Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 28 November 2020


Five lessons I've learnt as a Dubai teacher during the pandemic

Claire Heylin tells of the challenges facing staff and pupils in the Covid-19 age

I scan the room and check for understanding in the eyes of the masked six-year-olds in front of me.

We’ve all become quite adept at reading expressions without seeing a whole face. It is a new skill we have mastered this year. My online pupils indicate they are good to go and so independent activities commence.

As I circulate the room, I keep an eye on my iPad to ensure the distance-learning students are going okay – unmuting myself to check on their progress as the lesson continues.

When I first saw my classroom set up to cater for social distancing, my heart filled with sadness. I wondered how collaboration would operate and how it would affect the young minds about to come back to school after 180 days at home.

I for one am grateful to be back in the wonder of the classroom again

Claire Heylin

Now I look at my pupils in those spaces with pride. They’re unfazed by a seating plan that places their desks two metres apart.

This has been a back to school like no other before. Here are some lessons learnt along the way.

1: Honesty is key

Pupils are definitely not the only ones who are learning. Teachers are researching and trying best practices and new methods daily.

We are trying to learn new ways to play at a distance and keep the spirit of our classrooms alive the same way it was pre-Covid 19.

Being honest and open with our pupils has helped this transition. Letting them know that we’re going to see if something new we are trialling works helps pupils understand that we are sailing the same unchartered waters together and navigating this new model of learning as a team.

Claire Heylin has praised the resiliency of children who have quickly adapted to a new learning environment. Courtesy: Claire Heylin 
Claire Heylin has praised the resiliency of children who have quickly adapted to a new learning environment. Courtesy: Claire Heylin 

2: Sometimes we need to put the devices down

Technology is the reason studies could continue during lockdown but there is a time and a place for it.

Lunch and break were previously spent with all other pupils from the year group, so we have had to think of new ways for pupils to form friendships while remaining socially distant.

Taking a break from devices at lunchtime has tightened the bond of pupils in class.

Whenever I come back from eating my own lunch, the pupils are always eager to tell me new information about their friends or when each other’s birthdays are.

At the heart and soul of every classroom are relationships that piece it together and a break from devices can do wonders for the connectivity between all of us in the room.

3: Blended learning gets better with time

That old adage ‘practice makes perfect’ rings true about combining face-to-face learning with distance learning.

What initially felt unnatural has now become second nature and I’m proud of the warmness and openness of my face-to-face pupils towards their online classmates and vice-versa.

Once rules and routines have been established, blended learning is a great tool to ensure all pupils can study safely wherever they may be.

4: Children are extremely resilient

My Year 2 pupils are the youngest age group required to wear masks all day and practice social distancing. I envisaged this being a struggle for them. I was wrong. They understand and accept the rules and encourage each other to follow them. Despite the changes in their routine at school, they have shown resilience and adaptability far beyond their years.

5: Nothing beats teaching in the classroom

I enjoyed distance learning for many reasons – one being the numerous CPD (continuing professional development) opportunities made available online for the first time. I became educated in apps and systems I’d never used before.

Daily lessons with pupils gave me a sense of purpose when confined to my apartment in lockdown and I have fond memories of it. But nothing beats the smile of a pupil or watching their reaction as you share a book you love with them for the first time.

I am delighted to be able to live stream lessons to pupils at home and yes, we would be ready to go fully online should the need ever arise. But I, for one, am very grateful and appreciative to be back in the wonder of the classroom again.

Claire Heylin is primary English lead at Deira International School in Dubai

Updated: October 12, 2020 04:28 PM

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