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It feels a little bit surreal that we are even having this conversation. I keep waiting for someone to pinch me to wake me up from this bizarre real-life science fiction movie as I watch people wear masks while doing their grocery shopping, carefully maintaining their distance from other shoppers...
But sadly, it seems that this virus is going to be with us for a little while yet.
Although we are going to talk today about how we might consider re-opening schools for face-to-face learning, if your school makes the sudden transition to teaching online, you don't have to figure it all out on your own:
As we begin to consider ways that our schools might begin to re-open in North America in the coming months, we can learn a lot from the way that other countries have started opening up their schools.
For example, as noted by Spaces4Learning, "in parts of Asia, children’s temperatures are taken when they first arrive – and if they have a fever, they are immediately sent home. Also, students’ hands and the soles of their shoes are sanitized with an alcohol-based disinfectant before they’re allowed into the building."
In schools that have re-opened in parts of Asia, children are required to wear face masks, and they are reminded to wash their hands at the beginning of each class period.
Schools will likely look quite different than we are used to, so let's talk about some of the very practical ways that you and your school might consider setting up classrooms differently in a COVID-19 reality:
According to CNN, government regulations require that children are split into smaller groups and that they wash their hands as they arrive at the school and often throughout the day.
Schools are also providing maps so that children enter and exit through specific doors, and so there isn't a crowded entrance or exit anywhere in the school.
Inside our classrooms, we will likely need to set up desks 6 feet apart from each other, or schools may need to invest in 3-way, clear plastic partitions – sneeze guards - that would allow students to be physically close to each other, sitting at tables or in desks that are close to each other, without any physical contact.
Another possibility is that children will attend class according to a staggered schedule, with half of your class attending in the morning and the other half attending in the afternoon.
If children need to remain socially distanced and if surfaces can in fact transfer the virus, that means that leaving the classroom to take your class to the art room or to the gym is no longer a possibility.
Children would likely have to stay in their classroom for the entire morning (unless you live in a climate that allows you to hold classes outdoors).
Now previously, I would have thought that asking kids to stay in the room all morning would be nearly impossible. However, kids have been kept at home now for so long that they are a little more used to staying in one place for longer periods of time.
Combined with the idea that students won’t be in the classroom for longer than a morning or an afternoon (and that they actually get to see their friends), it likely wouldn’t be as difficult to pull off
We could also have the specialist teachers rotate from class to class, bringing any supplies they needed with them, so teachers can get their prep periods.
And, we could ensure better ventilation inside our classrooms by opening windows and letting in as much fresh air as possible throughout the day.
So often, especially in the primary grades, it’s common for teachers to take their class by the restroom all together when they are coming to or from another room, but this won’t be possible if we need to keep children socially distanced.
A rule I always had in my classroom that worked well was to only have one boy or one girl out of the classroom at any time – and then of course, we will have to ensure that kids aren’t getting together in the hallway with other kids, so we might need additional supervision in the hallways.
Although it might be a bit of a scheduling challenge, it may be effective to have scheduled recess by grade level – so each grade would go out at a different time, with each class restricted to a particular area of the playground each day, and of course, no shared playground equipment or balls.
It’s just hard to imagine how those poor souls on supervision duty would be able to keep the kids apart.
Normally, I recommend that in terms of student supplies, you would keep glue sticks, glue, and scissors in a group bin (and not in student desks) because kids just can’t seem to keep their lids on glue of any kind. 😂
However, you may need to either have kids keep all of their supplies in their desks, or have one child pass them out (while wearing gloves) and then have each child wipe down their glue bottle before putting it back into the group bin. Or, consider spraying everything with disinfectant once they have put their supplies back.
Again – even though it is different than the way we would have done things before – and even though this requires a little more work to stay on top of it – if you only have a dozen children in your classroom at a time (with the AM/PM scheduling suggestion mentioned in #1), it’s much easier to manage.
Teachers will need to be creative in establishing and enforcing new cleaning routines, and we will need to ensure that we have plenty of cleaning supplies inside our classrooms, including disinfectants, wipes, and hand sanitizers.
We will also need to consider how often we will need to require that children wash their hands. Will we have any technology that will allow us to see if children’s hands are actually clean?
Much like frontline workers, will children need to change and shower as soon as they get home so that they don’t transmit the virus unknowingly to their families at home?
Finally, I wonder how the heck are we supposed to be at school around children every single day, knowing how much they need our physical affection, daily assurances, and hugs – while also protecting ourselves?
Will we need to wear full-on plastic suits in order to hug our students?
There are so many unanswered questions, but this is an invitation to conversation, to an ongoing offering of ideas and suggestions for how we could set school up in a way that allows them to experience school and return to some kind of normalcy, all while staying safe.
Summer often negatively impacts children’s learning – and having to learn from home for months will likely dramatically impact how much children have retained.
So, I do believe that as much as possible, we need to try to get children back at school and in the safest way possible. If not just for academic reasons, for the social and emotional impact that this pandemic has had on so many children’s lives.
Giving children the safety and comfort of routine, of being able to go to school every day and see their friends, even if it isn’t in the way they are used to, may be exactly what everyone needs as lockdown fatigue sets in.
Again, you don’t have to do any of this alone. If your school decides to make the transition to teaching online and you want step-by-step guidance, you might want to check out my new mini-course:
For more reading and information about the impact of COVID on education, check out the following websites:
CDC’s Guidelines & Considerations for Schools:
The World Health Organization:
The U.S. Department of Education’s Collection of COVID-19 Resources:
Dr. Lori Friesen | Beginning Teacher Mentor
Creator of the R.E.A.D.Y. for School Academy, Dr. Lori Friesen has mentored thousands of beginning teachers across the country through her workshops and courses. Host of the popular podcast, Beginning Teacher Talk, and creator of the innovative literacy program for 1st and 2nd grade, Dogs Help Kids Read and Succeed, Dr. Lori is dedicated to serving educators and inspiring learners. Learn more at drlorifriesen.com and at howdogshelpkids.com.
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