Written by Paul Walton, Principal, British International School of Ljubljana
On Monday 18th May, The British International School of Ljubljana, Slovenia, reopened its premises, welcoming its students back into the building.
Following a carefully planned ‘staggered start’ of cohorts and a comprehensive reopening guide shared through our school website, this was a very exciting time for the whole community. Leading the programme to integrate learners back to school has been a highly coordinated and synchronised challenge involving a range of stakeholders and a host of significant decisions.
Slovenia, having declared the end of the epidemic last week, is reopening its borders and slowly relaxing restrictions throughout the country. Following these measures, we organised an extensive list of advice, informative links and guidance for everyone to adhere to. With safety as our number one priority, the Senior Leadership Team coordinated the return of students with teachers transitioning from high-quality blended learning opportunities back into their familiar classroom timetables.
As part of the Orbital Education Group, we are able to collaborate with other school leaders, from Qatar to Shanghai to share best practice and use their experiences, advice and support as we meticulously reconfigure our learning spaces and procedures. This ensures a safe, successful and seamless move from using the popular blended learning environment to compliment it further by adding a physical classroom setting for the students to enjoy.
Moving back from online learning included a range of ‘check-ins’ with staff through emails, phone calls and apps to allow video conferencing to discuss wellbeing, working arrangements and to support our colleagues. Additionally, the school has offered a range of healthy eating tips, exercises, as well as virtual social events during this time to help our staff.
To ensure everyone’s safety on site, a full review and assessment of the school was completed a week before the official reopening. This including a deep clean, room layouts reconfigured to meet health and safety expectations and wide-ranging hygiene provision for everyone. These measures were checked again over the weekend and prior to the arrival of our students. Our challenges included the physical change to the learning environment at school, as this now featured a range of visible measures for safety that could have potentially dampened the spirits of our younger students upon their return.
With parents and teachers modelling the correct cleansing of hands, physical distancing and wearing masks, this was a fantastic addition to embed prevention routines and share good practice across our community. We also planned accordingly to reduce larger gatherings e.g. assemblies, large group activities and events to ensure the safety of the students. There has been significant pastoral care, support and welfare offered to our students during this time of blended learning. Whilst retaining the best of online learning provision, the addition of their normal routines in the school compliments very well to facilitate opportunities to help, reassure and listen to them through this changeover. This is an incredible area of strength that we are especially proud of as a school due to the positive and respectful relationships between the staff and students.
Our first morning back began with teachers greeting the children as they arrived at school full of energy and liveliness. They were extremely happy to be back to see their teachers and were visibly excited to greet their peers after the past couple of months apart.
The students then moved into classrooms and followed the guidance for the number of students in the room, desk spacing, and cough and hand hygiene to ensure that everyone was as safe as possible. The attitude of the students was exemplary as they harmoniously accommodated the new changes with hygiene and distancing in a calm and composed manner. Once lessons started, it was very much back to ‘normal’ with everybody enjoying a rich variety of learning experiences and stimulating interactions with all those around them.
Photographs of the lessons during the day captured the positive mood amongst the students as they enjoyed being back in their classrooms, out exercising with our PE team and even participating in some outdoor learning in our Woodland area on site. The late-afternoon sunshine was out overlooking our students during their activities, bringing to an end a perfect first day back to school for everyone involved.
As the students left, I felt a huge pride in working with such a dedicated and committed team of staff who have gone above and beyond expectations during this unprecedented time. We look forward to a successful term ahead with a warm optimism and pleasure of working with our students again at school.
- British International School of Ljubljana