Context: I am working in a pre-school in Baden-Württemberg, Germany. Our pre-school works with an open-concept. Our pupils are divided into six groups but they decide which room they want to go to throughout the day. We work with 85 children between 1.5 and 7years.
How it all began:
I remember when I asked my manager if he thinks we have to close our pre-school. His answer was "It’s only a matter of time, but I am sure we have to close”. Four days later on 17th March all schools and preschools in Germany were closed.
In this first week, we spent the days cleaning and tidying the whole school. Everyone was concerned about their job. When your job is 99% based on working with children, what is left when they aren’t allowed to come to school?
From 21st March to 3rd April we had a full lockdown in my city Freiburg due to people ignoring social distancing. From that day we were all asked to work from home.
What can you do while you are at home:
While we were working from home, we got time for things we weren’t able to tackle in our stressful everyday life. We were working on our room concepts, planning new activities, working on the children’s portfolios and reflecting on their needs and what we could do to support every individual during the lockdown but also once we reopen the school. We exchanged our ideas via video chat and we were able to meet in small groups of 4 people at school (2m distance!).
Returning back to work:
After almost two months of being at home, we returned back to work on 11th May. But not everyone came back. People at risk weren’t allowed to work with children. It felt strange coming back to work as our concept changed from an open-concept to a closed – concept. We had to separate our children and the team into groups and we had to make sure that those groups did not mix. We had to adapt our whole concept to this new situation. That was sometimes difficult but here are some valuable tips that can make it easier for you to return back to teaching in your school.
1. Plan ahead and be prepared
It is very important to adapt your daily structure to the new situation. What are the regulations in your city or country? Do you have enough entrances and sanitary facilities, staff and classrooms that allow you to downsize the group of students and separate them to keep social distancing? Schools and pre-schools in Germany are only working with half the amount of students per classroom.
While one half is having a Maths lesson the other half is having a German lesson in another room. Only teachers are allowed to swap classrooms. It’s also important to think about where the students eat their lunch. My school had to divide the gym into two rooms. (Divided by a row of gym mats and gym benches). We also had to divide our garden and yard and had to plan garden times for each group as our groups are not allowed to mix.
While younger children don’t have to keep social distance within their group, older students and adults have to make sure they keep two-metre distance from each other, which I can tell you is very hard and in some situations impossible!
2. Being adaptable is key
Because we are working with children from age 1.5 years old, it is impossible to stay two metres away from them. We are wearing masks that cover our nose and mouth. However, this is not a regulation for every school. There are a range of different regulations that are changing every now and then. I think the most important skill in this situation is being adaptable. Try to be open for changes and do not hold on to strict and rigid views like "It has always been like this" - that’s not working anymore.
In the beginning, for example, I was absolutely against wearing a mask as I thought I couldn’t really breathe with it on. But I practised. I was wearing a mask at home for one minute then two and after a while, I got used to it. Also coming back to work I was assigned to a completely different team, had to work in a different room with children I wasn’t usually working with. Do make sure to set up practical teams and shifts from the beginning to avoid changes in between the teams. This new situation definitely challenges you to adapt to changes. However, these changes can involve valuable opportunities so stay positive!
3. Be optimistic!
Try to focus on the positive and new opportunities. When I asked a child how it was being at home and not coming to school, he said: “I liked it because my mum was at home and not at work and I could spend time with her.”
Many children were able to spend time with their families and it feels like many children came back very positive and accepted the new situation very quickly. They understood the borders in the garden and that they aren’t allowed to mix with the other groups of children. Some of the children were annoyed that they couldn’t go to their favourite room but we brought some of the material from other rooms to them.
At the moment we are only working with children of key worker families and children with special educational needs. That means we only have classes half as big and that gives us the time to really focus on the individual child which I think will have a much bigger positive impact on the child’s personal development.
I wonder how the next weeks will be. We are now preparing our school for all children to come back by 1st July.
We decide how we deal with the situation and we should create opportunities to support our students the best way we can.