The COVID-19 pandemic has forced UK schools to change the way they deliver lessons to the majority of students. On Friday March 20, 2020, in a move not seen since the Second World War, schools across the UK were closed to all but a handful of students as the government increased its efforts to curb the spread of coronavirus.
As much of a shift as this has been for the nation’s children, it has meant a rapid and unexpected transformation of working practices for their teachers. Taken out of the classroom environment with less than a week’s notice, and expected to deliver lessons remotely while maintaining some form of relationship with their peers and charges, it’s little wonder that around a third of teaching staff have noticed a decline in their wellbeing.
In a bid to address this, schools are turning to software as a means of managing the challenges brought about by this new way of teaching, helping teachers to plan, deliver and mark their lessons as effectively as possible, while restoring some sense of normality in a situation that’s very far from normal.
A challenging profession
The stresses of teaching are well known – even under ordinary circumstances. The ongoing challenge of managing behaviour, and the number of complex decisions that have to be made – often on the fly – can be a heavy burden for even the most experienced teacher.
Teachers must always ‘be on’ to ensure students remain engaged, and constant interruptions and questions from students and other teachers mean the pace can be relentless. Lunch is usually a quick sandwich at their desk while marking the previous lesson or planning for the next. The sheer energy required to get through a typical five period day can, to use a lockdown comparison, be like a Joe Wicks’ workout – but without the 30 second break.
This pace has resulted in teaching becoming an increasingly solitary profession. Beyond a constant stream of emails and weekly staff meetings, there’s precious little time for interaction with other adults. Teachers are largely confined to the classroom, rarely venturing into the staffroom. Of course, the current situation means there’s no longer even an opportunity to do that. Everything has changed, and it’s changed very quickly.
Adjusting to the new normal
Unlike employees in many other industries, teachers aren’t used to working from home. While there is certainly the advantage of fewer behavioural issues to worry about, there is a risk that, with no staffroom and no interactions with colleagues, teachers can become increasingly isolated. It’s important, therefore, that a school’s senior leadership team (SLT) thinks carefully about putting support in place for its staff, and does what it can to make teachers feel they’re not alone.
Weekly check-ins can be made twice weekly, or even daily, and praise given to those teachers whose work and contributions would otherwise go unrecognised. Indeed, a sense of belonging is crucial for anyone stuck alone in a room for any length of time. To that end, best practice guidelines should be put in place on how teachers can best work together, using video conferencing technology to create opportunities for group work or teaching in pairs.
The new normal requires new routines, new ways of working. The pandemic has accelerated the use of technology across all industries. Teaching should be no exception. Indeed, there’s no shortage of apps and software available to help teachers cope with the new demands that working from home has put on them.
Filling in the gaps
Teachers will want to create as much of a sense of normality as possible given the situation. Setting and electronically communicating timetables, for example, can help establish a much-needed sense of structure in a student’s day. And while they may no longer be able to physically stand in front of a class and deliver a lesson, teachers can use software to fill in the gaps. Software exists that will allow teachers to set work for – or hold online classes with – their students, and there are lots of tools available that use automated quizzes and tests to make those lessons more engaging.
Software allows teachers to maintain a sense of connection, too. Staying in touch needn’t be an issue. It’s possible to send a message to a whole class or to a single student – or to their parents and guardians if necessary. It’s also worth considering how much more personal a video conference feels than a traditional phone call – especially important during this time of social distancing. What’s more, praise and recognition can be given where needed using the badges and emojis that students are used to from elsewhere in their digital lives.
We’re living in unusual times, and teaching staff have been forced to adapt very quickly, with very little warning. No one said it would be easy, and the additional stresses that this rapid change has brought are entirely understandable. But by adopting new digital tools and ways of working, it’s possible for teachers and SLTs to maintain those vital human connections, and continue to deliver the education their students need without it impacting on their own personal wellbeing.
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