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Blog: How We Have Grown Together through Online English Classes

Avi Kay
Anne Tommerbakk, Nora Boggemann

Classes and activity groups are an integral part of the support system we offer our clients. When Covid-19 brought these services to a halt, many teams were faced with the challenging aspect of how to continue offering support in a remote context. Volunteer Nora Böggemann has been with the English group team since 2019 and was instrumental in making this shift happen.

Growing Together

Here are some insights from Nora on a year of HBF online English classes, keeping up the momentum, and encouraging learning:

As a volunteer teacher it has been a challenging, lonely and tiring year, yes, and even harder for our clients. But rather than focussing on the hardships, I’d like to share how the new online format of our English Classes has empowered and helped us to – “teachers” and “students” – grow together as a group of humans.

Innovating and Co-creating

We used the new circumstances to innovate our classes, by emphasising learning, co-creating and exploring together with the clients what works and what doesn’t. It has felt like a very humble, personal style that hasn’t been too rigid on learning outcomes, allowing for an environment in which people have been able to make progress on their own terms.

We achieved this by:

  • allowing ample space at the beginning of each class to share emotions - “How are you feeling?”
  • tracking progress and development goals - “What would you like to learn and how?” and “What do you enjoy about the classes?”
  • inviting everyone to share glimpses into their surroundings (if they wanted)
  • offering open room to talk about their thoughts about everyday matters – arts, music, creativity, food, conversations, friendship
  • accompanying clients into their daily lives for the rest of the week by offering little homework exercises
  • being flexible – allowing ourselves to stay in one main group (instead of splitting up into smaller, more focussed breakout groups that are more conducive to “getting work done”) if that felt like what people benefitted from
  • being vulnerable – including us teachers into conversations and sharing rounds
  • being imperfect – I don’t remember how many times I’ve struggled with breakout groups, joined too late or had lunch while on screen. Being open about my own overwhelmedness helped to reduce that teacher-student divide and made everyone feel welcome to come as they are.

Amazing Progress

Our clients have made amazing progress. In particular the fact that people have been showing up, been present, smiling, crying, interrupting each other, showing their homegrown plants, their lunches and their flatmates, speaks to their increased confidence in communicating in English.

Thanks to our participants and to volunteers Celeste, Hannah, Judy, Sista and Sophie for being part of the team.

And thank you to Nora for her reflections!