Dubai: Parents have been sitting in during virtual classes to provide feedback at a Dubai school, which then introduces various changes, ranging from class size to air quality.
The ‘Open Doors’ initiative at GEMS Legacy School in Garhoud invites parents to join online lessons to observe the teaching and learning process. Parents then provide suggestions to school leaders who take action based on the feedback.
The initiative was running on-site since 2015 but has been held virtually since April 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The school saw around 3,000 parents participate in person every year since 2015 and more recently virtually hosted some 50 parents over the last academic year.
Open Doors has been extended to all members of the school’s Local Advisory Board that includes parent representatives and the Parent in Partnership Committee of the KG-to-Grade 6 school, said Asha Alexander, Principal, GEMS Legacy School, and Executive Leader — Climate Change for GEMS Education. She added that the initiative “helps us improve our teaching and learning practices and move ahead on the school improvement continuum with different perspectives from all stakeholders”.
What has been the impact?
Through Open Doors, KG parents had, for example, requested more individual attention for students during the remote learning period. “We immediately acted on the feedback and split the class of 25 students into two groups of 12 and 13 children. The teachers had to repeat instructions twice, but this strategy has worked very well and continues to date, even during the blended lessons going on currently with a few face-to-face children and others learning remotely from home. Parents are happy that every child in these small groups is attended to by the teacher and the Teaching Assistant,” Alexander said.
Also in KG, a few parents had raised concerns about the clarity of concepts during remote learning classes, and had asked for video recordings of the concept explanation, so they could watch them later as needed. Again, the school’s response was “immediate”, the principal added, with all parent uploads incorporating voice notes from the teacher and a video of the teacher explaining the concept using the materials required.
Meanwhile, to cope with the lack of social interaction outside school because of the pandemic, the school facilitated, based on parents’ feedback, “informal bonding” by setting aside 40 minutes for virtual interactions with teachers and peers in KG. Apart from this, monthly well-being sessions in the evenings were organised across the school that allowed students to converse with their teachers and peers, sharing their likes and interests. This also helped families bond with teachers and other students, Alexander said.
Another parent’s feedback on making the environment in the classrooms more conducive to learning led to the school installing a ‘Learnometer’, designed by Professor Stephen Heppell at the school, with the aim of monitoring classroom environments and changes in air quality throughout the teaching day.
“Significant changes have been actioned upon as a result of analysing the Learnometer data, resulting in improved air quality in each classroom and healthier learning environments for all students and staff. With a view to increasing the number of plants in our teaching environments, every one of our 162 classrooms now has an entire wall mounted with air-purifying plants that freshen the air in the classroom naturally. Teachers reported improvements in engagement levels and student participation during lessons as a result of these changes.”
Alexander said: “It was parent feedback from Open Doors that triggered this innovation, which continues to provide improved air quality in every classroom, thereby improving student engagement and achievement.”
‘I get to learn a lot’
Bushra Maniar, parent of Grade 3 student Mohammed Maniar, drops in frequently for Open Doors. She said: “It’s always a fantastic experience, where I get to learn a lot, including the learning techniques and teaching style. I share feedback with the school after my visit every time.”
Maniar said a lot has changed her school days in the UAE. “It’s a different scenario now. It used to be difficult to question things, as teachers were strict. Now, students can answer easily and the teacher is very patient with every child. Teachers are also appreciative, more supportive and make a lot of difference. In the past, it was just study and memorise; now every teacher supports, provokes thinking, and students are at ease to ask their teachers questions.”
‘There’s never a dull moment’
Another Open Doors parent, Sumaira Nazar Bukhari, mother of Grade 4 pupil Syed Kifa Bukhari, takes part once every two weeks. She said: “It’s always satisfactory. Each time I sit in for the sessions, I understand a few things, teachers are consistent in terms of their punctuality, lesson methodology and participation. There is never a dull moment. Children understand their teachers and work together with their peers.”
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Nazar said “there is no comparison” between her school days and classrooms today. “In our times it was more bookish in nature, where the teacher comes, downloads her stuff and then off she goes. Today’s teaching is far more practical and, moreover, it’s a two-way process. I can see that almost all the children can speak and put their views on the table. This is well taken by teachers and they feel more responsible.”