As we come to the end of this term, it is with much gratitude in my heart that I write this week’s newsletter. This has not been an easy term for anyone, parents, students and teachers alike. We have all had to adapt to a new type of “normal”, adjust our thinking and challenge ourselves in everything we attempted.
I hope you now understand what we mean when we say that ‘teaching is a calling’. I do not think there is any teacher who is in this profession for anything other than the love of children. After all, our children are our future. We nurture them so they may create a better tomorrow.
I salute every one of you parents. You have been challenged in this storm and have endured. At times you might have felt fearful of the unknown, yet every day brings new hope.
I am reminded of a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt:
“I believe that anyone can conquer fear by doing the things he fears to do, provided he keeps doing them until he gets a record of successful experience behind him.”
To every student, I wish you a wonderful time of rest during this holiday. May the time spent with family be one of joy and laughter.
To my staff, I wish a time of rest and refreshment. We will start the new term with renewed vigour and strength.
Stay safe and keep warm.
Today, Friday 22nd of May, our high school and admin staff were trained in Risk Assessment and Orientation for COVID 19. Our Health and Safety Committee met on Thursday, 21st May, to finalize the Risk Assessment Document for Blouberg International. As discussed previously, the school is currently being deep cleaned and sanitized for the return of students and staff.
The SMT of the school also met on Thursday to discuss the return of students and the address of our Minister of Education on Tuesday, 19th May. It is important that we keep to the legislation from the Education Department and the government. As an independent school we are awaiting the final decision as to whether we can allow other year groups to return to school; the Year 7’s and 12’s being the initial groups identified by the minister for first return.
We will communicate the year groups to return, date and manner of return, with you as soon as we are able. Even though the minister has authorized certain year groups to return to school, we are mindful that some parents are still not comfortable sending learners back. We are revising our plans accordingly and no learner will be left behind. Our Risk Assessment Policies have been documented and the information will be shared with both staff and learners on their return.
A detailed document will be sent to you within the next week after we have finalized our planning. Our learners will also go through an orientation program on Covid 19 Safety Protocols prior to starting school.
I thank you for your support during this time and assure you that your concerns and suggestions are taken into consideration.
Have a wonderful weekend.
I am sure that, like me, you have mixed feelings about the President’s address last night. Earlier this month, the 5th of May 2020, you received a letter regarding potential dates for the return to school and the measures which need to be in place before this is possible.
Although we are an independent school, we are obliged (as are government schools) to await confirmation from the government before we reopen. Originally, we were informed that students in Year 7 and Year 12 would be returning to school on the 1st of June 2020 and hence, management took the necessary measures of ordering hand sanitizer, face masks, thermometers and having the school deep-cleaned.
The Minister of Basic Education, Mrs. Angie Motshekga, is scheduled to address the nation on Monday the 18th of May, after which we hope to have a better idea of which grades will return to school. The results of our second survey, regarding students returning to school, indicated that 75% of parents are not willing to send their children back for the two weeks before the end of the second term (which ends on the 12th of June 2020). We respect and understand your feelings in this matter and hope to reassure you that the best interests of our students are always at the forefront of our planning. To accommodate the needs of all our students, we will therefore implement a plan of hybrid teaching for as long as is required.
A letter detailing the plan of action for Blouberg International will be sent to you after Minister Motshekga’s address on Monday. Let us continue building our children and planning for a better future for them.
In the words of Nelson Mandela:
“It is so easy to break down and destroy. The heroes are those who make peace and build.”
Have a wonderful weekend
This is very interesting while we are at home as we can explore and observe, like real scientists, and find all of the different materials we have at home and use everyday.
As you can see from the beautiful drawings, the students in my class have had a lot of fun finding different materials in their back gardens and labeling their pictures.
I’m so proud of Year 1 and all their hard work and ongoing commitment to their studies. Well done Year 1!
