“I didn’t for-see there being this many meetings during the apocalypse”. Dominic Hoey, poet and novelist jibed on his Facebook wall recently. For me his words sum up some of the lockdown experience. The this-changes-everything feeling. The shift online for so many facets of life: teaching, learning, connecting with family and friends. On Monday March 23, our school shortened break times and teachers on duty had to implement social distancing rules for our 800+ students who would normally rarely be more than 0.5 metres away from a friend. While senior students in the last class I taught in a classroom were working on writing portfolios, one of them kept announcing the latest Stuff updates aloud:
“There are 109 confirmed cases in New Zealand. And a cluster in Christchurch.”
At 2.30pm, I had to meet my Ako tutor group and tell them to clear their lockers and go home – school would be implemented remotely from then on.
After a day and a half of planning, we shifted the delivery of our lessons entirely online. We then hustled through the moved-forward Easter ‘holidays’ to establish remote learning on Microsoft Teams. Senior management ensured systems were in place for teachers to be able to check in on the wellbeing and progress of every student; that engagement could be recorded and reported back to families; that the school community felt supported throughout this adaptation process in the face of the pandemic.
Meanwhile, we tried to figure out how best to look after our families and neighbours whilst the country was in the ‘stamp it out’ phase of staying home in order to save lives. Here are a few things this situation has taught me over the last seven weeks.
– Home is sweet. The enforced hibernation or rāhui period has offered a chance to slow down, reflect and keep things simple. There have been a lot of DIY projects, sourdough bread making, seed sprouting and kombucha brewing going on. The kindness campaign has seen us showing aroha from afar as we stayed within our bubbles. It has been a time to keep things simple, get outside, check in on neighbours, contact mates and relatives as we faced this uncertainty together, though physically distant.
– Baking is good for your budget and your wellbeing until it gets in the way of the thing you are meant to be doing. Then it becomes procrasti-baking.
– The importance of human connection. When we are able to physically be together and talk one on one, it’s a really straightforward way of getting things done. Until then Zoom and Teams meetings were the new standard for school, work and social life. This software has been most effective when people are imaginative with it, remembering to see the funny side of the online shift (dressing up for meetings, changing your background to something hilarious) and using the time to connect with each person as an individual at some point in the discussion. The best meetings I’ve attended started with a challenge, a quirky gif in the chat or a quick ‘whip around’ share of where people are at.
– The outdoors are great. To combat screen fatigue due to back-to-back online meetings, I kept reminding myself to look outside, following the 20 / 20 / 20 rule that occupational therapists tell us: Every twenty minutes, look 20 metres into the distance for twenty seconds. Just looking outside at the sky really helped during rāhui. And being outside, under the sky, on on walk along the coast or in the hills near my house seemed to put everything in perspective. There were also a succession of crisp autumn days, exceptional moonrises, epic rains and even a meteor shower that served as further reminders to look up, look around and listen to nature during lockdown.
– We need to maintain momentum to close the digital divide. The day our school closed to learners, our IT staff worked hard to ensure every student went home with a device if they didn’t own one. The government acted quickly to connect up student households that didn’t currently have internet access, so New Zealand is now in a position to push for digital equity in the long-term. This is a space where GWNZ can also continue to take action.
– Though men are physically more vulnerable to coronavirus, with everyone apart from essential workers working from home, many households around the world have shown that women are suffering most under lockdown measures, as the closures of schools and childcare facilities mean that as they might be on a lower income or because of cultural expectation, it’s “Mom’s Zoom meeting that has to wait”.
– As global and local unemployment figures rise, there is also an evident gender impact.
Women fill a larger number of the low-paid, tourism, domestic, retail, flight crew and hospitality roles that are currently facing significant cuts. As re-training, up-skilling and career shifts for women will be a defining feature of the post-covid world, the work of GWNZ is as important as ever.
– This is my first pandemic, so like most of us I’m just figuring out ways to deal with it and take each day as it comes. Wellbeing comes first, and work comes second, I keep reminding my students. All over the world, we’re seeing how vital our careworkers and medical staff are. We’re also seeing thestrength in leading with kindness.
– Slippers make everything better. Having now returned to the ‘chalkface’ in my classroom, I miss going to work in my slippers. But I am grateful I can go to work. Teachers staged a nation-wide mega-strike for better conditions last year, and were supported by our community, so I think it’s important for us to keep proving the profession is worth what we took industrial action for.
– It’s important we continue to support each other during this topsy-turvy time. For many, coronavirus has meant it is tricky finding the headspace for study, and this article from the US suggests that women are submitting less papers for publication. The global impact of the pandemic is just beginning, but we can learn a lot from our local lockdown experience. If we bring some of those reflections on what matters most into our work and family lives in a sustainable and meaningful way, there is much to be gained. So as we shift from one level to the next, there’s ample opportunity for GWNZ to think, act and connect. This May edition of the newsletter brings Scholarship, Mentoring and Event opportunities that offer all of us ways to get involved.
– Annabel Wilson
Editor, Marketing and Membership, GWNZ