Covid-19: creating the ‘new normal’ in New Zealand schools

|6 min read

Covid has affected schools around the world. We sat down with Alex, an MNP Trainer in New Zealand, to find out how they’ve managed the shift and changed some things for the better.

As New Zealand moves closer and closer to eliminating Covid-19, many of the restrictive policies that were implemented during lockdown are beginning to ease, and we’re now in a position to create our ‘new normal’.

We view this as an opportunity for a number of reasons. It gave us time to reflect on some of the newly adopted practices, look at what we learnt from our ‘school at home’ experience, and weigh up whether we think any new process should stick around.

As we looked at some of the changes, we discussed some of the pro’s and con’s and thought deeply about how they could lead to future possibilities.

Here are some of the most important changes and how we navigated them.

1. Contactless drop off and pick up

One of the national policies of Alert Level 2 was, every school needed to establish a ‘contactless drop-off’ process. This means that instead of the usual routine of parents coming into the classroom, they were now asked to drop-off and pick-up their children at the school gate.

The advantages of school contactless drop off and pick up

Contactless drop-off procedures are new territory for many schools. Thankfully, we’ve seen lots of benefits for learners and many schools are now considering whether this is a routine we should adopt more permanently.

A number of schools reported significantly less separation anxiety and many teachers found they were able to begin learning a lot faster in the mornings as children were more settled.

There are also many potential long-term advantages, including learners developing higher independence and improved organisation and self-management skills.

The disadvantages of school contactless drop off and pick up

Along with the advantages of contactless drop off, it’s a good idea to understand the concerns.

Like how this could affect a school’s relationship with their parent community. Many schools rely on their parent community. Parents are happy to be involved when they have a strong relationship with their child’s teacher and the school creates a culture of community.

Teachers wondered if continuing this contactless drop-off would have implications on the parent community’s willingness to help.

Reflections: Looking to the future

Many of our schools are in conversations with their communities about possible ways forward. A popular idea is to have set days where parents can come into the classroom for drop-off and pick-up.

This will help maintain the sense of community in the school while developing children’s independence.

2. Staggered break times

Plenty of schools have chosen to stagger break times to assist with social distancing on the playground and minimise the amount of contact learners have with each other.

To get around timetabling issues, many schools have opted for three short breaks instead of the usual morning tea and long lunch break.

The advantages of staggered break times

There have been two major advantages of staggering the break times.

The first is more space. Having less children on the playground means there is a lot more room for the learners to run around, play and explore.

It’s likely this contributes to the second major benefit. There has been significantly less playground behaviour issues since staggering breaks and many educators will agree that any idea that reduces playground incidents deserves to be taken seriously!

The disadvantages of staggered break times

Nothing is perfect and staggering break times is no exception. Many schools feel it is impacting staff bonding, as teachers are not having breaks at the same time.

Some teachers have also wondered if learners are not being given opportunities to form relationships with children in different year groups.

Staggering break times requires some very savvy timetabling. Playgrounds are being used frequently, so it can be difficult to find areas to use for PE lessons. Plus, there has been a lot of added noise around the classrooms while classes are working.

Reflections: Looking to the future

Deciding whether to continue staggering the breaks requires some careful thought.

It might be valuable to ask learners how they feel about the new break time schedule or to explore the possibility of having one break time staggered, while the other is kept as a whole school break.

3. Giving learners more autonomy to plan their day

Learning from home doesn’t lend itself very easily to the standard school day timetable so as educators we’ve had to rethink learning. A popular idea adopted by many teachers over lockdown was to set daily tasks for each subject that the learners completed throughout the day.

The advantages of more learner autonomy

Setting daily tasks and allowing learners to control not only what they were doing, but when they were doing it gave them more autonomy over their learning than ever before.

Many schools noted that their learners responded incredibly well to being given the freedom to plan their own day and as a result, have gained self knowledge about who they are as learners.

Some learners have chosen to tackle difficult tasks early in the day or others have chosen to take breaks at very different times than we would at school.

The disadvantages of more learner autonomy

Giving learners more autonomy over their learning is a common goal for many educators but it is not always the easiest thing to achieve in a school setting.

The work many learners were being tasked with at home largely focussed on consolidating information they had already learnt in school. Teaching this way in the classroom needs some carefully considered timetabling and planning.

Reflections: Looking to the future

Learning from home gave learners an opportunity to work however they wanted. The school classroom is a different environment, but we can still recognise the way our learners responded to having more autonomy over their day and change our school programme to offer learners more of an opportunity to design their own learning day.

On the whole, this year has forced us to be adaptable and make many changes to how we teach and learn. It has also presented us with an opportunity to reflect on some of our old practices and routines; and it has given us the ability to decide what we want to change as we move forward.