Year 1 Teacher
“For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.” – Aristotle
This term in Year 6, we have been learning about Material changes. The students have been focusing on topics such as reversible and irreversible changes, mixing and separating solids, soluble and insoluble substances, separating insoluble substances, solutions, how can we make solids dissolve faster and how does grain size affect dissolving.
It has been a very interesting journey for the Year 6’s as experiments have been conducted each time they learnt about a new topic. They tested each of the above topics and came up with their own predictions, methods, results and conclusions. I hope that they cleaned their parents kitchen straight afterwards!
Here are some things the students enjoyed about Science:
“Well in science I really enjoyed conducting the experiments and finding out some things that I didn’t know, for example, I did not know why things dissolve faster in hot water but I then did the experiment and checked my textbook, I found out the answer. I also liked making the picture that we did at the beginning of the term about irreversible and reversible changes.” – Treasure Daniel
“I really enjoy the experiments because they give me a greater understanding on how things work like solutions and dissolving it is really fun.” – Maia Davies
“The thing I like about science is that when I conduct an experiment it makes it easier for me to understand the lesson. Like for the insolubles as I did the experiments it helped me understand and for the irreversible work when the teachers told us to make pictures in our book it helped because I used highlighting, so it stood out in my book. In science I’m 100 percent understanding the work.” – Yadar Mashoene
“On online schooling in science, we have learnt about material changes, solutions and mixtures, soluble and insoluble substances, different methods on how to separate mixtures and solutions, factors that affect dissolving, how to conduct a fair experiment and how to record our results. My favourite part of science is conducting experiments and learning the outcome of each one. I also enjoy learning about how to separate different mixtures and solutions.” – Saumya Maharaj
We are very proud of the excellent work our Year 6 classes are consistently producing!
Year 6 Teacher
During the last few weeks, the world has focused on the ‘Front-line’ workers for their amazing contribution in supporting the sick, ensuring that we can work remotely from home and for keeping the food shelves stocked. We applaud them! Their bravery and commitment is astounding.
While this was happening, there was a small group of people that may not have been on the front-lines, but were working tirelessly between the trenches and ‘no mans land’.
The people I am referring to are the teachers.
Although I may have thought that I have sufficient tech knowledge to teach effectively in the modern world and to support my admin skills, it became quite clear to me that this was not entirely the case. Teaching in the virtual classroom was going to be a challenge for sure. It was time to teach an old dog a few new tricks.
Teachers scrambled from left to right, learning how to balance home life, teaching online, learning new skills and staying sane at the same time. We had to learn how to navigate different platforms, and boy that mute button is a saving grace.
After finding my way and seeing the difference between the classroom and the virtual world, I realised that this was going to be tough, but I could do this. There were many obstacles for a number of us, but we overcame them and continued nonetheless.
Reaching out for support, I realized that I was not alone in this. Most of my colleagues felt the same way that I did. Lost, but determined to do this correctly for our students. We soldiered on.
I asked some of my friends and colleagues a few questions regarding how they feel about teaching in the classroom versus teaching online; this is what they had to say:
What do you enjoy most about online teaching?
“I have enjoyed finding different resources and approaches to lessons. While it has been a lot of work to get used to and comfortable with the technology, there has been time to find new resources and research ideas to implement in lessons now and when we return to school.”
“I really enjoy putting together the slides for the video lessons. We are using a programme called Doceri on the i-pad, which allows us to record a voice over as we move through the slides to create our lesson videos. We then upload our video lessons to Google Classroom for the students and parents to access.
I love the interaction I have with the students during the Zoom focus group lessons. The focus groups are smaller groups of 4-5 students. It really is so rewarding to see how they are progressing.”
What do you find most challenging about the virtual classroom?
“Although I am enjoying online teaching, I really miss being in the classroom and interacting with all the students and families from my class. As a classroom teacher, I have become accustomed to having all my teaching tools and resources at my fingertips. In the virtual classroom, we have to make new resources and convert them into a digital format. Students also need to do practical activities, and we have to try and use things they already have at home to do these activities. I am also using a lot more technology and learning as I go, which sometimes takes a bit longer to get things done. Sometimes there are also technical difficulties that I have to work around.”
