Reading Time: 8 minutes

Educators from their Deira International School Dubai, share the joys and challenges they are experiencing teaching during COVID-19.

Claire Heylin – Primary English Lead/ Year 2 Teacher

Claire Heylin

Distance learning connected me to my class in ways that wouldn’t have been possible in a classroom. In the absence of physical space, my students allowed me into their homes. I received SeeSaw videos of pets, family workouts and siblings acting out stories together, to name but a few. It served as a timely reminder, that yes, academics are important, but relationships and the well-being of students hold equal, if not higher weight, for them to succeed.

As Primary English Lead, the main challenges online were in replicating school experiences for students via a screen. This was done through sourcing an online reading programme to ensure that all students were accessing high-quality literature through Active Learn website. The creation of a Virtual Reading Buddies system enabled students to still feel connected to each other whilst confined to their homes.

It has warmed my heart to welcome students back to school after 180 days. The settling in period has been an adjustment for us all. I teach Year 2 – the youngest cohort required to wear masks all day and practise social distancing. This has been a challenge for me as I strive to learn new ways of ensuring collaboration and active learning while still adhering to health and safety guidelines.

The upskilling of students and staff has been an enormous benefit of our online experience. I can no longer imagine a classroom without SeeSaw or Microsoft Teams – two apps I had never previously used before March. Live streaming of our lessons has ensured that our distance learners can still feel part of our community as they choose to learn from the comfort of their homes.

My students have shone upon their return to school, and I am in awe of their resilience and adaptability to change at a mere six years old. There are muffled laughs and smiling eyes visible in my room, no matter how many metres apart we sit. Yes, we are well equipped to go online should the need ever arise again. But, for now, I am grateful to watch young minds blossom face to face and the opportunity to develop as an educator with new skills learned from this pandemic.

Linda Parsons – Digital Learning Lead of Secondary

Linda Parsons

There is nothing more rewarding than the “buzz” of learning in a classroom, and a school that is alive with creativity. 2020 has been the most significant school project I have been a part of. Teachers, students and parents have pulled together to elevate the school’s heart and soul beyond the physical realms of the school. Our goal has never changed: To support and bring out the best in the people around us.

As Digital Learning Lead of Secondary, this has not come without challenges. Guiding teachers towards creating their active learning environments and away from burning out was a major priority. Using Teams as a hub of communication for all teachers and students, contributed hugely towards achieving this goal. Teams were flexible enough to be moulded into what each teacher needed, yet consistent enough for students to develop the digital fluency needed to access every lesson. We also found that email traffic decreased hugely as everyone became used to the instant message and group chat features of Teams. Our online school blossomed with Extra-Curricular Activities such as the weekly ‘Virtual Concert’, Year Group Challenges, PE activities and STEAM projects, all designed to bring the teachers and students together in a holistic and ‘human’ way.

A change in our teaching practice would be a wasted opportunity if we only changed because of the circumstance. Our teachers worked hard to use 2020 as an opportunity to redefine the way they teach permanently. Welcoming our students back into our classrooms has been made all the happier because we can now use our extensive Office 365 and OneNote skills to create better lessons for them that indeed promote anytime, anywhere learning. One of the most obvious and immediate changes to the day, for us, is a lack of queues around the photocopier and “dead time” in lessons, waiting for students to glue their worksheets in. Our digital environment has supported a fundamental improvement in how everyone focuses their time in school, freeing up more time for what we do best: Teach.

Dapinder Kaur – Early Years Foundation Stage Teacher

Dapinder Kaur

I had never imagined that there would be a day in my teaching career where I would have to teach young children sitting behind an electronic device. It was quite a challenging experience, to begin with, nevertheless, the children and I, adapted very quickly to our new routine and the exciting learning journey continued. Transferring teaching and learning from a buzzing classroom to an online platform has its ups and downs. We forget that children are resilient, curious, determined, flexible and high-spirited little people, which when tied in with their desire to learn and explore, great things can be achieved. Trying to figure out a system which was manageable for both ourselves and parents took some time, however, once this was in place, things began to run a lot more smoothly.  

One of the main advantages of this experience was being able to ‘pop in’ to colleagues’ ‘digital classrooms’ and share outstanding practice, which isn’t something that can be done so easily when teaching at school, due to our very busy schedules. I loved watching the online lessons of other teachers in my team and share all their wonderful and creative ideas.  

I always remembered watching children’s TV presenters as a young child, they were lively and charismatic; teaching online very much related to this, as I had to ensure my lessons were engaging, enriching and most importantly, fun through my videos and live sessions.  I took on a new role as an online teacher, where I had to think about how I could creatively use my skills and ensure it was easy for the children and parents to follow at home. We could not have done it without the parents’ support.  

