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Covid-19 Advice for School Leaders: Pt2 – What to Expect

By: Mark Steed- Principal and CEO at Kellett School, Hong Kong

The following advice is offered to school leaders on how they should prepare for Covid-19 closures in light of our experience in Hong Kong.

A Covid-19 closure is not like a snow-day. It is a long-term closure that comes with a range of fears and strong emotional responses from the community. It, therefore, throws up a range of questions that school leaders do not ordinarily face.

Low Risk – High Emotions

The typical response to Covid-19 from various constituencies is an emotional, not a rational one.

In practice, so long as the school and individuals take sensible precautions, the risk of contracting the virus is very low indeed. Here in Hong Kong, we have been exposed to the Covid-19 for nine weeks, the first three of which there was an open border and free travel with Mainland China. At the time of writing, there have been 100 cases out of a population of 8 million, only two of whom have died. No expatriate has contracted the virus.

However, be prepared for an emotional response. The wall-to-wall media coverage stimulates a basic human survival mechanism and the fundamental human desire to protect one’s own. This has manifested itself throughout the whole community, but quite understandably amongst groups who perceive themselves to be at greater risk, be that expectant mothers, parents of very young children, or those with children sitting public examinations in a matter of weeks.

Managing emotion takes a lot of time and many a listening ear.

Find the “New Normal”

At Kellett, we made a decision very early on that not only would we require all of our staff to return (from Chinese New Year trips) and remain in Hong Kong, but that we wanted them to come into school for part of the working week. We took this view because we suspected, in light of the experience of SARS in 2003, that the closure and the period of “home learning” was likely to be for much longer than the two weeks that was announced initially.

Although we were confident that the teaching staff would deliver high-quality lessons from home, we believed that, over time, they would need and value a routine which provided the support of colleagues – and so it proved. So, from Day One we established a “new normal” insisting that staff worked in school Monday, Wednesday and Friday. This has fostered a ‘collective Blitz spirit’ with teachers providing much-needed support for each other – we believe that this will sustain us through what is going to be at least a two-month closure.

Pace yourselves – it’s a marathon, not a sprint

Home learning is tough – much harder than teaching with a class in front of you. It takes the teacher much longer to produce a video than to teach a lesson. The screen time is exhausting.

Like marathon running, don’t go off too fast. Teachers need to deliver a standard of home learning that is sustainable. It’s really important that schools (especially fee-charging schools) don’t scale back – if you do, you won’t have to wait long before the complaints (and demands for refunds) start coming in.

This race has had many false summits – we were first closed for two weeks, then for an additional three, and then for a further five (two of which were the Easter holiday). Each false summit needs managing, it’s easy not to carry people with you at the time when an extension is announced. People need no excuse to drop out at these times.

There’s also “The Wall” – the point when the parents have just had enough. Supporting home learning is really hard, especially for parents who are trying to work from home because of the closures themselves. Remember that it’s not just the school closure that is impacting on the parents – the after-school clubs, the sports/dance/music/brownies/cubs club activities are likely to be closed too. Cabin fever is inevitable. Parents will need to vent – and the school is an easy target. So, be prepared to manage some understandably frustrated parents, who aren’t getting the service which they are used to (and in the case of fee-charging schools, for which they have paid).

And the winners are . . . . . . the Private Tutors

The private tutoring industry is minting money in Hong Kong at the moment. Parents not only are concerned about lost learning and examination preparation but also, in many cases, they just want to pay someone to help their child do the homework.

Schools may need to make it clear that it is unacceptable for teachers to part-time tutoring/ extra face-to-face lessons outside school during this time – parents will ask.

First published on Linkedin: