ONLINE CLASS OF 2020
Supporting home learning during a pandemic is not the simplest task, but ISL’s strong network and independent pedagogical approach has helped them to empower families and teachers to face the unknown.
EARLY WARNING SIGNS
The International School of Luxembourg (ISL) welcomes more than 1300 students from 50 different nationalities every day. Their network effect is notable with strong relationships with schools all over the world, especially in China.
Prior to Covid-19 making headlines in Luxembourg, the ISL was already receiving early warning signs about the virus from their fellow schools in China. By January, the school was already alarmed and carefully monitoring what was happening on the other side of the world.
“As more cases came on the radar we formed a crisis team in order to monitor what was going on. We were looking at the World Health Organisation (WHO), Johns Hopkins and at the European Centre for Disease prevention and Control (ECDC) on a daily basis,” said Patricia Angoy, ISL’s Lower School Principal.
PREPARED FOR THE UNKNOWN
The ISL immediately set-up a crisis team including the COO, the Head of Communications and the Head of IT in case the school had to close its doors and they needed some sort of online platform. Additional members of the core team included two principals of the school, the Head of Maintenance and Security, Head of Communications and Media and the Head of HR.
Patricia Angoy explains: “We gathered keypeople to make sure we were looking at a broad perspective of areas that might be affected by whatever was going on. We started to collect information and looking at who might be the people, groups and areas at risk. You can never
quite prepare for something like COVID-19. But you prepare for the unknown in many different ways.”
The ISL’s investment in technology has been notable, paying particular attention to the role it plays in learning. The result is a well-resourced offer, which has been appreciated by all including its very young students. The school has a one-on-one programme for the upper school together with one grade in the lower school. The rest of school they offer a wide range of devices to students to work with.
You can never quite prepare for something like Covid-19. But you prepare for the unknown in many different ways.
“Technology has supported us in terms of our relationships with each other and the school as an educator. All of us have spent a considerable amount of time connecting with other people going through a similar situation. That is a powerful way of moving forward as a school,” adds Joachim Herrmann, Chief Operating Officer.
It is still too early to predict the long-term impact, if any, from confinement on teachers and students. There is not a lot of research about the long-term impact on student and teacher well-being as yet, although there are current studies underway. The University of Luxembourg, for example, has just launched a large study on the impact of Covid-19 on the well-being of children and adolescents.
Counsellor Patricia Andersson comments: “The pedagogical impact is obviously linked to the impact on your well-being and your mental health. I think it is safe to say that those who have a pre-existing health condition such as anxiety or depression are more vulnerable to having difficulties than others. It is really important that we pay attention to these families and students. On the other hand, we also have to support our students in becoming more resilient and to find ways to mitigate the possible long-term consequences of this pandemic. Many of these skills can be taught. What is just as important is how we teach resilience skills to the broader ISL community.”
Patricia Andersson noticed a variety of responses from the kids. Some were concerned about missing social times with their friends and some were excited about this new situation. The students had to navigate between difficulties that they hadn’t encountered before: “It has
been a journey for all of them with ups and downs.” This being said, on the whole, she was amazed at how quickly and positively the majority of the students took to the challenge and adapted.
“As Counsellor, I have been conducting conversations with the students over Zoom. Children could share their concerns with me and we tried very hard to create an environment where all emotions are ok. That it is sometimes ok to not feel ok,” Andersson observes.
Most people expect a scenario involving synchronised classes where students sit in front of a screen for 7 hours, when they imagine online teaching. This might happen in some schools, but not the at the ISL where screen hygiene is encouraged amongst students.
Patricia Angoy reflects on the experience: “What is interesting to see is how students behave differently online. Some children with a passion in certain areas were able to have small online group sessions where they had much more intimate conversations with the teachers than they do in school. Children didn’t necessarily learn from 9 to 5. Some did their learning at 10 o’clock in the evening. Online classes afford students the opportunity to work at their own pace and within allocated timeframes.”
The children were finding creative ways to be social with each other; some organised Zoom lunches or watched movies together with a chat exchange on the side.
SCHOOLING THE PARENTS
The school opted to share a daily update, sometimes including the weekend, to parents and teachers during lockdown. Patricia Angoy highlights that the time investment is well worth it, as it fosters a strong bond with the school. Not only do teachers and students need guidelines in times like this, but it is helpful for the parents who suddenly find themselves juggling between being a parent, a teacher and homeworker simultaneously.
“One of the first things we asked parents to do was to set-up a schedule or some kind of routine that they could follow. It is important to give kids security, and especially so during unprecedented times. When they are faced with an unknown situation, they can still maintain a routine of getting up and dressed in the morning, having breakfast and beginning their day in a learning environment. We also remind parents to try not to expect too much of their children – we want to encourage them to also see this time as a unique opportunity,” says Patricia Angoy.
According to Patricia, learning is also about understanding what family is. Routines such as involving your children to lay the table for meals helps them to understand what responsibility is. These are important by-products of education.
Patricia Angoy reflects on the creative options available: “There are more ways to teach something to your children. We gave parents ideas how they can connect what they were doing in cooking, with mathematics or languages.”
IT’S ABOUT THE LITTLE THINGS
After more than two months of confinement, the school opened its doors again on the 11th of May for the Upper School and the 25th of May for the Lower School. Although a return to normal still seems far off, the children are excited to see their friends again, even from a social distance.
Patricia Andersson observes a sense of growing nostalgia: “The kids miss their friends the most. They have suddenly realised how much they enjoyed the small things in life, such as eating lunch together in the canteen or studying with their classmates. They are very excited to have some of those things back.” It is no different for teachers, Patricia Angoy enthuses: “Teachers have also missed being with each other. As this is an international school, many of our teachers are far away from home which means that the school becomes a very important base for them. Their professional relationships become their social relationships; they are intertwined.”