Emerging From Lockdown
Of all the public activities that are planned to re-start after lockdown, none seems to be more pressing for politicians than the opening of schools. There have been many promised dates that have come and gone but it seems, in the current situation with vaccination rates meeting acceptable levels schools will open in the near future. There has been plenty of advice on how this will happen but the one consideration that is not really addressed but is critical, is the anxiety that is inevitable for many of our students not to mention the staff. Not least of these concerns is the real fear of contacting this contagious disease.
Since lockdown was introduced students and staff had to learn to work in a completely different environment. It goes without saying the structure of each child’s ‘at home’ learning would vary from house to house. Some parents, who had time would develop their own timetable while others just let the kids work at their own pace hopefully getting their work done. In any case, most kids were living in isolation and this seclusion presents a significant problem.
Living near a beach, and being ‘retired’ I was conscious of the number of students who were in the surf during so called school time and, I know if I was them I would have ploughed through my lessons just to ‘hit the surf’. Now we are expecting the students to come back to a regimented program.
These constantly changing conditions will create a deal of anxiety for the students as well as the staff and parents. They have all been through a continual upheaval through this pandemic. The whole community has been unsure about the future, this has been going for almost two years with no real solution in sight. Some students are more hypersensitive to conversation than others. We all have different levels of self-confidence, and this will influence the level of anxiety we experience.
The immediate task for the school in regards to the mental safety of the students is to deal with the resulting anxiety. The social fabric of the classroom will have to be re-established, there is a need to reconstruct the sense of belonging to the group (see Newsletter - The Tribal Classroom – 6 April 2020 and Creating a Calm Environment – 3 November 2020).
One way of doing this is to take advantage of any opportunity to do some type of group work especially for younger students. Of course, the relationship with the teacher is critical and hopefully this has remained during the on-line meetings but the student to student relationships are just, if not more important.
As always, when we have to re-set any program in our classroom we need to restore the appropriate underlying properties and the diagram below illustrates these:
The focus on pedagogy is our core business, and it is while delivering the curriculum the other pillars to the model are established. This is what we do best but at this special time it is most important that the organisation of your classroom is very business-like! Think about the difference it makes when going out for dinner. If the seats, table arrangement, music, welcome from maître d’ and ambience are all not working in tandem, that affects your experience and overall enjoyment; it’s the same in the classroom.
Until the students have completely resettled it is important to have that emphasis on cooperation. Have a lesson plan that incorporates teacher talk; paired work; sharing with class; workbooks; review/game. Paired and group activities promote student relationships and have them present their findings to the class. I know this is telling you to suck eggs but kids working in isolation is good practice some of the time but less important in circumstances where we are trying to re-establish peer relationships.
Remember humour is one of your most powerful teaching tools! Laughing is proved to:
- Improve memory recall
- Increase conceptual understanding
- Increase attention to a task
- Stimulate brain regions important for complex and abstract thinking
- Activate brain growth
Make sure your class is a place where there is an emphasis on having fun!
It is most important to reinstate the structure in the classroom (see Newsletter – Creating Structure - 6 April 2020). This is not about classroom rules although it often is and at this time might be needed until the accepted behaviour is established. However, it is about establishing the routines you want in your lesson, the steps that you provide the students with the predictable sequencing of the lesson. This provides the students with a sense of security and fosters confidence in the way the lesson will go. The establishment of ritual at the start of each ‘lesson’ allows the teacher to quickly focus the children on the task at hand.
It is vital that both the teacher and the student knows what will happen in a lesson, there are no surprises, these expectations will need to be restored (see Newsletter – Expectations – 6 April 2020). This is the remembered experience of what happened before when the particular environmental conditions were present. If they know what happened before, they can imagine what will happen next and if the structure is effective and the expected consequence is delivered, the student is not disturbed and can remain calm.
There is an old adage that people live up or down to your expectations and this is critical for the teacher but it is only a truism if the teacher and student know what that expectation is!
Research has shown that the teacher/student relationship is the central quality of a successful learning experience (see Newsletter – Relationships – 4 April 2020 and Competence Vs Warmth 31 August 2021). The advantages of a strong, supportive relationship are:
- Teachers higher in ‘warmth’ tend to develop greater confidence in students
- Students who believe their teacher is a caring one tend to learn more
- Positive relationships enhance social, cognitive and language development
- Students’ feelings of acceptance by teachers are associated with emotional, cognitive and behavioural engagement in class
It is important to understand that this relationship is professional, you are the adult in the room and you are the one with academic qualifications that authorise your right to be in that classroom. You have to support their needs, they have no obligation to support your needs, this makes you the authority.
It is also important to understand that as the students gain in competent independence the significance of the relationship becomes less important. All things being in place, by the time they reach Year 12, the teacher becomes more of a facilitator. But, in the very early years of schooling the teacher/student relationship is critical. The exception to this is when you are dealing with very damaged kids of whatever age. In a sense they need the same attention as the infant until they regain some control over their behaviour. This latter circumstance is the focus of all our work.
Finally you must look after yourself! Be aware of the following conditions:
- Don’t take the inevitable problems with the end of lockdown personally. The school and the children create complex problems – these are not about you, but you have the professional responsibility to address them
- Be aware of your feelings, you should be ‘stressed’, it is not easy to deal with when you have so many students to nurture so look after your self
- Debrief – Discuss problems with an appropriate supportive colleague. Keeping things to yourself never solves the problem (see Newsletter – Debriefing – 4 November 2020)
- Report to your supervisor in writing any issues that have been unforeseen or potentially threatening. This can be quite cathartic! Date and sign it
- Look after yourself at home too - exercise, relaxation and maybe listen to music, etc. but rarely is alcohol the answer!
It is a very difficult time for all teachers and in the present environment support from the top is limited if not non-existent so it is essential you look after yourself and your colleagues!