Coronavirus: Supporting Students Online When Schools are Forced to Close

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).

Accompanying video: 

The recent outbreak of the 2019 novel coronavirus has caused concern for many school leaders, parents and educational authorities. Just this week, for example, we’ve seen parents pulling their kids out of school at Howard Springs, Australia (where a makeshift coronavirus quarantine center was setup nearby), and schools in the French Alps close due to a localized outbreak.

Other concerning developments regarding the novel coronavirus and its recent impact on schools include:

  • British schools have issued warnings to parents to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus after fears that it could be picked up on half-term holidays to the far east. 
  • St Mary’s Independent School in Southampton, Hampshire (United Kingdom) is currently closed (as of February 10th 2020) after the family of some of their pupils were put in isolation over fears they may have contracted the coronavirus.
  • More than 14,000 people have signed a petition calling for one California school district to temporarily close all schools due to the outbreak. 

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Much is still unknown about nCoV2019, but one thing is becoming clear: person-to-person spread is occurring. The latest situation summary updates are available on the CDC’s web page: (2019 Novel Coronavirus, Wuhan, China).

The forecast for this new virus is unclear, and in my personal opinion school leaders would be well-advised to prepare for possible closure. 

I believe I have come up with a simple method by which teachers and schools can support students with their learning when they are working from home. And I believe that simplicity is key – simple systems make life easier for everybody.

Advice for parents is given at the end of this article.

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. 

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In my opinion, this method is much better than just using your school’s online learning platform and e-mail to set work because:

  1. All of the work is kept in one place. Every teacher has access, but students cannot see or edit each other’s sites.
  2. Work is less fragmented, as it’s all in one place. With Google Classroom and GMail alone, for example, it can be hard to organize the work one has to mark.
  3. ePortfolios provide amazing evidence of learning, output, creativity and feedback for school inspectors.
  4. Every teacher has access, potentially providing a healthy sense of competition between subjects.
  5. Students can embed Google Docs, Slides, Sheets and Forms to their Google Sites. Other platforms also have amazing features that can enhance learning (e.g. news tickers, forum building and link sharing). 

I think it’s important for schools to ‘make hay whilst the sun in shining’ – get your kids set up with all of this now, so that it becomes easy to assign and mark work if your school is forced to close (for any reason, not necessarily because of the novel coronavirus). 

Advice for parents

It can be difficult to support children when school is closed, especially if both parents are working. However, where possible, try to follow these tips:

  1. Make sure your child wakes up at an appropriate time each day and starts the day properly. This is particularly important for older teenagers who have upcoming exams, as productivity can be greatly affected by a slow and late start to the day.
  2. Access your child’s work that has been set by school. Make sure you have your child’s password and username for their online learning platform (if they have one), so that you can determine what work is being set.
  3. E-mail teachers and school leaders and keep in touch with key people in your child’s education. E-mail questions, queries or concerns you have – school’s are usually very happy to assist parents in supporting their children.
  4. Read ahead in your child’s textbooks, so that you can explain concepts and knowledge when you have the time.
  5. Check your child’s work, and make sure quality is high. It may take some time for teachers to provide detailed feedback if school is closed, so provide feedback in the interim (see my blog post about The Four Rules of Praise here). 
  6. Limit social interactions where possible, and make sure that gatherings have a purpose. For older teenagers, again, hanging out with friends can result in low productivity and loss of revision-time. On the other hand, a productive revision session with friends can be very useful. As a parent you will need to gauge the responsibility level and maturity of your own child.
  7. Follow the recommendations of local authorities.

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On Gender-Neutral Toilets in Schools

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

‘Gender-neutral’ or ‘mixed-gender’ toilets: A trend that seems to have hit British, Australian and American schools with thunderclap speed, taking even the professionals like me by surprise.

Art class

12-years-ago, when I was last teaching in the UK, this topic wasn’t even a topic. People were happy with toilets the way they were: male and female. A recent spate of moves to appease the transgender community have changed all that, however, with a lot of controversy and anger being stirred-up along the way.

