The story told by GP IH Shanghai

Back in January this year, the novel coronavirus had forced travel restrictions, quarantines, and cancelled flights in some cities in China, but the rest of the world remained largely unaffected. Fast forward 3 months; the rest of the world watches as China cautiously emerges from the other side of the outbreak to some kind of normality. 

Our school General Plan IH Shanghai was one of the first International House schools to be affected by Covid-19. Here, Simon Cox, Academic Director, tells the story of the school's journey over the past few months and how they are slowly shifting back to business as usual.

The story told by General Plan IH Shanghai

As with many things that will eventually turn your life upside down, the first reports of a new kind of disease in Wuhan seemed quite remote at first. However, by the time we’d got to the end of January, we knew that the situation was beginning to look serious and that General Plan IH Shanghai was going to have to respond in a decisive way. It didn’t seem fair that all of the plans we’d spent so long making at the end of 2019 were going to be completely over-turned before we’d even got to the end of the first month of 2020. I imagine that most people reading this have become familiar with that feeling by now.

Of course, the first key decisions over Covid-19 had to be made just as Shanghai was heading into the spring festival holiday. This had some benefits, as nearly all of the foreign training team was already outside China, but it meant that the decision to postpone courses, cancel flights and accommodation had to be organised by our local colleagues as they were traveling back to their home towns - and some were already in quarantine. They did a wonderful job of sorting out a difficult situation when the rest of the world was only just beginning to see the potential pandemic that was coming.

Our priority was making sure that everyone was safe, so our next scheduled face-to-face DELTA course had to be re-scheduled for later in the year, but as soon as that logistical problem was over, we faced a much bigger challenge. As a teacher training centre, we already had more than 300 teacher trainees on long-term in-service courses that had already begun. How were we going to keep them working towards their qualifications and keep the business going, especially when we quickly learnt that all Chinese schools would be closed indefinitely?

Fortunately, we realised that the old LMS platform we’ve been using for years had a few more functions than we’d ever used, so we quickly got some of our training team – spread out around the world – to start creating new activities and tasks, managing discussion groups, and finding innovative new ways to help Chinese teachers with their professional development. The greatest challenges for the trainers often weren’t those I would have guessed. It turned out that turning our homes into video recording studios was more difficult than we could have imagined and some of the early efforts were a little ‘rough-around-the-edges’, but at least that’s the advantage of video, you can keep re-filming until you get it right!

The issue of continuing with ‘teaching practice’ and classroom-based reflection was even more of a puzzle. What could we do when all of the schools were closed and when all of our trainers were in different countries? This is where IRIS Connect came to the rescue. The UK-based teacher CPD company already had a wonderful product for coaching and supporting teachers at distance, but they’ve quickly introduced new ideas that are allowing us to see what teachers are doing in their ‘online teaching’ too. It’s early days and the learning curve is very steep, but we’re very hopeful for the future – an example of one of the positive new ideas that comes from living through challenging times!

So, after 3 months, China is beginning to move slowly towards some kind of normality. At the moment, although our local colleagues are already back to work and busy, all of the foreign trainers are still not able to return. We anticipate that teachers and students will return to schools in May, but it seems likely that there won’t be a desperate hurry to restart teacher training – instead the schools will be focused on preparing their students for the high-stakes exams that are now rescheduled for July.

However, after that we plan to get the whole team back to China and it looks like it will be busier than ever... CELTA, DELTA, TKT, CELT-P and S, as well as our final ICELT, all need to be completed before the end of 2020. We’ve also got the exciting new challenge of responding to the need for online learning. The rapid shift to various different modes and platforms has shown that many teachers don’t have the awareness they need to be effective online educators, so, from now on, the consideration of how we balance useful online study with more traditional approaches will be included in all of our new programmes.

The world is suffering at the moment, and it already seems to have been going on for such a long time. I hope all of the people in all of the IH schools around the world are managing to stay healthy and that they’re finding ways for their businesses to make it through these trying times. I don’t suppose we’re going to find any easy answers, but it already seems that we can get through this with imagination and the willingness to work together. Although we couldn’t have predicted Covid-19 at the time, it’s those values that made us join IHWO in the first place.