A personal reflection on being an NILD Educational Therapist during the Covid-19 Pandemic
Jacquie is a NILD Educational Therapist with 20-years experience, both within the school environment and in private practice. She is a Director of NILD-SA and a member of the Professional Support Team.
After working with only one student in 2019 due to overseas family commitments, 2020 started with the realisation that I was again able to take on additional students. I was contacted by several parents requesting testing, which led to an additional therapy student plus the formation of a Rx for Discovery Reading Group. I was due to run Search & Teach training in India in February followed by a short onward trip to visit my daughter in Hong Kong, so it was agreed that my new students would start at the beginning of March. And then came Covid.
By the time I returned to South Africa the responsible thing to do was to quarantine, and as I reached the end of the quarantine period South Africa went into a hard lockdown. I had one continuing student and four new students and life was changing drastically. The day before lockdown I raced around, delivering Rainbow Book sets, Square Puzzle tiles and Maths manipulatives. I started meeting my students via Zoom, muddling my way through screen sharing and frequent, “Can you hear me?” ‘s. Fortunately, the NILD PST and Directors had been meeting via Zoom for some time, so it wasn’t an entirely novel experience.
Then NILD USA came to the rescue, offering tele-practice training, and the newly skilled South African tele-therapists got together, putting the Rainbow Book and various other activities onto PowerPoint. There was a flurry of shared resources, advice and ideas, and my sessions became increasingly intentional and effective.
My Reading Group, three siblings sharing one computer, became three consecutive, similar 40-minute sessions, and tele-therapy became the norm.
As I look back over 2020 I am thankful that, despite the on-going pandemic, I was able to work with my students. I am thankful that, even though we have had little face-to-face time, we have built up trusting and caring relationships.
I am thankful that NILD pioneered tele-practice several years ago and were prepared for a time like this.
I am thankful for my fellow therapists who, particularly in the early days, banded together to help each other and make tele-practice a success.
Tele-practice has been tiring. Focusing on a small screen to observe one’s student, being alert to verbal and non-verbal communication and being able to respond quickly and appropriately requires intense concentration.
Tele-practice requires a lot of preparation. Preparing individual student PowerPoints for each session, e-mailing parents to ensure students have the correct equipment and resources at hand and devising effective and often inventive ways to help a student through a difficulty all take time.
Tele-practice can be frustrating. Low bandwidth, Eskom load-shedding and occasional computer glitches have required flexibility and patience. Not being able to easily place a manipulative or piece of equipment before a student has required quick thinking and innovation.
Tele-practice has been fun. Adding in a YouTube clip on ‘The Great Australian Schwa’, playing ‘Whack-a-Mole’ to learn Keywords, having students perform a magic trick to show comprehension of a reading passage …… there have been numerous opportunities to add a bit of fun and novelty to students’ sessions.
Tele-practice has been effective. Year-end testing, conducted face-to-face during a lull in Covid numbers, showed that my students had made pleasing gains in many areas during the year. It was very reassuring to see that the NILD methodology has translated well into the digital environment.
Tele-practice has opened up new opportunities. Contact made by a family in South East Asia late last year led to their two children started tele-therapy in January 2021. Distance and geographical borders are no longer a barrier to receiving therapy.
I miss the face-to-face contact with my students and look forward to the day we are able to meet again. But I am also growing to love my new, long-distance students and know that the new skills I have developed have forever changed the way in which I will practice as a NILD Educational Therapist.