Lockdown has lifted across Victoria and with it comes a staggered return to face-to-face learning. It’s a time of high excitement but also high anxiety, as both teachers and students contend with classroom learning in an environment with COVID-19 community transmission.
In light of this, we’ve compiled a range of tips for supporting your students to return to school during COVID-19. We hope you find these helpful as you transition back to the classroom.
1. Prioritise ‘You’
It’s very difficult to support your students if you’re struggling too. Aside from ensuring you’ve covered the basics of good nutrition, exercise and sleep, there are a host of other strategies you can use to adequately manage the emotional labour of teaching.
These include understanding your key stressors and employing techniques to address them when they arise, as well as leaning on your professional network at school when it becomes a little too much. A good cuppa and chat with your favourite colleague never hurts!
2. Communicate Clearly from the Get-Go
In times of transition, clear communication can be a soothing salve. While it’s likely school leadership have shared their return to school roadmap with parents and students, you might like to consider creating a smaller version just for your class.
It could cover the timetable for the initial weeks back, as well as what your plans and goals are for the term. This might help students feel a little more under control knowing what to expect. You could also include reminders about masks, drink bottles, as well as start and finish times and school entry and exit points (particularly if they need to be adapted). This is a good opportunity to manage parent expectations too, carefully explaining the initial class focus will likely be on mental wellbeing, rather than academic achievements.
3. Include In-class Sessions to Reiterate School Changes
Schools now have a tighter set of COVID-19 safety protocols to follow, ones that will necessitate changes to regular school routines. Familiarising students, particularly those in younger cohorts, with these as early as possible can help alleviate concerns about the ‘new rules’. Cover topics such as changes to spaces at school due to student cap numbers; the fact that elective classes like sport or music run may differently; or that more classes may be held outside.
4. Consider a Re-Orientation Program
For many students, returning to face-to-face learning comes with all the anxiety of the first day of a new school year. Will my friends still be my friends? Will I remember where my classroom/s are? This is where a re-orientation program could be of benefit, similar to the ones you institute in the last few weeks of the year. Try to incorporate fun (and safe) activities to reacquaint classmates.
5. Be Mindful Students’ Routines Have Changed
That first week back after school holidays is a tricky time with students trying to readjust to the school routine. But after an extended period in lockdown and remote schooling, the challenges might be exacerbated.
This is especially the case if your school engaged in asynchronous remote learning. One student may be used to starting their day at 9am, while another began at 12pm. If you’re teaching teens, their body clocks may need an even bigger adjustment period! Factoring in some in-class breaks may help reset those concentrations level.
6. Build in Some Reflection Time
One of the best things about remote learning is that it often teaches people things about themselves and their learning style. Tapping into those positives with your students is a highly valuable exercise.
Consider running an activity to find out what they liked about remote learning, what they found hard, as well as what they missed about face-to-face learning. The answers are a good springboard for further conversation amongst class members, plus a great chance to help students realise how resilient they are. This can be a much-needed confidence boost in their move from remote to onsite lessons.
7. Be Open About Anxieties
Most students will feel a little nervous about their return to school, even if they mask it with excitement. Some may feel particularly anxious, especially those who are vulnerable, be it medically or in another way. For younger ones, it might be a worry about what to do if their friend wants to hug them, while older ones could be reluctant to re-engage in the social scene, especially when it comes with peer pressure.
It’s important to validate these fears and let students know it’s normal to feel that way. But you can also provide reassurances that there are precautions in place to protect them, as well as providing ideas about what to do in certain situations (like that friend who loves to hug!). If you’re comfortable, you can share the anxieties you feel and the strategies you have for coping with them.
If you know a particular student (or even colleague) is struggling with a certain task or situation but persists through it, let them know how proud you are of them for facing it and pushing through.
However, some students may need more help than you can give, so involving parents and the school counsellor team would be beneficial. For them, it might mean an even more gradual return to school is necessary.
8. Account for Anxieties and Learning Progression Within Activities
Each student had a unique remote schooling experience. Some struggled, some excelled, some were dealing with difficult family situations or terrible internet connections. Some got so used to online peer collaboration, that in-person group work might make them feel uneasy.
Recognise this and aim to incorporate some adaptability in your learning activities to account for these different scenarios. It’s just another way to ease the big transition from home to school.
9. Create Safe Spaces
When it all becomes too much, it’s important students are allowed to take a moment by themselves. This might be a quiet spot within a primary classroom such as a reading nook, or in high school, a dedicated room for decompressing. It might even be as simple as a corridor break. All students should feel comfortable to let you know they need a moment to collect themselves.
We’re Here to Help You Too
We hope these tips for how teachers can help students transition back to school allow you to feel confident and prepared for the challenge. It’s a tricky time for students and teachers alike, but working together, it might just be a shining light at the end of a dark tunnel.
As education recruitment specialists, we understand the vital role you play in your students’ transition back to onsite learning. We’re here to support you too, so feel free to reach out if we can assist with some extra back-to-school tips, or new opportunities for your career.