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A Most Unusual Year 

A Most Unusual Year 

It was Friday, 13 March, an hour or so after the school day had ended, when the Hessen government announced the closing of all schools within the region. We had heard of similar circumstances from friends at schools in places like Seoul and Zurich, yet it was still a shocking thought that took us time to process: our very own school was shutting down. 

Fortunately, we had been preparing for this by attempting Zoom sessions and speaking with teachers about the coronavirus. This was the time for us to put theory into actual practice. Despite the hectic situation of moving the entire student body and faculty online, notwithstanding the cancellation of the May 2020 International Baccalaureate (IB) exams, several Upper School faculty members shared with me some of the effects quarantine had on their lives and their teaching. 

During the quarantine period, it was the teachers that truly shone and showed the students that anything – including teaching – could be done during these turbulent times.

Julie Conley, FIS Mathematics Head of Department and Varsity Girls Basketball Coach, talked about some of the adaptations she had to make while teaching students during the quarantine. She began by teaching online from school, but as the situation progressed, decided it was better to stay home where she used an iPad in place of her classroom’s smart board. “While I had the option to go to school, I found that I could do what I needed from home and it seemed more socially responsible at that point,” Ms. Conley said. 

When asked how she adapted her teaching to the Distance Learning Plan (DLP), she referred to a “Flipped Classroom” approach in which students learned the new content ahead of time using videos and other resources she provided. Zoom was then used to discuss specific problems together. As one of her students, I had to agree that this approach was an effective method for learning during the quarantine. “The planning takes longer, but there are also advantages in that the students seemed pretty focused  knowing that we were using the time to solidify what they have already started to learn via videos and the resources I was providing,” Ms. Conley said. “I was extremely impressed with the maturity and responsibility
I saw from my students.” 

In addition to coursework, Ms. Conley gave students a bit of advice to make the most of the quarantine period, including a variety of methods to fight off procrastination such as handwritten to-do lists and setting small rewards for when you complete a major task (a yummy snack, a power nap, a 30-minute break to watch TV or read a book). 

I also had the opportunity to speak to the 2019-2020 Grade 12 Year Head and Upper School Geography and Theory of Knowledge (TOK) teacher, Bryne Stothard. As a Year Head, he gave me a unique perspective on the issue. During the quarantine, Mr. Stothard worked from home as he felt it was the safest option for him and more importantly – his family. “We were so lucky to have all those things in place. Most schools have nowhere near the capacity to facilitate the DLP that we had established,” he said.

When asked about how DLP affected his geography course, Mr. Stothard had many positive things to say. “The biggest joy I have with teaching geography is the rich discussions we have as a group. Zoom worked surprisingly well in that regard.” One thing he noticed was that it was difficult to have individualized conversations, although break-out rooms seemed to ameliorate the issue. From the perspective of a Year Head, he also missed the impromptu connections that teachers and students made in the Tech Deck, hallways, homerooms and cafeteria. However, he hoped that students used the time to make connections with their family members instead. 

Like Ms. Conley, Mr. Stothard also had a few tips for students, including contacting the Tech Deck for technical issues or the counselors to help ease stress or anxiety. For teachers, Mr. Stothard suggested taking advantage of the situation to learn new skills. “Teaching and learning go hand in hand, so we have to look at the DLP as an opportunity to develop as professionals.” He stated that many teachers at FIS have Google Certification and that there was no better time to up-skill and participate in some micro-credentialing. 

The final member of the faculty that I had the opportunity to interview was Upper School Principal John Switzer. During the first week of the quarantine, Mr. Switzer stayed on-site to support teachers who needed assistance in the transition to the DLP, but in the following week, moved to his home office.“As many of the teachers were working from home, I felt like it was important to also try and get a sense of what the experience was like for them,” he said. “I’m also a parent of two Upper School students, so being at home while they were there gave me some perspective on their world, too!”

As the Upper School Principal, Mr. Switzer provided some final words of encouragement to all members of the school community. “I think it is really important that we all find ways to feel connected even though we might be working in isolation. Homeroom check ins, break times, lunchtimes, are a great way to keep in touch with your classmates via Zoom or other communication tools. I also think it is really important to not stare at a screen too much. Get out of your chair regularly and get some exercise throughout the day. And finally, practice gratitude. Write thank-you notes to your friends, teachers, parents, family members to tell them why you are grateful for them. It will make you feel better and it will certainly brighten their day.”

Overall, through the series of interviews, one thing became extremely clear: the incredible response of both the school and the community. When speaking with students from different schools in different countries, I realized that it was rare to see such a successful and effective implementation of a DistanceLearning Plan. Finally, I’d like to remind us all to express gratitude to the teachers and staff that aided us while being faced with a hasty transition to Zoom and online learning. During the quarantine period, it was the teachers that truly shone and showed the students that anything – including teaching – could be done during these turbulent times.

Seoeun (Sunny) Choi
FIS Alumna, Class of 2020