COVID-19: Advice for Teachers, School Administrators and School Nurses

An article by Richard James Rogers (Bestselling author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management and The Power of Praise: Empowering Students Through Positive Feedback).

It’s the story that everyone is talking about, and that also has many school leaders  concerned: COVID-19. 

The recent outbreak of this novel strain of coronavirus has caused a domino effect resulting in school closures, travel restrictions and a general, heightened sense of anxiety for many people. For schools, three major priorities now exist:

  • Protecting the student and staff body from infection
  • Having effective, simple plans in place to support students with their learning in the event of a sudden school closure
  • Educating the community about good hygiene practice and dispelling any myths about the virus that may surface, and which may add to anxiety

In this week’s blog post I aim to tackle all three of these priorities in a non-biased, objective way. Original sources will be hyperlinked and a full list of citations can be found at the end of this article.

Priority 1: Protecting the student and staff body from infection

This has to be a school’s first priority right now, as not only do the symptoms of COVID-19 infection vary slightly from person-to-person, but the resulting disease caused by the virus can progress to a serious stage in some people. A community in which high numbers of people work in close proximity to one another (such as a school) is also an ideal place for human-to-human transmission to occur, should an infected person be on-campus. 

The latest official information about COVID-19 allows us to evaluate risk to some extent:

  • Transmission can occur from person to person, usually after close contact with an infected patient (World Health Organisation)
  • Current estimates of the incubation period range from 1-12.5 days with median estimates of 5-6 days (World Health Organisation)
  • At the time of writing, official confirmed cases globally stand at 67,088 infected with 1526 total deaths and 8354 official recoveries (Johns Hopkins)

This interactive map from John Hopkins University is a clear a quick way to track the official numbers. 

According to the Washington State Department of Health, schools should be doing the following to protect their communities:

Identify who should be medically evaluated for COVID-19

Students, staff, and volunteers who are:

  • Ill with a fever, cough, or difficulty breathing AND have traveled from China in the last 14 days.
  • Ill with fever, cough, or difficulty breathing AND have been identified as a recent close contact of a confirmed COVID-19 case or had recent close contact with someone who is being evaluated for COVID-19 infection.

If a student, staff member, or volunteer meets the criteria above, it is important to place them in a private room away from others and ask them to wear a face mask and immediately notify your local health provider, who will be able to offer further guidance [according to the Washington State Department of Health].

Help students and staff reduce their risk of getting and spreading viral respiratory infections

Measures include:

  • Staying home when they are sick.
  • Frequent hand washing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom, before eating, and after they blow their nose. Help young children do the same. If hands are visibly dirty, use soap and water to clean hands. 
  • If soap and water are not readily available, using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
  • Advising persons to avoid touching their eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Following the school’s routine cleaning and disinfection program to clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipes.  
  • Covering coughs or sneezes with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash and clean hands with soap and water or hand sanitizer.   
  • Urging students and staff to get a flu shot – it’s not too late to be protected against influenza.
  • Providing adequate supplies for good hygiene, including clean and functional handwashing stations, soap, paper towels, and alcohol‐based hand sanitizer.

Cleaning and Disinfecting Procedures

Special processes beyond routine cleaning are not necessary nor recommended to slow the spread of respiratory illness. Schools should follow standard procedures for routine cleaning and disinfecting with an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)‐registered product with a disinfectant claim for human coronaviruses. Typically, this means daily sanitizing of surfaces and objects that are touched often, such as bathrooms, water coolers, desks, countertops, doorknobs, computer keyboards, hands‐on learning items, tap handles, phones and toys.

Priority 2: Having effective, simple plans in place to support students with their learning in the event of a sudden school closure

I’ve come up with what I believe to be a simple method to facilitate learning in the event of a school closure:

The Online Learning Journal [A suggestion for schools]

Step 1: Every student in the school creates a website that will act as an ‘ePortfolio’ or learning journal. Each website should contain a separate page for each subject the student learns. Google Sites is amazing for this (it’s very user friendly), but Wix, WordPress and Blogger are also good (and free) alternatives. Just make sure the students are using their school e-mail addresses to sign-up to these platforms.

Step 2: The URL for every ePortfolio for every kid in the school is kept on a centralized spreadsheet (e.g. a Google Sheet or an MS Excel sheet) that every teacher has access to.

Step 3: Work is set by the teacher through the school’s online Virtual Learning Environment or MOOC (such as Google Classroom, Firefly or Moodle) or even via e-mail. Students are required to complete their work on their website (e.g. by writing notes on each page, uploading photos of work that’s handwritten, embedding Google Slides, etc.)

Step 4: Teachers simply need to click on the URL for each website of the kids they teach and check their work. Feedback can be written on the website itself (Google Sites makes this very easy, but the student needs to click ‘share’ and share it with the class teacher), or feedback can be directly e-mailed to each student. 

You can read more about this method at last week’s blog post here. I also made an accompanying video:

Priority 3: Educating the community about good hygiene practice and dispelling any myths about the virus that may surface, and may add to anxiety

Keeping good communication lines open and providing regular updates is always a good idea at times like this. Consider the following ideas:

  • Send out a weekly newsletter to parents that goes through the steps the school is taking to protect the community from infection and general advice about good hygiene and best practice.
  • Encourage parents to e-mail any questions or queries they have to a designated person, or to their child’s homeroom teacher.
  • Assemblies and meetings with students and staff to go through good hygiene measures and offer advice and reassurance.
  • Find out where everyone in the community is travelling to during school vacations (Google Forms is great for this – send it out and collect responses). Analyse the data received and plan accordingly.

References and Sources

  1. World Health Organisation Q&A on Coronaviruses [https://www.who.int/news-room/q-a-detail/q-a-coronaviruses]
  2. Johns Hopkins University Interactive Map of COVID-19 Cases [https://gisanddata.maps.arcgis.com/apps/opsdashboard/index.html#/bda7594740fd40299423467b48e9ecf6]
  3. Washington State Department of Health: School Resources for Novel Coronavirus [https://www.doh.wa.gov/Emergencies/Coronavirus/Schools?fbclid=IwAR1N5BPyPXKhK-aCTQqEnYSsVca3QzjY5ejuHgc-vm6v-U4YsrG7er_gsng]

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Author:

High School Science and Mathematics Teacher, Author and Blogger. Graduated from Bangor University with a BSc (Hons) degree in Molecular Biology and a PGCE in Secondary Science Education. Richard also holds the coveted Certificate in Mathematics from the Open University (UK).

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