Sweden. Lessons learned from teaching onsite throughout the whole pandemic.

In August schools start again here in Sweden, after a much needed summer break. I thought I would share with you, a few reflections from what it was like teaching onsite throughout the whole pandemic. Maybe this will help some of you when your school is rebound for onsite learning in the autumn.

When the pandemic started in 2020, and I realised that Sweden was neither going into lockdown nor was going to close the primary years schools, I had to set up some strategies for myself, to feel safe at school. This was a big challenge to begin with.

It was a very bizarre feeling going to work when the rest of the world was closing down. It was like living in two parallel universes: one at school, where life was pretty much business as usual, and one coming out from work in the afternoon, where there were the corona restrictions of keeping distance to each other.

Almost everyday I had this contradicting inner dialogue with myself: “Why is the health of educators jeopardised here in Sweden? “ to “We are doing the right thing for the kids “ .

Luckily we managed the first wave quite well in my town. It was spring and I started to do a lot of outdoor education with my learners. Most importantly I ran a well- being pilot project for my PLC, so focusing on well-being became very natural.

With the stress in society the students responded well to physical activity every day and learning about the body – brain connection.

The response from parents spoke with a uniting voice : “ This well-being program is so needed, thanks for doing it, we love it! “

I also implemented a growth mindset approach for my students, working on resilience skills to be able to deal with the constant, never-ending streams of ad-hoc situations.

I started to use my surroundings more and went to parks and open air museums where the learners did math, art , social studies and more, in an interdisciplinary, natural way.

If I lived in a hot country I would definitely think of doing much more outdoor education, because why would we stay indoor so much?

Then came last year’s summer holiday and we all got our well-earned rest, recharged, became hopeful that all would be better, coming back in the autumn. We thought schools would be more prepared to promote educator health. They weren’t.

In the autumn 2020 came new waves of corona. The Swedish weather deteriorated and we had to be more indoors.

Prior to starting the autumn term 2020 I did an antibody test. I thought that if I had had some asymptomatic version of Covid already I would feel much more safe coming back to school. But no trace of Covid there!

On the first day of school we were all talking and saying how much unease we felt being onsite. Meetings were done in our big staff room and it seemed as we just picked up where we left.

Luckily new routines were set up after awhile, and we could finally do meetings on Zoom, from our homes. Wouldn’t that have been self evident earlier?! As educators we had to make our needs heard and communicate a lot with the educator unions.

Us educators kept missing the deeper perspective of educators’ well-being. If the educator in the room feels capable and good, the chances are that the learners will learn better and deeper.

As autumn became winter colleagues and students started to get covid increasingly much, our town was now at the top 3 in the country of being hit, and the emails stated to roll in “This is to let you know that this person has Covid ….” I don’t know how many corona tests I did at school. It was again very bizarre. We did the test and then continued with learning and teaching as if nothing happened.

I could send home a student one day and the next day I would get an email from the parents letting me know that the family had corona.

Imagine the stress.

This was everyday happenings for all of us.

We are an international school so all students and educators have family abroad. We have a big learning community from India and the India wave hit many of our families who watched the crisis at distance, from Sweden. My thoughts and love go to all the students who lost a grand parent.

I can’t emphasise enough how important it is to use a helicopter perspective and reflect on what is really needed for the learners, not getting stuck at ordinary curriculum thinking. A high level of adaptability was needed. One day the learners really needed to talk a lot about what’s going on, another day it was better to get on with usual stuff.

My guiding words were ‘balance’ and ‘fun’! I wanted to laugh a lot with the students so they would feel more relaxed and creative. I wanted to do activities that would increase their sense of balance in challenging times.

In this context a colleague of mine and I decided that it was about time to put together a well-being program for educators. We had our well-being program Just Move / AHA! Well-being going on for learners, but the need for educators’ well-being grew as we went deeper into winter.

We set up a program that we call “The Athlete’s Mindset”, which is based on applied neuroscience, Sports Psychology and has a growth mindset approach helping people to stay resilient.

We got our Principal onboard and implemented the program at school. We ran Hackathon Sprints for all primary years teachers and specific sessions for class teachers. We created check-in tools to measure individual and team well-being.

We are very happy that our school has seriously taken on well-being for all our primary school community and we will continue to develop the program this year, hopefully becoming an across-all-ages program, from EYP to DP.

So how do I feel going back to school now on August 9?

I had my two vaccine shots this summer so I feel much more at ease. The vaccination rate is high in Sweden, so I look at the new year with more ease than last year. At least I feel more safe than August 2020.

I have reflected a lot on what learning and teaching will be about with my learners this year. I will share that in a separate blog.

As a starting point I will lead from my heart, and first and foremost establish good relationships with my new students so they can feel safe.

If you have questions on how to set up a well-being program for learners and educators at school, please email me: yvettesmiles@gmail.com

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