Has online teaching changed your thinking and/or methods of effective teaching?
“Yes, absolutely – more tech savvy!”
“Yes, I’m positive about what can be achieved online, and how versatile it can be depending on the teacher and their willingness. Though I don’t think it is a one-size-fits all, it doesn’t work for every student. I’m more mindful of how I come across and what the children in class need to see from their teacher. If all you see is a face on screen, it needs to be a friendly one, with a huge smile, open, kind and warm. I enjoy trying new things with my class; especially some fun games, which I’d like to continue when back in our classroom.”
“Yes, to a degree. But the live interaction and discussion in the classroom, takes lessons in different directions and has a lot of value in developing the concepts the children learn.”
Is there a place for the virtual classroom concept in the future? If yes, how could it compliment the curriculum or your teaching strategies? If no, why?
“Yes and no.
Yes because during a time like this where we need to stay away from school to be safer, it allows the students to learn in their own comfort of their homes, at their own pace. As well as with the times we live in, students prefer to use technology. It allows teachers to get creative and think of ways to teach incorporating the different styles of learning. In this, teachers are learning new strategies to teach.
No, because as a Primary School teacher, it is important for students to socialize and have human interaction. Being in a classroom allows students to grow not just developmentally, but emotionally and socially as well. The classroom also allows us to bring in fun lessons, via the projector.”
“I think putting up videos on Google Classroom to explain how we teach different concepts, will be great for parents to understand how we teach. It would also be great to, sometimes, teach lessons for the children to do at home and then come back to school to do the practical work and application. (Flipping the classroom)”
“Yes, there is definitely a place for the virtual classroom in the future. Although I don’t feel that it could
ever replace the classroom, it can be beneficial alongside the classroom. The virtual classroom can be used for extra enrichment to practise concepts learnt in the classroom. It allows parents to become more familiar with the curriculum. Through the online videos, parents are exposed to teaching methods and vocabulary that they can use with their children. This also provides more continuity when discussing concepts and prevents the child from possibly becoming confused.”
What do you miss most about the classroom?
“The hugs, the humor and the “ah-ha” moments.”
“I miss seeing my children in class every day, their smiles and beautiful pictures they like to draw for my walls. I miss the physical interactions with my class, the high fives or hugs each morning, and being able to comfort them when they are having a sad day.”
“I miss the instant feedback from the children in order to assess their learning and plan for the next lessons.”
“I miss everything about school. I miss seeing the children’s smiling faces every morning, and greeting
their family members as they are dropped off or collected from school. In the classroom, I miss our morning rings and presenting lessons on the carpet. I miss helping the students during play time and watching them play. I miss putting on plasters, giving out icepacks. I really also miss my colleagues and the support we give each other daily. I miss the admin staff and being able to just pop into Ms. Kiley or Mrs. Lawrence’s office for a chat. I miss sitting together during meetings instead of just seeing each other on a screen.”
After reviewing their responses, the virtual classroom in some form has a place in the future. It can be used to compliment our teaching methods within the classroom, but in my opinion not replace it.
It is certainly clear that the classroom is still the best for personal interactions, and for nurturing emotions and feelings. The close contact is what we strive for as human beings.
I recently read an article that endeavored to explain why we are more exhausted at the end of the virtual ‘school day’. It is not because we have to deal with behavioral issues or with multiple duties, but being on a video call requires more intense focus than face-to-face chats. The article stated that ‘we need to work harder to process non-verbal cues like facial expressions, the tone and the pitch of the voice, and body language; paying more attention to those consumes a lot of energy’. We also have to try to drown out the distracting noises and voices in the background, and the moving and shaking of screens.
So, when you are clanging your pots and pans, clapping your hands and singing songs every night at 8:00 pm, please leave a small space in your heart for the teachers out there. They are most likely not there to join their family; they are busy preparing their lessons for tomorrow.
