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How Covid-19 made us better teachers

At the time of publishing this blog post, New Zealand has been in Level 1 of Covid-19 safety precautions for 24 hours. The country is in the extremely fortunate position of being able to open up again, schools included. At Head Held High, this means that after 2.5 months of teaching weekly 700 students online, we can now enter schools again and see our wonderful students in the flesh!

This is a wonderful feeling, and we are reveling in the joy of teacher-student reunions this week.

However, it would be remiss of us to simply move on from the Covid-19 lockdown period though, without reviewing the experience.

Through necessity we, like thousands of NZ businesses, innovated.

We re-imagined what speech and drama lessons could look like without face-to-face contact, and re-designed our lessons accordingly. We re-thought what our students needed in terms of emotional support during a crisis period, and delivered lessons that were especially high on fun factor.

Perhaps most of all, we became acutely sensitive… sensitive to what our students needed in a huge time of change, and sensitive as teachers to what we could do to support each other as friends and colleagues.

So, while we move forward, it’s also a good time to look back on the lessons we learned during Covid-19 lockdown, and keep these lessons in mind as we design our ‘new normal’ together…

As teachers, we were learners ourselves!

As speech and drama teachers, teaching in an online environment was something foreign to all of us. We had to adapt quickly – hastily getting to grips with online technology and the ways we could apply our lesson plans (and games!) to a virtual world.

When it came to the lessons themselves, we needed to multitask to ensure all students were equally engaged in the lesson despite any technological, emotional or physical challenges they might have been facing.

In ‘normal’ face-to-face lessons, we always begin each lesson with conversation skills and it was a challenge to prompt students to tell their classmates something unique from their lockdown week – during weeks which, I’m sure you can appreciate, often blurred into the next!

As teachers we came up with questions to break up what may have felt like monotony, encouraging students to remember something they were grateful for. Had they been on a teddy-bear hunt? Found a new walking route? Ordered an exciting take-away, once the restrictions of Level 4 had been lifted?

These touch-stone moments of shared experiences helped create an atmosphere of community between students who might not know each other very well, but suddenly had their whole class in their living room! This was more important than ever, as a handful of new parents chose to enrol their children which meant we met some students for the first time over Zoom!

These new students faced the dual challenge of becoming acquainted with speech and drama at the same time as becoming acquainted with the nuances of Zoom and virtual learning.

How technology demands agility of thought

Different class sizes and ages presented different challenges, which meant modifying our teaching techniques in each situation.

We soon learned which Junior students, excited at seeing their friends over the screen, would try to talk over the top of each other. Reiterating the rules – how one person speaks at a time (and occasionally using the mute function!) meant that lessons ran smoothly and everyone was able to engage to an equal degree.

In the first couple of weeks of online lessons, there were inevitable technology issues as students became familiar with the app. Being mindful of each individual student’s technological circumstances was very important.

However, any slight technological teething problems were far outweighed by the many positives of the functions that the tech allowed us to use. For example, using the shared-screen function allowed us to present texts and for students to read aloud from monologues and poems.

Utilising the shared-screen function meant we were able to workshop speeches and create raps, spoken word pieces and flash-talks instead of simply discussing them, which led to highly interactive lessons in which students learned from one another as well as from us as teachers.

Covid-19 has made us better teachers for the future

There have been many other huge positives from continuing our speech and drama lessons online during lockdown.

Working with our laptops has allowed us to be more productive with the time we have – accessing the treasure-trove of online resource folders and reacting in lessons to requests from students, finding exam material in a more collaborative and timely fashion.

This is an example of something which as a teaching team we have learned from, and will continue with in face-to-face lessons because it means we can easily access texts and learning resources quickly during lessons - which is also very helpful when students leave their speech and drama books at home!

As a teaching team, during lockdown we swapped hints and tips with each other – coming together virtually – which means we have all had a chance to learn from the shared communal talent and experience of the Head Held High teaching whānau.

Now looking forward as we go ‘back to the future’ and restart our face-to-face lessons in all of our venues, it will be interesting to see how our student adapt back to face-to-face learning. We are loving seeing all of our fabulous students in person, and continuing the positive benefits that we’ve learned from our dependance on technology for the past few months. It was a highly unusual experience, yet for us as Head Held High teachers it has served to strengthen and develop our skills.

This can only be a good thing for your children and teenagers, who at the end of the day, are the most important people that we have been working for throughout all of this!

Jess Macdonald Head Held High teacher

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