Interaction with families during lockdown - Germany
I am a primary school teacher with 14 years of professional experience. In the school year 2019/20, I came back to primary school after about 3.5 years at university doing research in teacher education and took over a 2nd grade as a class teacher. In March 2020, primary schools were closed for the first time. Our school had hardly any digital equipment at that time. We were required by the school management to call each family 2 times a week to see how the children were doing. When the second lockdown came in the winter of 2020/21, thanks to the support of parents, our school was technically well equipped and we teachers were also tech-savvy enough to take the plunge and do video conferencing with students.
I found the phone calls with the families in the first lockdown very unfamiliar. My role was different from face-to-face teaching. The phone calls were much more personal. I had to get used to calling the families as a teacher and asking very personal questions about whether the family was doing well, whether we as a school could help, and so on. The phone calls were incredibly important so that no child was neglected. This was also absolutely necessary because we have a lot of children who live in very difficult family situations.
It was clear during the second lockdown that the students had to meet online because the phone calls were very time-consuming after all. In particular, the first lockdown also lacked regular direct contact between the children and me as a teacher and, above all, contact between the children themselves. But I also knew that it would have been too much for me to hold a video conference with 24 children. So I had to find another solution.
In what ways did you respond to this dilemma/difficulty?
I divided the class into 3 small groups (with 7-8 pupils each) and did video conferences once a week at first for about 30 min per small group. These took place in the late afternoon because it was important that parents were also present in case something didn't work technically. For some children, family helpers were also present if the family had such an opportunity. The characteristic of these meetings was that the children were happy to see each other, they were rather silent at the beginning and waved a lot to each other. My role was of course to guide the meetings, who speaks when, what organisational things need to be discussed etc., also because I only had 20-30 minutes per small group. These meetings were incredibly intensive and exhausting, but totally useful. That's why we met more often during the week as time went on. In the beginning, we discussed a lot of organisational things. The children told me a bit about how they were doing. For this purpose, I used a ritual that the pupils already knew from the lessons. I held a stone or a feather in the camera as symbols and then each child told what was stony, heavy and what was light as a feather. It was good that the children already knew this, so I didn't have to explain much.
Having the parents in the background was very important for the success of these video conferences. I almost never saw parents in the picture and yet there was always a helping hand if something didn't work somewhere. It really happened quite often that a child slipped off the chair, for example, and you couldn't see it anymore. Some of the children also had to participate with their mobile phones because - unlike today - we didn't have any tablets that we could have borrowed back then. When the children joined in with their mobile phones, you could see them. But if they were children who could hardly sit still even at school, they would run through the flat after five minutes and you would always see the ceiling like that, or siblings snatching the mobile phone out of their hands. So the support of the parents took a lot of pressure off me and I thought that was great of the parents.
What are the implications for teaching, learning and my understanding of the role of a teacher?
These experiences have definitely changed my role as a teacher as well. I suddenly had a lot more insight into the children's personal circumstances, family difficulties, etc. The contact was much more personal and often it was more about stabilising the children psychologically than imparting knowledge to them. I also knew very well about the individual children: there was, for example, the group of 5 boys whose mothers are all teachers, they are doing well. And then there were a few children who were living in such difficult situations that I even went for a walk with them from time to time at their parents' request. These experiences regarding the family circumstances in which some children live have an influence on my current classroom teaching. I pay much more attention to the needs of the children and am also more understanding when concentration lags.
Keywords: interaction with students, online classroom management, camera usage, interaction with students and parents, well being