Why this topic matters
Now that schools across the UK are returning to in-person learning for all their learners, it's important that we think about the impact that the time away from the classroom has had on many students - and teachers. We have now faced almost a full year of disruption, and it has had an undeniable impact on learning, and on wellbeing.
There have been numerous suggestions about how to approach the rest of the school year - from longer school days and intensive tutoring sessions, to dedicating the summer term soley to play - it is clear that whatever strategies schools take, it will take time for students to find their equilibrium again, particularly for those who have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic.
Connections to the curriculum
- PSHE: discuss the impact of the pandemic on mental wellbeing and the choices we all have to support collective care and self care
- Art: art can be a very effective method of self-expression. Share artwork with your students from artists who have also lived through disruptive global events
- History: teach about sources by imagining that you are a historian in 2120; what sources would you find to learn about coronavirus? How could you tell which ones are trustworthy?
- Science: teach about viruses, their role in nature, disease transmission, the respiratory system, the scientific advice around social distancing and mask wearing, the analysis of scientific data to inform approaches
How to approach it
Set clear positive expectations
After a long time of disruption, it's very important to re-establish clear routines, rules and expectations. Some students may be feeling anxious about new procedures such as wearing masks in the classroom and regular COVID testing, so it's important to be clear about what is expected of them and when. Whilst setting down and enforcing the guidelines you expect them to follow, focus on the positives - what behaviours you do expect from your pupils, rather than those that you don't want to see.
Using questionnaires and surveys to establish how your pupils are feeling is a good way of allowing them to express any worries or concerns they might have about the return to school, and will help you to support any of your learners who are particularly struggling. Build in time and activities that allow students room to express how they've felt over the last year, and what they are most and least happy about with the return to face-to-face learning. Use the time to discuss what is within our control, and what is not, and use mindfulness exercises to explore how we can release stress and anxiety around things which we have no control over.
Individualise your response
As teachers, we already know that one size doesn't fit all - but in the return to school, differentiation is going to be more important than ever. Students will have been affected in very different ways by the lockdown. Some will have had a tough time at home and can't wait to return, whilst others will be sad and anxious about being away from their parents after so long with them. Not only may there have been an increase in the attainment gap between students from different backgrounds and households, there will also be a variety of emotional and psychological factors to take into account which will be affecting each student differently. As you return to the classroom, be aware that some students will need more support than previously.
Whilst it's obviously important to carry on with the schemes of work you have planned, and to continue working through your subject curriculum, it will be equally important to give your learners time to talk and reconnect with each other - and this may need to take priority early on. You may find that students are struggling to concentrate for long stretches of time after being away, so don't worry if some lessons become more discussion-based than you were planning, or if you need to drop a theory-based lesson and dig out the colouring pens and paper instead.