Returning to school has been an overwhelming experience and continues to be a learning curve. Having to adapt our classrooms to the new health and safety guidelines, there have been certain aspects that we have had to sacrifice and prioritise, however with the support of the team around me, I always remind myself that we’re in this together and we cannot be so hard on ourselves.  

Overall, it has been wonderful welcoming the children back into the classroom. There is nothing like being in a room with lots of delightful little people ready to develop their knowledge, creativity and imagination. I am looking forward to learning new skills and strategies this term to support the children’s’ learning within my classroom and those who are continuing with distance learning at home.

Mark West – Head of PE and Sport

Mark West

Teaching Physical Education (PE) through Distance Learning was most certainly something different. At first, there was a level of apprehension about how a practical subject could be taught successfully online. But it wasn’t long before we started to rethink the way PE could be delivered and the positive outcomes we could achieve. Through a combination of synchronous and asynchronous lessons, we aimed to instil a love of the physical aspect and an increased focus on the ‘education’ aspect; developing students more holistically, with less of a focus on the skill base development. We designed a Primary and Secondary PE website, allowing students to independently work through tasks during one lesson per week, before uploading videos of themselves participating in the physical tasks. Our students completed this upload using ‘FlipGrid’; an educational website that allows teachers to create “grids” to facilitate video discussions. During their second PE lesson of the week, our staff delivered a live lesson through ‘TEAMS’, where students performed different types of fitness sessions. These sessions were led by, either the teacher or the students themselves. Alongside these sessions, our students also developed their knowledge in many areas of health and fitness by completing assignments and presentations.  

Throughout Distance Learning it became apparent that the main challenges we would face would be around engagement and motivation.  Many students had limited space and equipment whilst at home, which made it difficult to vary activities. This resulted in some students requiring more encouragement and support than they would have required, if they were having their lessons on-site. 

Although there were challenges the whole experience presented many high points and successes for both the students and the teachers. Many students, who in normal circumstances may not have had the confidence to show their full potential, excelled in certain physical and knowledge-based activities. For staff it was an opportunity to upskill on using technology as part of their teaching practice; ‘TEAMS’ and ‘ONENOTE’ have been fantastic platforms to develop theory lessons.  

Now back in school we continue to develop and learn from each other to ensure that our students are receiving the very best education; whether that’s face-to-face or distance learning. We are very much looking forward to continuing to educate our students holistically, through our practical lessons and implementing the technological skills we have developed, to ensure students are making the very best progress within their theory lessons.

Kieran Birrell – Head of Primary Computing / Primary Digital Strategy and Educational Technology Lead

Kieran Birrell

Distance learning was new to us all. We have become the pioneers of a way of teaching that has revolutionised the way our students learn. Providing top quality synchronous and asynchronous content has ensured that the students at Deira International School have continued to flourish.  

We encountered different challenges along the way. None more than most was the additional training needs for staff, students and parents. To counteract this, we provided weekly digital clinics, in-house CPD sessions and offered excellent communication channels on our chosen platforms.  

The high points of distant learning were the engagement of our students, the collective team spirit of our staff and the sense of community we managed to maintain whilst online. Our parents were very appreciative of all the content provided and the personalised learning experiences we afforded their children.  

Since returning to school, we have been greeted with different challenges, or perhaps, we should call them different opportunities. We have begun teaching lessons simultaneously, to students in school and at home. Streaming live sessions and allowing students to upload content digitally using their own devices. So far, it has been a great success, and we are safe in the knowledge that all our students at Deira International School are being provided with the same standard of exceptional education. 

Ultimately, as educators, we must be flexible and willing to adapt to different situations. This pandemic has brought about the biggest test we have faced in many years. It fills me with a sense of great satisfaction to know that we can continue to develop young minds, whether that be in person or over the internet. The necessary upskilling of staff and the continued advancements in technology will ensure that school will always remain open. 

Thomas Jacob – Head of Secondary Mathematics

Thomas Jacob

My time during distance learning was a mixture of highs and lows, but ultimately one of opportunity.  consider myself lucky to work in such a forward-thinking country and school, where we were able to continue offering high-quality teaching and learning to our pupils throughout term 3. The challenges were without a doubt the lack of face to face interaction with the pupils.  I, however, made a conscious effort not only to show my face to our pupils during live lessons but also to give our interactions a personal touch. I also ensured that I maintained a health contact network with my colleagues. Since distance learning I have adopted the use of online assessments, Microsoft Team channels and recorded tutorials into my regular practice…, these have all proved to be a massive success, with both students and my team of wonderful Maths teachers. It is a joy to be back in school with colleagues and students. Although there are many challenges ahead, I know that we will come out of this stronger together!