:

  • Clarity
  • Simplicity
  • Wellbeing

For our school community, the closing of the school and the concerns around the pandemic were unsettling and frightening. Our approach is to act calmly, compassionately and decisively.

Clarity

To establish clarity, the school ensured that communications were centralised and involved all members of the community. We have a network of classroom parent reps, who disseminate information to other parents and collect feedback. There have been regular meetings with the reps by Zoom call, where they can hear the plans, give feedback and ask questions.

Year Leaders also have weekly meetings with parent reps to share curriculum content and address any concerns.

Faculty meetings are held regularly to talk about the plans for the next week, pick up any issues and to ensure that everyone feels supported.

The Educational Leadership Team meet twice daily to make plans, give feedback on the quality of the lessons monitored and to find new ways to make sure the learning is relevant and challenging.

Simplicity

Our students were used to Seesaw and Google Classroom platforms, so we felt there was no need to use anything else for asynchronous learning. We were fortunate that we have a 1:1 iPad programme, which students were already comfortable with. We introduced Zoom for live lessons. As teachers and students got used to it, we added new features and gave training for this too.

There are so many good IT resources that could be introduced but we have kept tight control of what could and couldn’t be used. Complication causes stress to parents, students and teachers, and learning can be lost in a flurry of novel apps and websites.

Part of the simplicity was scheduling lessons at the same time daily so the students had a routine and parents did not have to go searching for information or having to reschedule their own plans.

After the first week, we added an extra live lesson a day (with specialists) to enhance the two live lessons a day given by class teachers.

Wellbeing

Living in a country in lockdown is stressful. Children can’t leave their homes to play or socialise, families worry about elderly relatives, parents have concerns about money, and students pick up on the anxiety of parents and the media coverage. One of our first actions was to run a live virtual workshop on “How to talk to your children about the Coronavirus”, which was very well received.

We urge our teachers to create learning experiences that are easily understandable for parents and are clearly communicated.

We carefully measure how long students are in front of the screen and strive to create activities that can be done physically away from ipads and laptops. From the second week, our PE specialist created mini videos called “Coach Diego’s Challenge”, where students (and parents if they wished!) had to carry out fitness activities in their homes.

Students are given time in lessons to share how they are feeling and we give space where students can chat and gossip before the lessons start, to create a community feeling.

Parents are in a stressful situation, having to manage their own emotions, balancing work and looking after their children. So we are careful to ensure that online learning is as stress-free as possible for them. In Week 3, parents will be given a Mindfulness workshop, which we hope will be of help to them.

Our teachers have been incredible. They have leapt with enthusiasm, dedication and creativity into this new way of learning. However, they have the same pressures as the rest of the population and for international teachers, often without family support nearby.

With online learning, there is a temptation to always be on call and to offer more and more. As a leadership team, we have tried to reduce the expectations on teachers, resisting any requests to add more to their workload, and to quietly but consistently ask teachers to be gentle on themselves. If we have any concerns about individuals, we follow up to give as much support as we can.

We are immensely proud of our community. Students, parents and teachers have all embraced the situation with positivity and used it as a growth opportunity. Parents have been hugely supportive; our teachers and leaders have given energy, passion and time to make this new way of learning work; and our students, as usual, have delighted us with the creative, intelligent and thoughtful work they have produced.

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