Starting over, half way through.

Students across the country are starting to trickle back into classrooms and teachers are wondering how they are going to have the energy to make it through to the mid-year-break.  We are also wondering how on earth we are supposed to get learning back on track. Sure, we have been ‘engaging’ students in one form of learning or another for the past couple of months, but that doesn’t nearly match the level of teaching that happens in the classroom.

As children start to come back to school, I ask that you give yourselves and them a break and remember that you are not going to be able to just pick up where you left off.  The time children have had away will result in exactly the same behaviours and ‘learning lags’ that we see after the 6 week Christmas break.   In this instance, afternoon colouring in is OK.  Yep, I said it. For a little while, as children are settling back in, afternoon colouring in is ok. (Sssshhh, don’t tell anyone!)

This is particularly true for our youngest students who have probably spent the past weeks eating lunch and then lying on the lounge room floor staring at the television. Trying to restart learning exactly as you left off at the start of COVID 19 will absolutely result in cognitive overload and meltdowns (both for you and your students).  They need to be trained back into school.  You also need to spend the time you need to reestablishing your face to face relationships. In effect, you are starting your year all over again.

Top Tips for a Smooth Return to the Classroom

  • Scale your program back to the bare essentials to start with. Everything is going to take WAY longer than you think it will.  Think back to the start of Term 1 and how long it took children to collect books and write the date at the top of the next clean page.  That is going to happen again.  Set yourselves and your students up for success with realistic expectations .
  • Be really specific in your instructions to students. Use lots of visuals and make sure that you get their attention BEFORE giving instructions.
  • Remember that many students are only back on a part time basis. I always find that student behaviour is worse on weeks with public holidays.  This could well happen to your class as things return to normal.
  • Be prepared for a slippage in knowledge skills.  This will likely happen in areas where students were just starting to grasp new learning as COVID 19 hit.   When students haven’t had the chance to practice new learning it is to be expected that they won’t necessarily recall that learning after a gap in school attendance.
  • Reach out to your families who may not be easy to get back to school.  For some families, getting back into school routines will be a challenge.  Give them a call, keeping it friendly and light.  Reinforce the importance of getting back to school.  Acknowledge that getting kids out the door can be challenging and let them know that you understand if they are late to school for a while.
  • Have a strategy to manage your own frustrations and pressures during this time of transition back to classroom teaching.  Dealing with the annoyance of giving the same instructions 49 times in a positive way will ensure that you can make it to the end of the day without tears.  Remember that dealing with student ‘behaviour’ is often THE number one challenge of classroom teaching.  While it has been challenging to pivot to online learning it has also meant that we may be out of practice in strategies of supporting full engagement for all students.   They may also be out of practice in fully participating!  Review your classroom routines and expectations and dust off the exercises or activities that you would normally reserve for the first weeks of the year.
  • Be prepared to spend time explicitly teaching children about your classroom behaviour expectations.  Have them make posters and create videos modelling the desired behaviours.  Then review these regularly to keep students on track.  
  • Be sensitive to the anxiety that school return may cause for your struggling students. Move slowly and break down tasks into small chunks with loads of support.
  • Increased hygiene practices are going to be a part of the ‘new normal’.  The time it takes for 20 students to wash their hands is going to have to come out of some other part of your day. The way that you use your classroom space will also change.   These changes will be easier for some than others.  Those of us who teach younger students know how non-compliant little ones can be about these things.  Actively build hygiene practices into your day and account for the time in your daybook.  This sets you up with realistic expectations and reduces the risk of you being left feeling that you are banging your head up against the wall trying to make learning happen.

Transitioning back to school isn’t going to be easy and there are going to be many challenges along the way. These challenges will differ depending on the age, state and context you teach in.  Remember your priorities in this order:

  1. People (The wellbeing of you, your students and your school community)
  2. Teaching and Learning
  3. Student Achievement

Look after number one and two and number three will happen without too much trouble.  Right now, have your major focus on people and beginning to reestablish teaching and learning.  This will take time.  Remember that you are but one person operating under very trying circumstances. Be kind to yourself, your colleagues and your students. Try not to sweat the small stuff.  I want you to know just one thing – you’ve got this!   Everything is going to be ok.

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