Teaching in the time of Coronavirus – IH Italy fights back

We are all undoubtedly living in a very difficult time with the new coronavirus. It is impossible to escape the worrying and upsetting rolling news cycle about COVID-19. But today we have decided to share with you a story of success; a story about how International House Italy is fighting back against all odds and… saving their schools!

Telling us about how it all started, Sarah Stats, Deputy Director at IH Milan-San Donato, says, “The 21st of February was a Friday like any other with COVID-19 the same background noise it had been for some weeks. A few cases nearby were reported and we decided to provide extra reminders about general hygiene in school. We all bid each other ‘buon fine settimana’ (have a nice weekend) and went about our weekend lives.

“At Sunday noon, a WhatsApp group entitled ‘Problem for Next Week’ appeared on the management’s phones. It was one of our DOSes alerting us that her children’s school had been closed for the week. From that moment our normal began to unravel. Monday saw confusion as we tried to interpret the government decree, apply it to our situation, and deal with lessons, exam sessions, and three on-going CELTA courses. From Tuesday an online teaching model took shape. Though we didn’t know it at the time, this model would carry us through the following weeks. Our exceptional DOSes took a deep breath and got straight to work”.

Natasha Sturlese, Director of IH La Spezia, also remembers that period very well, commenting, “Since 24th of February, IH Italy has had to deal with the terrible threat of COVID-19. We've had to close our businesses to the public and stop all face-to-face activity – imagine that for a language school. IH Italy and AISLi has been very proactive and we came together through WhatsApp groups and Zoom meetings sharing all the expertise we have… to save our schools! Since 3rd of March we have switched our schools from traditional to virtual. Being part of IHWO and AISLi has been of vital importance to us as they have helped us manage the training of our DOSes and teachers.”

The virtual classroom model is now in place all over Italy, but this would not be possible if it wasn’t for some amazing teamwork. Mary Ricciardi, IH Campobasso, says, “A huge thank you to all the staff at IH Campobasso who are ready to start their online lessons as of today. Our school will be continuously in contact with all our students via Zoom, Facebook, Instagram and emails! Stronger than ever!”

This has also led to experimenting and testing of new systems, which Fabiola Cordaro, Director of IH Palermo London School, has enjoyed. “It’s been great fun exploring new methods of teaching and ensuring our lessons continue smoothly,” she notes. “Thank you to everyone for being so flexible and adaptable.”

Pat Clay from IH Arezzo adds, “Our team is fantastic. They have come up with brilliant imaginative ideas of how to #keeponlearning. We are doing as many courses as possible online. The office staff have become experts on giving technical advice to students over the phone. Exams and external courses in companies and state schools are currently suspended, but we hope to find solutions for them as well. We are abiding by the Italian regulations to try to keep safe and healthy and we have created special WhatsApp groups to support staff and teachers. We are very grateful for the support and advice we are getting from AISLi, Cambridge Assessment English, and IH World. In addition to the support being incredibly useful, it also helps us to feel connected and less isolated,” Pat concludes.

“When IH Palermo Language Centre realised that we weren’t allowed to deliver face-to-face lessons, it dedicated three full days to finding a valid alternative solution,” says Marco Faldetta, Vice Director. As of Monday 9th March, most classes are online including young learner lessons through the Zoom platform. Families and students are responding very well and there is a really positive learning environment.” The school has also created a video in Italian which talks about how it works.

Palmina La Rosa, Director of Giga IH Catania, has organised a very fun and creative English cookery lesson online to make traditional English cakes such as carrot cake. Since students will need to stay at home to fight the spread of the virus, they will combat boredom by taking part in fun activities and lessons online. And as they say, ‘necessity is the mother of invention’ and that really reflects in these innovative solutions to engage with students.

Lucie Cotterill, who works at IH Reggio Calabria and is the DOS Coordinator for IH World, has shared a lovely video for tips for teachers who want to teach online. 

Noting that it is a "steep learning curve" for everyone, Roderick Fraser, Director of Studies at IH Jesi - Victoria, says, "We are of course doing our very best to maintain services for our students during this very testing time. This week, we are doing 45-minute synchronistic lessons with our adult and teen groups using the iTeach VLE."

For the school's younger learners, he adds, "For YLs, we are using the 30-day trial of Padlet Backpack to offer an interactive hub for each of our YL and VYL groups (with parents to support). As you may know, Padlet provides ‘a wall’ where teachers and students can upload materials, exercises, short video lessons, audio messages, pictures, questions, etc. In addition, from next week we will be running 30-minute synchronistic lessons for our YLs on iTeach."

Examinations are also still available. "We are also offering our students the possibility to do the online LanguageCert proctored test," says Roderick. "They can book online 24hours before the exam, and the whole exam, all 4 skills, is carried out at a distance. We are proud that we can continue to offer certification in these trying times."

IH Team Lingue - Lake Como have been uploading themed videos to their YouTube channel for learning English, and are carrying out online courses to students. You can view the videos here.

To support their members worldwide, IH World as an organisation has prepared and delivered webinars about online learning, inviting members to share best practices.

Teaching in the time of Coronavirus has shown us the strength of IH schools, and how innovative, flexible and adaptable they are. In the true IH spirit of ‘flow of ideas’, all members have been very generous and shared their experiences. Together we are stronger, together we are a part of a bigger community.