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14 May 2020
By The Education People

Top 10 Tips for Teachers Returning to School amid Coronavirus

With the government’s recent announcement that all schools across the UK will reopen in September, many have already begun making plans for a return to some degree of normality.

Yet while many schools have welcomed the news, the reality is we are unlikely to see a complete removal of coronavirus lockdown measures until 2021. This means many schools will need to adapt in order to maintain the important balance of keeping both staff and students safe while ensuring teaching can continue uninterrupted.

Teachers, in particular, are faced with the difficult task of helping students transition back into the classroom, which is no easy task. However, there are a number of things to take into consideration which can greatly help ease the transition both for teachers and the students in their care.

Are previously assigned classrooms still suitable for use?

As some degree of social distancing will likely still be in place come September time, the traditional classroom layout will need to be updated in order to keep students safe. While some classrooms may be able to accommodate this, those that can’t force teachers to make the decision whether to try and move into a larger room if available or to split the class to ensure social distancing regulations can still be met.

For primary school teachers in particular, this will likely prove more difficult due to there likely being fewer available spaces compared to a secondary school. Assessing the current space available and allowing time to make any necessary adjustments ahead of the September return will be the first essential step in a successful transition back into the classroom.

Enforce effective handwashing

Much like social distancing rules, guidance around effective handwashing and general cleanliness will also be important to reduce the risk of infection in the classroom.

Children and students should be encouraged to wash their hands regularly, especially after being outside. Enforcing hand washing after each return to the classroom can help reduce the risk of exposure throughout the day. For secondary school students in particular, providing or encouraging them to proactively use personal hand wash gels can also be effective.

Children in primary school, particularly those who are in the lower years, may not fully comprehend the importance of washing their hands, thus making enforcing the process much harder. Leading by example is the most effective approach here, although introducing some measure of positive reinforcement, such as through a star chart, can also help encourage those in the younger years of primary school to wash their hands.

Some children will adapt better than others

Children and students will adapt to returning to school differently; while some may relish in being able to see their peers again, others who perhaps enjoyed their time at home with their parents may be less likely to quickly adjust.

It is also important to note that many children may have experienced very difficult challenges during their time away from home, such as the loss of a family member from coronavirus

Naturally, any child who is suffering from bereavement will have a harder time upon their return to school. Both children and students will express their feelings in different ways, so it’s important to be able to recognise them so support can be provided. Having the relevant resources available to support children suffering from loss or bereavement will also prove invaluable once schools return

Encourage regular check-ins with children

To help children ease back into school life, it can be beneficial to create a space that allows regular check-ins to allow children to share their experiences and ask questions, either in a group environment or on a one to one basis.

For primary schools, a group setting will tend to work better - consider allowing a period of time each school day to allow children to share their thoughts. Not only will this allow children to express their feelings in a safe environment but it also has the added benefit of helping to develop listening and concentration skills. 

While group discussions can also work in a secondary school environment, teachers may find they have more luck getting their students to share their thoughts in smaller groups or even in a one to one environment.

Be prepared for difficult questions

Different children and students will have had different experiences, although you can be sure that many of them will have questions to ask, some of which may prove difficult to answer. This is especially true for very young children, who will need the right amount of empathy when explaining certain things to not cause distress.

Remember that every child and student is different though; tailoring your responses to them can go a long way in gaining trust and reducing their stress and anxiety around the whole situation.

There may be a lack of confidence in adults

On the topic of trust, teachers should understand that many young people may have lost a lot of confidence in adults throughout the pandemic. Between potentially losing jobs and trying to make ends meet, many children and students have seen their parents struggle, removing a sense of confidence they once had in adults.

Children and students being away from teachers for such a long time will also likely have weakened relationships, so it’s important to focus on rebuilding strong relationships to reinstall confidence to create the right environment for learning.

Promote mental health awareness

One of the very few upsides of the coronavirus pandemic has been the increase in mental health awareness. With the return to school likely to still be a stressful time for children, incorporating some mental health resources into the classroom is a great way to help reduce stress and anxiety while helping to improve focus for learning. 

Mindfulness is one technique that teachers can incorporate effortlessly into the classroom - encouraging a ten minute mindfulness practice every morning is a great way to set up both yourself and the class for a day of positive learning.

For more detailed advice, why not check out our free Strategies for Coping with the Anxieties of Reintegration webinar. Delivered by Kelly Hannaghan, it provides useful strategies and approaches for instilling a positive mental health strategy in the classroom.

Understand there will need to be time for adjustment

While the need to return to learning is important to help children and students catch up with the learning they have all missed, understand that both children and students will need some time for adjustment.

This means that while you may have lessons plans set up, teachers should ensure a gradual move into a regular lesson plan rather than starting right away on the first day back at school. This will allow both children and students the time needed to fully adjust being back at school, as many will likely be anxious about starting learning again.

Share learnings with other teachers

While returning to school will be a stressful time for many teachers, it can be tempting to shoulder the burden of managing the return all on your own. Teachers up and down the country will all be preparing for schools reopening come September, so it’s important to reach out to the relevant support networks, both inside of your own school community and outside of it, to ensure you have what you need.

Remember, you are not alone. Talk to other teachers in your network, as well as your school leaders, to all work together and share your learnings and advice. 

Remain positive

Finally, remaining as positive as you can in the face of these difficult times cannot be underestimated. The move back to school will by no means be an easy one, but maintaining a positive outlook, supporting one another and looking to the future will help ensure the transition is a successful one.

For more information and support for teachers and schools returning in September, find out how our range of products and services can help by contacting us today