Returning to school: Connect first

Everything about the past 5 months has been different. Returning to school will be different too, particularly as things continue to feel uncertain. As many schools are getting ready to open fully next week, what will sustain us all day-to-day?

Children boarding a school bus by keeping social distance

1. Be kind to yourself and to your colleagues - not everything will go smoothly despite all the planning and hard work which has gone into preparing for this new academic year. When staff are looked after well, it becomes possible to look after pupils and their families well. This starts with recognising the importance of looking after ourselves as the adults in schools.

2. Rebuild Connections with yourself, your colleagues, your pupils and their parents/carers. Show genuine warmth and pleasure at reconnecting and use every interaction as an opportunity to do so. Expect this “settling back” adjustment to take time – for some people it might be quite a long time. Keep expectations appropriate for this time for yourself, your colleagues, pupils and families. The deeper academic learning will follow this and can’t be forced ahead of it; this is how our brains work.

3. Share ideas and reflect together often. It is likely to be helpful to remind everyone that although we have all had a very different 5 months from our usual lives, each of us will have had different experiences during lockdown. Sharing ideas for daily support of social skills will be useful: ideas for team building games, being playful together within the boundaries of a game and so on. This can be so helpful for building psychological safety and a sense of belonging. All moments of transition in the day are worth special consideration, for example the starts and ends of the day and the week, changes of lessons, break times, lunchtimes, keeping a close eye out for those who might have found relating with others tricky before lockdown. Connect as quickly as possible with such pupils and keep a close eye on how they are getting on.

4. Show explicit empathy, trying not to fix things immediately, but to listen and hear how someone else is feeling from their emotional point of view. Many people will be looking forward to returning to school, others will not. Troubling thoughts, feelings or behaviours can arise as a consequence of stress. When as teachers, we are trying to manage the boundaries of social distancing and supporting a whole class in settling back, we will need to remember that anti-social or oppositional behaviour might be a sign of this stress. For any of us to learn how to manage our difficult feelings internally, we require a good experience of key people around us, helping us through co-regulating – sitting alongside us as we explore ways to notice and manage our difficult thoughts and feelings for ourselves.

5. Return regularly to staff room agreements, classroom agreements, parental agreements so that everyone can be heard and boundaries can be adjusted together. This will of course include agreements around how we can support each other to feel as safe as possible during these Covid-19 times. Re-affirming our values as a school community together will be important, and agreeing what might help or hinder everyone in being able to feel safe and settling back into new routines.

Being explicit about things feeling different, and naming these feelings will be helpful, as will clarity of any new routines and boundaries. It is likely also to be helpful to express the normality of taking time to adjust to being around so many people at once, and remembering that all this is true for pupils, staff and families alike.

We wish you all the very best for this new term.