Take this recent story of a new, multi-million dollar school set to open in Brisbane this month. Fortitude Valley State Secondary College will be the first secondary school in Queensland that actually forces students to share the same bathrooms. No male, female or ‘other’: everyone uses the same facilities. The only exception will be the changing rooms, which will contain separate male and female toilets.

This has caused outrage in the local community and in Australia as a whole, with parents, politicians, education experts and members of the public venting their anger on social media and through Australian media outlets:

“We already know some really bad things happen to kids in bathroom areas of schools – bullying, sexting, kids recording on mobiles, these things already go on when they’re just within their own sex, and then you’re adding in an extra element.”

Education expert and mum Michelle Mitchell for The Sunday Mail.

Opposition education leader Jarrod Bleijie made his opinion known via Facebook, stating that “boys and girls need and deserve their own privacy at school.”


In defense of the school’s gender-neutral policy, an unnamed departmental spokeswoman said the following via Daily Mail Australia:

“The toilet facilities at Fortitude Valley State Secondary College meet contemporary design standards in relation to accessibility, inclusivity, privacy and safety”

I have contacted Fortitude Valley State Secondary College principal Sharon Barker today with a statement of my concerns regarding the safeguarding of students at her school (particularly teenage girls who will be most affected), along with a request for a reasoned justification behind why the decision to install gender-neutral toilets was made. I shall add her response to this blog post should I receive one.

But what about other countries?

Australia is not the only country in which the common-sense of the masses has clashed with the logic of ‘progressive’ liberals.

Take Deanesfield Primary School (yes, a primary school!) in South Ruislip, West London, where parents launched a petition in September of 2019 in an attempt to ban unisex toilets at the school. Complaints centered around concerns from menstruating girls, who feel like their privacy is invaded when they have to share toilets with boys.

One mother, who has two young daughters at the school, said:

“The cubicles were open at the bottom and top so older pupils can easily climb up the toilets and peer over.”

It’s unclear if complaints have been heeded by the school, and again I shall be e-mailing the school today and should they offer an official response then it shall be posted on this page.

How big is the problem?

Opposition to gender-neutral toilets in schools is so big that this one blog post cannot do the topic justice. Some recent stories that have broke are listed below:

UK Girls Skipping School, Traumatized After Being Forced to Share Toilets with Boys

Gender-neutral toilets don’t help our kids, but threaten them

My thoughts on this issue

A few things:

  1. Schools should always remember that the parents are their key customers. When gender-neutral toilets are introduced in a school, without prior consultation and approval from parents, then a school is acting like a totalitarian dictatorship. I don’t like the arrogance that such schools have when they believe that they do not need to listen to parents – the ultimate, prime educators of their children.
  2. I’ve yet to see any convincing research that suggests that gender-neutral toilets benefit the majority of students at school. I’ll be looking into this further and shall provide a ‘research synopsis’ next week.
  3. Such a tiny minority of school students identify as being ‘transgender’2% in the United States (according to the CDC). Should the majority of students change their routines to appease the minority? How should this minority be catered for in a way that does not negatively affect the majority (e.g. menstruating girls)? The solution, it seems to me, it not to force all students to use gender-neutral toilets but to provide enough ‘male’, ‘female’ and ‘mixed-gender’ toilets for students to choose from. Schools will have to keep and maintain official registries of student genders to achieve this, so that only boys can use the boys’ toilets and only the girls can use the girls’ toilets.
  4. I take issue with small children identifying as ‘transgender’ and then the subsequent push by some parents to provide hormonal supplementation and ‘puberty blockers’ to facilitate a sex-change. In some cases, children as young as 8 or 9 are being treated in this way, with many of the risks being largely unknown:

“The bottom line is we don’t really know how sex hormones impact any adolescent’s brain development”

Dr Lisa Simons, pediatrician at Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago (via Frontline)

If a child cannot consent to sexual intercourse or activity, then how can a child consent to having their sex changed? This is an important question that urgently needs to be answered, otherwise we may see many of these children filing lawsuits against their parents when they reach adulthood. We may also see a rise in mental health issues as these children grow and mature, getting older and wiser along the way.

This leads into a much larger debate that goes beyond the scope of simply the installation of gender-neutral toilets in schools. It goes to the core reasoning behind this latest trend, and warrants further exploration in a future blog post.

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