Coronavirus: Families urged to be patient and kind as teachers, schools navigate COVID-19 level 3 transition

Students, families and wider school communities are urged to be patient and kind as teachers and educators navigate the transition to alert level three of the COVID-19 response.

NZ Parent Teacher Association (NZPTA) president Jen McLean said it's important to remember the magnitude of this unprecedented time and everyone, including teachers, is trying to do their best.

"Teachers are doing the best they can to succeed in what their job is. Teachers are trying to deliver content to students at home, and soon they're going to be expected to teach in two ways," she said to The AM Show on Tuesday morning.

On Monday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that New Zealand's alert level four lockdown will be extended, officially lifting at 11:59pm on Monday, April 27, allowing the country to move into the less restrictive alert level three. The preliminary four-week lockdown period came into effect on Wednesday, March 25 at 11:59pm.

Under alert level 3, early childhood education (ECE) centres and schools will be permitted to open from Wednesday, April 29, following a teacher-only-day on Tuesday to allow educators time to prepare. Pupils up to and including Year 10 are allowed to head back to the classroom if needed - students in Years 11, 12 and 13 are still required to learn from home. The move means parents who cannot work from home with children under 14 can resume their role or business and be assured their child is safe at school.

"We still want the vast majority of people working from home, and children and young people learning from home," Ardern reiterated during the announcement on Monday. "At-risk students and staff should also stay at home, and they will be supported to do so. Early learning centres and schools will physically be open... for families that need them."

However, the transition into level 3 will see some teachers adapt to two different teaching styles, resuming traditional in-class teaching while also providing content for students who remain at home. Ardern warned it may take "a bit longer" for certain schools and ECEs to be ready and adequately prepared for the changes, and concerns have been raised regarding the expectations of staff.

"We would urge families and school communities to have patience, to communicate with one another and to be kind as everyone navigates through what level 3 is going to look and feel like," McLean said.

"[School is] going to turn into a place where children are going to remain safe while their parents, who are needing to be at work, go and do that. These are the people who cannot work from home."

Echoing the comments made by the Ministry of Health's Director-General of Health, Dr Ashley Bloomfield, McLean reiterated that children are more resilient than we think and parents shouldn't worry too much about the transition.

"It's not going to be the school that children know at all, but we need to remember that children are the most resilient humans and they'll be fine. There's still the novelty factor for them too, that will keep them going a little bit."

Last week, Ormiston Primary School principal Heath McNeil urged parents not to sweat the small stuff and stick to a schedule that works for their family. 

"Our expectation is around the wellbeing of the child and the learners. We said to our parents to make sure everyone is safe and well first and then think about the learning," he told The AM Show last Wednesday.

"Make sure the schedule fits your family, it doesn't have to fit everyone's family. It doesn't really matter what time children do some reading, whether it's at night or 9am.

"Our message to parents is to look after yourself and the children first... Teachers will be there to support you during the day. We're not trying to replicate the school day, that would be far too intense."

Senior ministry officials met with education unions and school associations early on Monday to discuss how classrooms will operate under alert level 3 protocol. According to McLean, some schools are discussing small groups or keeping siblings to the same bubble.