Message from IPPN President Damian White 20 March

 

 

A cháirde,

It is fair to say that what we are experiencing with COVID-19, a situation we could never have previously imagined, is unprecedented, and the consequences and the time over which it will play out are still far from clear. It is affecting billions of people across the world and each of us, in our own way, must deal with it to the best of our capacity, in our own context. Our first responsibility is to do everything we can to prevent it spreading further, to take HSE advice and to support those agencies who are in the front line of dealing with it.

On Thursday last, during the school day, the government issued a declaration closing the schools until the 29th March. Schools and school leaders were forced to act quickly to come up with a plan to support children with their learning at home, for at least two weeks, and, very likely, considerably longer.

It is important to remember that every school and school context is different. Indeed, while we are all school leaders, all of us have our own contexts, not only at school, but also within our communities and within our homes and families. While some schools have digital systems and capacity to deliver content online, others chose a different path, preparing packs of work which would last two weeks for the children in their classes. Some schools used email to contact parents with a list of work, some outlined the work for the children before they left school in their homework journals. Many schools shared information with parents about websites such as scoilnet and twinkl, which support the work we are doing with our classes. People shared information about publishers who have kindly made access to textbooks free online.

Whatever a school’s digital capacity or whichever path it chose to distribute learning activities, it is important that each school makes a plan – a plan which they are happy with and of which their teachers, pupils and parents are supportive. As school leaders, we are in the best position to decide what kind of plan is best for our school, in the context of what supports we can offer and bearing in mind the unique circumstances and capacity of our school to deliver. A plan for a school with 700 pupils may be different, but no less effective, than a plan for a school with 70 pupils or fewer. A plan for a Special School, or work for children with special needs, will be very specific to the needs of individual children and their families. If you and your staff are happy with the plan for your school, and your children and parents know what it’s about, you don’t have to worry about the plan being put in place by any other school.

For those schools that have the capacity to deliver online, there have been numerous suggestions on our network and elsewhere of how this can be done most effectively. In many schools, principals and staff have outstanding digital capabilities which are of great benefit to their schools in supporting off-site learning seamlessly. It is important always to bear in mind, however, that not every home is equipped with multiple digital devices and Internet access varies wildly from home to home and from area to area.

Those who choose to send homework packs or to email parents with a list of work to be done, those who share lists of work on school websites, or whatever works for them and their school, are dealing with this issue equally as well, and supporting their pupils and their families in the best way possible. If you are a school leader struggling to come up with the best way of supporting the children in your school, my advice is to take a straightforward approach, using one of these or other ideas to ensure that you have a plan in place and that your staff, children and parents understand what it is and are ok with it. If children have gone home without their school books and need them to complete work, there should not be a problem placing their books in a plastic bag and asking their parents through www.TextaParent.ie to collect them from outside the school at a given time. Many school leaders have shared very practical ideas, websites, lesson plans etc. on the IPPN networking mailing list, which can be shared with parents via the school website, by email or in hard copy. If you haven’t yet subscribed to the mailing list, now might be a good time – sign up on www.ippn.ie and go to Supports -> Mailing Lists -> Manage My Mailing Lists, ensuring you ‘submit’ at the bottom of the webpage.

We as school leaders must be cognisant of the stresses in many homes at the minute. Many parents are working in frontline services or, in thousands of cases, have lost their jobs because of the closure of shops, pubs, restaurants and other places of employment as a result of the COVID-19 virus. In many homes, older brothers and sisters are stressed because of Leaving Cert or Junior Cycle issues compounded by the current crisis. Many are also catering for elderly parents, relatives or neighbours. Consequently, work we share with families should be more ‘menu’ than ‘prescription’. Parents will welcome any support we give, but being overly prescriptive about how much work is expected to be completed may cause undue stress in many homes and ultimately defeat the purpose of the exercise.

I would emphasise, in coming up with any plan, to do so in consultation with your school staff and mindful of feedback from parents, where possible or appropriate. Provide email addresses through which parents can communicate during specified times. Such an email address could, if desired, be also used for submission of school work, bearing in mind advice in the previous paragraph about prescribing such work. For younger students, encourage play with toys as part of any work schedule. For senior classes, it presents an opportunity for project work in history, geography, SPHE or science. Encourage keeping a diary, regular exercise and good eating habits for all.

As time progresses, we will know more about what lies ahead and we may have to make plans beyond March 29th. In the meantime, be assured that once you have a plan for supporting your pupils, in their context and in your school’s context, you will be providing great reassurance to all at a time of unprecedented challenge.

Beir bua

Damian White
IPPN President

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