What are the Challenges when Reopening Schools?
Wintage School
Wintage School

Clearly, there are many. However, to my mind, it is instructive for schools to focus upon these two issues: regenerating confidence among our families; and implementing smart operational procedures at the school level. The second is more tangible than the first: fused, they allow us to get back on our educational feet.

In the first place, our schools (the world over), are beholden to the authorities. Educators, as a key part of the greater society, watch our respective political masters with great care. In the case of Mexico, we were obliged to close down for well over a year, waiting for the promised “green” indicated by both the federal and state government health traffic lights. In the meantime, swiftly designing an online system of lessons, mostly via Zoom, and occasionally dealing with the challenge of poor internet connections, we hoped against hope that all would soon be well.

In Mexico the whole nation’s confidence was shaken by how deadly Covid could be, of course, but it also became apparent that ‘perfect’ conditions might never appear, and so the much-vaunted green rule was relaxed. It was noted that children were desperately in need of their old routines. Put another way, actually contracting Covid was not the only harmful effect of the pandemic. The health of the mind, we were reminded, was as important as the body’s.

So, we are back. At last. Most schools, including ourselves, have taken first steps with hybrid models of instruction. (More on this to follow, naturally…) The reality is it is up to schools to reconstruct confidence at their very local level: indeed, desired or not, the role has been given to us by the Ministry of Education. I am of the former mindset, for we believe we know our school community the best. Thus, our three constituents – the families, the children and our staff – all need to know that their welfare is taken very seriously indeed by us.

A key challenge in rebuilding confidence when returning to live teaching has been clearly communicating the medical know-how and best practice to our concerned families. Our own school doctor, and other doctors in our community, have done marvels with this. Just a quick glance at the news will show, even now, that there are gainsayers in society, doubting the very need for, let alone the efficacy of, the new vaccines.

All necessary hygienic measures have been explained to our families and staff, and successfully implemented. (We have back for weeks now and just a handful of Covid cases in our school families detected.) Apart from the commonly known measures – including the gel, frequent handwashing, social distancing, Group A and B days, separated classroom ‘bubbles’ – we have required the parents to be very much involved at home. Our medical QR code questionnaire gets filled in daily, sent into school before the child arrives. Children’s temperatures are checked at home and again at school, also on a daily basis. Is all this time-consuming? To a certain extent, yes. Yet, that challenge has been met. It is, though, far better than the alternative, namely closing down bespoke bubbles for at least a week. Or, were cases of Covid to take over, closing down the school in its entirety.

The second thing I highlighted in my opening addresses how one handles operational matters. So, in reopening schools, an important challenge we educators face is to be sure one’s staff know exactly what is being planned by the school, and why. I have found our teachers have been magnificent in the way they have implemented their various curriculums using the internet. Cheerful, committed, flexible, and creative: these descriptive words readily come to my mind. (As the old British ditty about the Duke of York has it, teachers were marched by us to the top of the hill, and, returning to live teaching, they now are being marched down again!) They therefore fully deserve both praise and transparency from their line managers.

As a British-international school, I should add here that our teachers have had the added challenge of making recently arrived pupils feel at home. Coping with a new land, school, teachers, friends and, sometimes, a new language, and all wrapped up in new anti-Covid protocols, is a mighty tall order for these children.

Our hybrid model for 2021-2022 started with two days on campus. (More permitted for our ‘Kinder superbubble’.) Only now, a few weeks later, are we moving to three days face-to-face in Primary and Secondary. We have tried to keep more ‘academic’ teaching online, thereby boosting the opportunities for pupil socialization on campus. Alongside teaching synchronous and asynchronous classes with Zoom, we have found Google Classroom to be a very good ‘online diary,’ as when recording the setting and assessment of home learning assignments. Now, successfully weaning the pupils off myriad lessons shared via computer screens, and gradually returning to many more live classes, perhaps is the greatest challenge they – teachers, the real face of the school – encounter. Our new normal. Research continues to show that the well-prepared ‘live teacher’ remains our greatest educational asset, however handy an adjunct technology may be.

In like fashion, as a head teacher, I always aim to pay attention to the pupils’ voices. And, during a pandemic, more than ever. We have to stand in their shoes. How resilient and flexible we have asked them to be! While they have much enjoyed seeing their peers back at school, the transition is a curious one for so many of them. Despite looking as though they are back within the old rhythms of school life, much self-adjustment is required. Truth to tell, the long lockdown mentally has challenged so many of them. They now need to understand that the ‘bubbles’ are for real and a properly calculated safety measure, not there to impede nor frustrate them. To achieve the right social distancing is an ongoing, practical challenge, especially as they assemble outside to enjoy their breaks.

We have just celebrated Mexico’s Independence Day with “El Grito” (the shout). This year, I would like to add to that tribute a special salute to all our pupils. “Viva!”

Tom M. J. Wingate V.

Head Teacher

The Wingate School, Mexico City

(Sept. 18, 2021)

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