I always find you stumble across a new idea on a chance moment. A snatched conversation, a picture in a magazine or for me on this occasion, it was a Whatsapp chat with a former colleague. In an attempt to identify a creative outlet for me, my friend Allyson @teachlearnwonder (she’s a reading coach so check her out for ideas) suggested the idea of using Doodle Notes in education. As a teacher, who’s always on the lookout for trying something new to help engage students, and being a regular doodler, (usually in meetings), I started looking into it. However, due to the current COVID-19 pandemic, the opportunity never arrived to introduce to my students in school so instead I started drawing doodles to help schedule my kids’ days now they’re spending most of their time at home in ‘lockdown’.
Drawing out schedules is something I used a lot at school and at home for my daughter who’s not a morning person (just like her mum!) Like many teachers, I found a visual schedule to be a great support in helping young children to organise themselves and take on greater independence and, as it turned out, it also helped at home. There was (slightly) less of the stressed-out mornings hauling a wailing five-year-old out of her bed ten minutes before we had to leave for school!
My wife, Danielle, and I are both teachers. Ten years ago, shortly after we married, we quit our teaching jobs in London and hopped on a plane to take up teaching roles in an international school in Hong Kong. We loved the two years we spent there, made many friends from all over the world and had our eyes opened to the opportunities out there. In the summer of 2011 we moved on looking for a new role in Europe and as it turned out we ended up back in London teaching at an international school. Seven years and three children later it was time to move again; this time to Dubai where we both took up roles at Uptown International School @uisdubai. Along with both Danielle and I working there, our two eldest children Lenny and Bea attend too – it’s a real family affair.
So here we find ourselves eighteen months into our Dubai adventure facing the pandemic head-on. School closed early for Spring Break three weeks ago and this week we started delivering distance learning. Sounds alright in theory, stay at home and post some work online. Except the reality is very different. Our fourth storey, three-bedroom apartment is now the full-time base for two teachers delivering online video lessons, two children attending home school and a cage for a rampaging toddler with a penchant for biting. “Daddy, Rufus bit me!” will be said many times before this thing blows over and, add to that, the number of times my video lessons have been interrupted by Rufus shouting ‘DADDY NEED POTTY!’ is getting beyond a joke.
Still, we’re taking each day as it comes and learning to cope and my casual doodles for a daily activity schedule are really helping - in amongst making breakfast, cleaning up, uploading videos, emailing parents, video conferencing with Senior Leaders, ‘Whatsapping’ my teaching team, providing individual feedback to 22 students, supporting my two children with their home learning, being a crash mat for a pumped-up 2 year old - the list goes on!
I have to say the 4 days prior to online learning preparing platforms and resources and the past 3 days delivering online learning, in amongst the ever-changing restrictions and anxieties created by the rapid rise of this global pandemic have been some of the most stressful, but rewarding, days of my adult life. We have the expat luxury of a live-out nanny and if it wasn’t for Beth things would be even more difficult. But strangely enough, the thing that helps settle my mind at the end of each of these fraught days is my daily activity doodle. Danielle had the idea to post them onto Instagram @everyday_schoolday where they have proven quite a hit. Having no idea about Insta, Danielle was immediately promoted to Head of Social Media for @everyday_schoolday - I was allowed to post a video the other evening but made such a mess of it that it was immediately told to ‘get back to doing the doodles!’ They’re designed to help take a bit of the thinking out of what on earth you’re going to do with your kids every day and make the time you have together more fun so I really do hope parents everywhere find them as useful and fun as we do.
We find ourselves in the same situation as so many people at the moment across the world in a form of lockdown. We live very close to the flight path for Dubai International Airport and the significant reduction in flights now means we wake up to the birds singing as opposed to the roaring engines of an A380.
We, like other families, are staying at home to do our part. I wouldn’t choose to be confined to an apartment with 3 wild children whilst trying to deliver quality online learning but we’re adapting. Day 1 was full of enthusiasm, Day 2 greater calm and Day 3 one of my home learning students was suspended from morning class as they couldn’t cope due to them thinking it was a good idea to stay up until 10pm (on a home school night!) but I do think we will eventually find our new normal and what’s wrong with a bit of extra screen time here and there. Right now, nothing in our opinion!
Nevertheless, we are finding new ways to have fun. I’m Lenny’s teacher’s boss and take great pleasure in making fun of her after she’s posted her morning videos. Her workout morning message this morning has been watched many times over. Even Rufus asks ‘Rufus watch Miss Peachey do jumping.” Her popularity is spiralling. Although we no longer work in the same building my team of 5 teachers, like many other teams, are somehow closer together - our Whatsapp group is constantly pinging. One raises a problem and another quickly shares a solution. Highly adaptable people these teachers and I’m feeling proud of us all!
I also think there are many other positives that have occurred, some that have spawned from one of the daily doodles. On Day 6 I posted ‘Video Storytime with Grandparent’. Lenny and Bea are now onto chapter 4 of the Faraway Tree expertly read by my mum each evening. It’s a highlight of their day and a moment of peace for Danielle or I (not both of us and someone’s always on Rufus bedtime) where we can usually catch up on a few work emails or provide feedback for one of our students.
For the first time in a long time, we’re also spending time appreciating the simple pleasures. Today, Rufus and I looked out the window for 15 minutes. We spotted an different birds, a white car driving, a lady walking, one plane (it’s usually one plane a minute) and a cat prowling around on the balcony opposite. And we loved it! Once we settle into the routines of home school and I get my Term 2 reports written, I’m sure we will spend ever-increasing time enjoying the simpler things. At the weekend, the kids planted seeds. Now, 4 days later, they take delight each morning racing out to the balcony to check the progress. The sunflowers and tomatoes are off to a good start and a wail of excitement was heard this morning as the first watermelon seedling broke the surface. If our newly found green fingers are anything to go by in a couple of months’ time we will be able to live off watermelon and tomato salads. Win!
The fears and worries for family back home are real. During this evening’s chat with my dad, he told me that he’s putting together a list of their bank account, pension and will details. Just in case. I hope we look back on this and laugh. Over here there has been little panic buying - there are still shelves full of toilet rolls in the local shop. We feel as safe as we can do here in our adopted home. So we will continue to adapt and make the best of this situation for our family and the families of those children our school supports. There have been so many changes already and many more to come no doubt.
But there’s one thing that hasn’t changed - our fish keep on swimming and so do we!
Rob Farmer is a dad of three, primary years educator and international teacher at Uptown International School in Dubai, who may well be relatively new to the world of Instagram but certainly knows how to doodle us all through any day with awesome activities for kids! Follow his journey over on insta @everyday_schoolday
*All of these responses are those of Rob @everyday_schoolday and based on his own experiences. They don’t necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any other agency, organisation, employer or company.