Reddam House explores the ‘new normal’ reality

The Grade 2 virtual classroom.

As the first term was drawing to a close, Reddam House in Somerset West was well aware of the coronavirus pandemic – and physical distancing was firmly on the agenda.

The term was due to end on March 20, but three days earlier, the management team at Reddam House told pupils not to return to school for the remainder of the term.

With 24-hours’ notice, the teaching staff moved into overdrive, so that on March 18, Reddam House transitioned to online teaching (almost seamlessly).

On March 27, the country moved into a 21-day lockdown, and most teachers spent their April holiday preparing lessons for their new normal, so that they were ready to start online teaching on April 14.

Janine Tessendorf, the head of Reddam House Somerset, remarked: “The virtual school programme we have implemented, mirrors the actual school day as closely as possible, including school timings.

“I am extremely grateful to my staff, who have embraced this new challenge with fortitude and courage,” she said.

“The ease with which all our staff moved onto online platforms bares testimony to the calibre of the teaching staff. The most important lesson I have learnt is that nothing is impossible when you have a good team behind you.”

The history teacher, Hannah Baxter, reminded the pupils of this quote by Vladimir Lenin, made during the Russian Revolution a 100 years ago: “There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen.”

The Reddam House virtual school experience ensures that there is live student-teacher interaction, which is fundamental to all pupils making progress and achieving their full potential.

Learning now takes place via various platforms, including Zoom; Google Meet/Classroom/Hangout Conferencing; and Google Shared Drive.

Specialist lessons continue, with teachers preparing activities for children on the day that the specialist subject takes place – for example; music, art, drama and computers.

Teachers record all Google Meet/Google Hangout lessons and make these lessons available to pupils who might need to refer back to a particular lesson at a later stage.

“I have come to realise that I have taken for granted the privilege of teaching in a classroom at a great school.

“I miss the contact time and interaction with students – just seeing them on a computer screen for a limited time, does not do it for me,” remarked Clarence Oliver, a mathematics teacher.

Ms Tessendorf says: “I think online teaching is more time-consuming and more exhausting than regular teaching.

“Most impressive of all, is how quickly teachers, students and parents have had to embrace new technology and online platforms. It just goes to show, that when one really has to do something that is out of your comfort zone, you can.”

Two pupils shared their thoughts on the lockdown…

“Lockdown has put community into perspective for me – I have loved seeing all the online videos and compilations of people being everyday heroes, and the rest of society giving them the gratitude they deserve,” said Grade 12 pupil Samantha Sibanda.

Rochelle Meissner, a Grade 11 pupil, had this to say; “As a result of the lockdown, I have gained a greater appreciation for meditative activities.

“My life has slowed down a lot, and I often find myself finding the value in each moment.

“Rather than just passing the time, I appreciate my time. I spend more time thinking about things that are really important to me, like my friends – the material world has given way to a much more existential and emotional reality.”