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Coronovirus Outbreak: How an International School in Beijing Was Prepared for this Crisis

February 27, 2020


As an educator in China this is a crazy time! I am an Elementary School teacher at a well established international school in Beijing. I couldn’t be more pleased with how well this crisis has been handled by our school board and administrators!

We were all leaving for CNY when the Novel Coronavirus outbreak was occurring. At that time I was relieved to be staying in Beijing with my kids, and not traveling.

Four days into holiday we were informed that we would not be returning to school until Feb 17, and that learning would commence On-line at the end of CNY on Feb 3.

Quickly many teachers that were traveling cancelled their return flights and chose to stay where they were or travel home. Those of us in Beijing made quick decisions about wether to stay put or go somewhere else. In Beijing many public venues had closed, all tourist locations closed, ski areas, movie theaters and hotels began to close. As a mother with children, I did not want to stay in my apartment for weeks with nothing to do, so made a quick decision and flew back home the next day.

Our school uses a lot if on-line platforms for learning and sharing student learning, such as blogs, and moodle for older students. We already had an on-line teaching policy and tips document in case of school closures due to weather or pollution. This gave us a platform to begin on-line learning right away.

Most teachers quickly shifted from vacation mode to teaching mood well before Monday’s start date. Our IT support was in contact with reminders for guidelines and assistance to access. Our Media specialists quickly redistributed our subscription to online resources and shared out what could or could not be utilized for online learning. The lists of don’ts was daunting at first, as we are limited to things all families can access in China.

The school conducted a community survey, in part due to government requirements and in part to know more about the access for our students. From this, we were informed that approximately 50% of those who responded were still in Beijing and 50% were spread around the world in all time zones imaginable. The original policy was that teachers needed to be available during school hours in Beijing regardless of where they were, but thus just was not realistic or doable. Some teachers in the States and Canada were battling a 13-16 hour lag. This policy soon changed to holding some hours during school hours and offering our available hours to students, so they can access us when needed and according to times suitable in different time zones.

As a teacher in the elementary, we have been successful in connecting with some of our students with FlipGrid for morning greetings and provocations to our units. FlipGrid has been helpful for mini lessons and individual support to students with specific learning needs. Almost all teachers have been meeting with groups of students via Zoom, where teachers offer 2-4 time options so students can participate with one in their time zone. Epic Books has been a great resource, as we can send links to specific sets of book related to our UOI or learning topic. RAZ kids has given students access to reading practice at their level and teachers can track which students are accessing this as a resource. Older ES students are using IXL and our younger students are accessing Mathletics. We are trying out some additional on-line learning tools, to see what works best. We have also taken advantage of our school’s subscription to Brain Pop and Brain Pop Jr.

We have also used Zoom as a platform for all of our collaborative and planning meetings. All groups of teachers: grade level, single subject, leadership, and support services have been required to touch base and meet on a weekly basis. This week the school is setting up online Teachers Teaching Teachers meetings on Zoom, so we can learn additional tips about different tech and online teaching tools and resources.

Our school is known for being a highly collaborative school, and this experience has highlighted this aspect in a new way. Teachers are really working in teams, not in isolation to support our learners.

The school has recently informed us that we will be given a 3 week notice of the commencement of school, to be determined by the Chinese Ministry of Education. As the Chinese government is requiring all individuals to undergo a self quarantine for 14 days following travel, week 1 of these 3 weeks will be for returning to Beijing. They are replacing our spring break with this week 1 of return and there will be no online learning during that week. The following two weeks, while in quarantine, we will continue on-line learning.

Most of us are missing our students and the routine of our daily lives, so eager to have this date announced by the Ministry if Education, though appreciate their need to stop the spread of the virus and their desire to not put students in any harm!

This article was submitted by an ISC member currently working at an international school in Beijing, China.