Year 1 Teacher
We celebrated our teachers this week and a big thank you to everyone who left them a special message on our Facebook page. It was wonderfully encouraging to see how much they are valued and appreciated.
This week we sent out a second letter explaining the plans and proposals that management are considering should school re-open in June. The measures which need to be in place require careful thought regarding planning and implementation and unfortunately, no simple solutions exist yet. For public schools, Years 7 and 12 students are critical for academic advancement but for us, the focus is on Years 10 and 12 as these two grades write their external Cambridge examinations in October.
There is also the reality that even if the government allows schools to re-open soon, some parents might not feel comfortable sending their children back to school. Our management team are therefore working on plans for hybrid-teaching. Similarly, we might have staff members who cannot return to work just yet as they are high risk individuals and this needs to be accounted for in our planning. These are just a couple of the issues that we are considering.
We will be prepared, with policies in place, to ensure the safety of staff and students when we return to campus. As per the letter I sent out earlier this week, we have already begun purchasing the necessary supplies (hand sanitizers, face masks, thermometers etc.) and have begun drafting a Covid 19 Policy Document.
During this difficult time, let us remember to be kind and encouraging to one another. We all need a bit of motivation in our lives and hopefully the later start to the school day, and the opportunity to exercise, will give us the boost we all need.
I would like to wish all the mothers a happy Mother’s Day this Sunday. I hope you will be spoiled and feel appreciated for all you do!
Like me, I am sure all of you have been following the news avidly, waiting for an announcement from the Minister of Education which will see us return to school. The process of returning to school is a balancing act in which we weigh the need for students to return to the classroom with the necessity of ensuring everyone’s safety. Rest assured though that when the day comes when we do return to school, there will be strict safety measures in place to ensure the safety of everyone on campus.
When I think about returning to school, I realise the enormity of the task ahead of us; the factors we must consider and the preparations which need to take place. Even our ‘drop and go’ routine in the mornings will have to alter radically. We will have to screen temperatures and ensure that all the classrooms remain hygienic throughout the day. It will be a continuous process of sanitizing: hands, doors, desks, bathrooms and corridors. And let’s not forget the all-important face masks!
The questions which roll through one’s mind as we contemplate the process follow a common pattern: Will the children understand the requirement of social distancing? How will we handle classroom management? How do we prevent contact and overcrowding? All these questions and so many more are exactly what we Heads mull over together.
This week we started with our first online assemblies. The responses from 198 students on one platform at the same time was overwhelming, but then as I watched I could see the excitement on their faces and I realized that it was being together again which was evoking such an enthusiastic response from the children. After a vigorous run of muting everyone so we could hear ourselves think, we were able to begin the assembly. We listened to Mrs. Schoots deliver words of encouragement and handed out star certificates. Our second attempt the following day was much smoother and less chaotic.
I am reminded once again of the lessons which we learn something from our children. They have an incredible ability to be resilient in any crisis. They adapt and thrive to any challenging situation we immerse them in and grow to be even stronger than we thought possible. Our involvement as parents in their education is crucial during this difficult time as their daily struggles and achievements provide insight into their development and character.
Let’s not walk away from experience without taking some good lessons with us. Together we are better.
Have a wonderful long weekend!
What Shakespeare can teach us about surviving online learning.
What do we English teachers do when times are tough? We look to the Bard of course! Who better to guide us through the online educational space than a writer who has been dead for over 400 years! Now before you scoff “nonsense” over the rim of your coffee mug and scroll to the next page, let’s consider this in a little more depth. The transition to online learning has been challenging for students and teachers alike and we have all been plagued by fears and doubts. First Language English is a subject which you may consider one of the easier subjects to study online and perhaps you have a point. I can email you a poem- you can read it- you can write me an essay about it. Bob’s your uncle, done and dusted. Bring on the next one… Well, not quite.
