Driving back from Co Wicklow on Friday, 13th March, when all our schools had shut, I knew in my heart that I needed to find a way of delivering my remaining 7 weeks of classes in this third term.
As the world around us changed very rapidly, the words ‘adapt’, ‘change’ and ‘flexibility’ came to mind very quickly, and I felt the desire almost immediately to find a way forward to keep my business visible.
On Monday, 16th March I explored Skype, Zoom, WhatsApp and FaceTime video options, and by the next day I had made my first call to a senior student to see how it would all work out.
The next few weeks was a whirlwind of one-to-one calls with students which was extremely time consuming (approximately 9/10 hours per day online). I knew that before I gathered the students into group environments, I would need to gain their trust and was also very aware of how daunting this new experience would be for them. So, our weekly, one-to-one, check-in calls were pivotal in relation to the development and success of the group video calls that followed. Gradually, I encouraged the students to come into a virtual classroom to meet all their friends and before we knew it, we were able to pick up where we had left off in March. Everything was seamless and the trust was well and truly established.
My biggest observation from this experience is how well the children, students and parents have all adapted to the countless changes that unfolded with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic which brought unprecedented challenges to so many. I noticed how quickly my students settled into the new normal of their online classes and their their improved ability, week-on-week, to engage and communicate to camera – a skill that many adults would find extremely difficult to master.
The silver lining in all of this, however, is that all the increased anxiety and uncertainty of these demanding times has presented an opportunity for my students to build resilience and the ability to weather stressful situations. They now have new skills to add to their toolkit – speaking to camera; online communications and the use of technology to manage same.
Not every day has been plain sailing though as there have been many problems that needed ironing out – but, for the most part, it’s been a great journey. I now see further opportunities to deliver e-learning, and when all is said and done, it is important to point out, that face-to-face (in the flesh) will always be my number one way to teach Speech Drama and Communications… but online teaching is now a close second!
I am now very proud to say that all my students will now complete their end of year exams, and thus will move on to their next levels.