19 May 2020

With more than 15 years in special education developing specialized learning programs for learners with special educational needs, Carla Palmer has been working with student-athletes at Aspire Academy for 8 years. In the following interview the teacher from Scotland talks about the impact of COVID-19 on teachers and students of Aspire Academy, the transition to remote teaching, distance learning and the importance of mental wellbeing during this challenging period.

As a result of the COVID-19 virus, schools in Qatar were closed on March 10 and the distance learning-protocol was activated. How was the transition process for the teachers of Aspire Academy?
Carla Palmer:
For me as a teacher it was quite easy actually, because a lot of the content that we make for students at Aspire Academy nowadays is online. The biggest change was probably on an emotional level, being disconnected from your students and not being able to see them face to face and having to connect with then using technology. I think that was the biggest shock. 

How were the students dealing with this new situation?
Some students love technology and they were really thriving. Some of them were actually doing better online than they do in a face-to-face classroom. Learning from home helped those students who find it hard to focus for long periods of time. Other students were affected more socially, because they did not get this real emotional connection with the teacher, what some really need. Interacting with teachers outside of classes also helps students that are struggling with any kind of social and emotional issue. But those students were not able to get that and so it has been a bit more challenging for them.

What role do the parents of the student-athletes play in this process?
I think that the parents had to take on a big responsibility even in terms of making sure that the students access the lessons on time, that they have the equipment they need and that the internet was stable and that they could provide them with the room in the house. And I know a lot of parents were also helping with homework tasks and getting resources, making trips to schools and shops making sure to get the kids online. I am sure it was a challenge for them.

What can teachers and students learn from this experience?
I think that as a teacher we can learn many things in terms of using different modalities to reach different types of students. I think also having backup is something that we have been made more aware of. I think students teach us a lot in terms of adapting quickly to a new situation. And one thing that students can definitely learn from this experience, is having more responsibility over their learning.

You are also hosting a podcast on “Wellbeing for educators”. Can you please tell us a little bit about the idea behind it and why mental health is so important during times of this pandemic and social distancing?
The idea behind it is that teaching is a quite challenging task and it takes a huge tool on teachers’ wellbeing mentally, emotionally and socially in every area of their lives. It’s a very intense job with a lot of emotional responsibility as well as the everyday tasks. So the idea behind the podcast was to get people talking about wellbeing in education, whether that be student-wellbeing or teacher-wellbeing or even administration-wellbeing, because they are included in the education and teaching field.

Mental health and emotional wellbeing are definitely very important in these days where people have to practice social distancing, they cannot meet family or friends etc. What do you think would be a good advice for people on how to deal with this challenging situation?
I have spent a lot of time doing things that I enjoy and that will help me with my mental health. I think creative activities are really important for wellbeing. Everybody should set time aside each day to engage in some creative tasks, creative pursuits and anything they enjoy that is not work- and responsibility-related. I also think that spiritual things help, whatever that is for each person. Some people are quite religious, others like spiritual practices and beliefs and I think those are also really important for mental health and wellbeing.

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