Why does an author write a book? Obviously they want people to read it, but more than that, they want people to talk about it; it’s the hushed conversation in smoky cafes, the heated discussions over a plate of Thai chicken niblets at an annual Book Club meeting and the dog-eared, coffee stained pages of a favourite book passed from parent to child. Literature provokes dialogue and debate and as I always say to my students “It’s okay to hate the story you’ve just read, but you must be able to tell me why”. Stories, poems, plays- they are meant to be read and shared and isn’t it a truism that it is just as satisfying to discuss something you love as something you hate?
This is why I want to be back in my classroom! Not just for my view of the mountain, but for the interaction; the back and forth across the classroom, the heated opinions and different perspectives which mingle and lap the edges of the room like a gentle wave on a summer’s day.
Simply put, it’s a lot more difficult to discuss a work of literature isolated from each other as we currently are. You can read the play yourself, sure, but where’s the fun in that? A play isn’t meant to be performed by one person, now is it? My belabored point is that teaching First Language English online is a challenge and no Zoom meeting or Google Hangout Meet can replicate the wonderful disorder of a good class discussion.
Back to my original point. So, what do we do when we feel the pressure, the stalking fear and self-doubt that comes with being chucked in the deep end of the pool and having to paddle like a crazed duck to stay afloat? To whom do we turn when the challenges of online learning become all too real? Why, to Shakespeare of course! As usual, our dear Bard has a few life lessons up his sleeve to help us cope.
- “Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.” We have all suffered the pangs of fear and self-doubt in navigating online learning and adapting to different methods of teaching. We should not doubt our abilities, for nothing ventured is nothing gained, and I am fairly sure our students are prey to the very same emotions which trouble us. We are capable of a lot more than we think- from teachers, to students and parents and self-doubt is the enemy of success.
- “Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice.” Learn to listen. Perhaps the most valuable exercise I have done during online learning is to have my students to talk to me, rather than I to them. “Tell me the truth”, I say to them. “How is it really going?” I have spent many minutes at the beginning of online sessions just listening… listening to the complaints, the fears, the excuses and you know what? I really have learnt a lot. I am learning what is working and what isn’t. Online learning is a collaborative process and if both sides are honest about their expectations and progress, then the game is half won.
- “Better three hours too soon than a minute too late.” Don’t be late. Shall we leave it at that and move on?
- “Pleasure and action make the hours seem short.” Keep busy and keep your mind active. I always imagined myself as the perfect lounge lizard, but to be honest, if I wasn’t working, I would’ve gone mad on Day 3 (Day 4 if Netflix released Outlander season 4). It’s important to keep ourselves busy and I don’t just mean with hours of admin and slog in front of the computer; I mean busy with activities which stimulate the mind. This goes for our students as well- research tasks which require them to think and engage with material. I enjoy setting argumentative and discursive topics for my students; topics which require them to have a good think and do a bit of research to support their opinions. They had to write a magazine article on the topic of cosmetic surgery and boy, the opinions flooded the room like bees after Pooh’s spilt honey pot. But they were engaged, I can promise you that.
- “The miserable have no other medicine, but only hope.” I’m sure we’ve all felt the cold tickling of misery at least once during lockdown but on the bright side, as the saying goes, there’s no way but up from here. Shakespeare reminds us that the doldrums only increase our focus on the horizon and the calm flats which lie ahead. Let us remain positive and instill this positivity in the students. Complaining may be temporarily cathartic but does little good. We are learning new skills, finding hidden talents and drawing on resources we never knew we had. It’s an adventure and like all good tales, it starts out filled with peril and looming disaster, but by the end we’re all safe at home with a nice cup of tea. Or more aptly for our context, by the end we’re all in each other’s homes sharing a nice pot of tea.
Take the Bard’s words to heart. Enjoy a good book and don’t try and argue with me that Shakespeare is no longer relevant! Stay safe everyone.
High School English Language and Literature Teacher
In a pond
You sit still and catch flies
With your tongue
Year 3 Teacher