During the 2021–2022 academic year, the use of the mask will continue to be necessary in educational centers. It cannot be ruled out that it continues to be so in later courses, although we observe that spaces are opening up where the mask is no longer mandatory.
And although we adults find it annoying to deal with them, it provides us with a perfect situation to work on values within the class that have continuity outside of it.
In the educational environment in general, students train their ways of being and learning in a society that has agreed rules and laws. The regulations of the educational centers not only serve for coexistence, but also for learning the limits, personal and individual rights, and respect for rules that we have agreed between all.
Thus, it is possible to continue as was done last year: working from the classroom acceptance of the mask, and the other measures, as a social commitment of all.
Social commitment at school
We usually try to find projects with which to work collaboratively so that students learn to work as a team. What better goal than to ensure that the virus does not enter the classrooms, and that it does not enter the different family units either?
It is about working from the social commitment of the students (and also of the teachers and families), without entering into punishment or reproaches. It is extremely difficult to avoid the virus, but, according to the health authorities, if society as a whole collaborates, the spread will be reduced. A social commitment that incorporates school groups in its achievement.
The mask has been a temporary refuge for many students (and some teachers) who have problems with shyness, difficulties in relation and communication with others, or a low self-concept and self-esteem. Being aware of this will allow us to help these students to develop these skills by taking advantage of this momentary refuge.
Interleave spaces with and without
You have to think about the use of spaces in which the mask is not necessary. We have become accustomed to working in the classroom as the only physical point of work. But many of the teaching activities in primary and secondary school do not require being in the classroom (as teachers and physical education teachers well know).
In many centers a space is dedicated for individual reading. Why not do this activity outdoors with interpersonal distance and enjoy some time without a mask? Regarding mental calculation, why not do it in the courtyard of the center itself? Breakfast in the first grades of primary school, can’t we have it on the patio, and let it continue with recess time?
On the other hand, the transitions between the different activities or subjects, as well as the entrances and exits, are difficult moments. The rituals that we have incorporated of cleaning and hygiene have become, without our realizing it, an aid for planning the time in these transitions.
In primary education, students have to be in the center 5 hours a day. But nothing indicates that they have to spend five hours sitting in their chairs, inside the classroom. If we intersperse time abroad, we will have a perhaps easier situation for everyone.
A practical situation: class in the classroom from 9 to 10:30 (with a mask). Activity outside from 10:30 to 11, patio from 11 to 11:30 (without mask). Return to the interior (with mask) until 12:30. At the end of the morning we will have two and a half hours of class in the classroom (with a mask), and an hour without it, but sandwiched between the two strips with a mask will make it much more bearable for the students.
At noon, students can eat in the dining room or at home, but in both cases the mask is limited to interior spaces of non-cohabitating people. And in the afternoon, another hour and a half of class, which can be done indoors (with a mask). Of the five hours, we will have limited the hours with a mask to 4, but interspersed with time without it.
In secondary education, where many teachers go through different groups, it seems more complicated, but planning in teaching teams can reduce presence within a classroom. It involves, following the previous example, reducing the hours in the classroom to allow the alternation between time with a mask and without it. The agreed programming of some shared activities in teaching teams with collaborative schedules can help to intersperse spaces, locations and activities that offer a break in the use of the mask in a planned way.
In general, it will be enough for a minimal part to do so, since it will benefit everyone (also teachers who are unwilling or unable to leave the classroom).
Less hours sitting
Reducing the six hours sitting in class is not only recommended now with the health situation. It was also before. If it is extremely difficult for adults to sit for six hours a day in a class following the explanations of a teacher, what makes us think that the same does not happen to adolescents?
In this sense, the virus has managed to vary, albeit minimally, the time of physical presence in the classroom, to go on to use other spaces in the center.
It’s not just about the mask. Ultimately, it is about alternating methodologies, activities, spaces and improving teaching coordination.
Introduce learning and work skills
We may include projects and activities that take into account the limitations of the mask, but at the same time take advantage of the opportunities it offers us.
Wearing a mask requires proactive and planned work on the paralinguistic and non-verbal aspects of communication: gesticulation, intonation, tone, rhythm, volume. These aspects can be programmed as an objective of work with the students.
We can take advantage to work on the use of written and gestural communication, and the use of pictograms, as well as the digital skills of the students. Learning to subtitle the videos that are recorded, to use social networks appropriately, in collaborative and shared environments, can help students to incorporate what they do outside the educational environment and favor interaction with other peers from other bubble groups.
Author Bios: Jordi Perales Pons is a Teacher Tutor Master of language disorders and learning difficulties and Sylvie Perez Lima is a Psychopedagogue both at UOC – Open University of Catalonia