All efforts of the participants in the Smile project were focused on maintaining contact with the children and their families and creating equal learning opportunities. For instance, teachers created educational packs (worksheets) and used young volunteers from the Save the Children organisation or teachers to send worksheets to those students who didn’t have internet access or laptops; once the tasks were completed the volunteers took them back to the teachers to assess; sometimes they even used the corner shop in the neighbourhood; they left worksheets there for the parents to collect when doing shopping and then give them to children). Everybody tried to adjust to the new context and make children feel comfortable.
All participants in the Smile project stated that they had been inspired with the selection of indicators and their integration of the Smile activities into their school’s general plan. Thus, the challenges posed by the pandemic turned into opportunities. The EuroEd school created a procedure for the recruitment of teaching and non-teaching staff, which complies with the principles of child safeguarding. The procedure was successfully used with the candidates for the new positions in the school in July 2020.
The Al Vlahuta and EuroED schools chose indicators from the school/ parents partnership. With everybody working from home, parents had more time for their offspring. The teachers appreciated the importance of keeping parents 'on their side'. They had to adopt new strategies: keeping parents well informed about what they did and why they did it and telling them how to help school (children). Teachers and parents met online, listened to each other’s concerns and ideas and found solutions to common problems. Online education relied on the parents/school partnership: parents not only supported all school initiatives but they also contributed to their implementation. Educators organized weekly and monthly meetings with parents having discussions on a wide range of topics: children’s wellbeing, their needs and how to support them, online learning, etc. Parents were also taught how to use the new technology (zoom, digital apps, Google Meet etc).
Another challenge that our schools faced was teachers’ professional development, covered by the teaching practices domain in the Smile Model. Everybody made efforts to update and upgrade their knowledge and skills by reading articles in the field, participating in webinars, seminars, online courses, etc. They highlighted the role that collaboration and sharing with colleagues played in their work. They shared everything they found on enhancing teachers’ IT competencies, informed each other about useful webinars, seminars, articles, etc by posting on the school site or Facebook page of the project, designed online lesson plans and shared and reflected on the experiences they had with pupils. The schools organised online training sessions on how to enhance online teaching (topics: time management, supervising children online, time children spend in front of the computer, time educators spend on preparing their online lessons, how to give homework, how to motivate children, how to assess children online). The teachers also held that the pandemic taught them that we need to adapt and be flexible and open up to changes. Children need to be prepared and educated for life. To this end, we should insist on developing their 21st-century skills. Children should be taught how to learn. We should reconsider all our materials, textbooks (children seem to be overwhelmed by the huge amount of information). Assessment still heavily depends on memorization. One of the schools (G Calinescu school) ‘benefitted’ from the situation as their indicator was related to teaching practices; needless to say, progress was made in terms of integrating the new technology into classes with all the three schools.
Teachers agreed that no matter how hard this period is there are significant gains. The pandemic turned challenges into opportunities by:
- strengthening teachers/parents relationships
- consolidating the collaboration with parents, colleagues and children.
- accelerating the integration of the new technologies into lessons
- enhancing teachers’ professional development
- stimulating teachers’ creativity and focusing teachers on finding solutions not on problems.
We kept in contact with colleagues, children and parents, organised lessons and training sessions for teachers and parents via zoom:
The Smile Project is