Why teachers need to don kid gloves as schools re-open By David Whyley @davewhy

Formal Learning should wait

As schools journey towards fully opening their doors after many weeks of lockdown, there is a natural desire to return to the familiar routine of the school day and focus on getting pupils back up to speed with their learning as quickly as possible.

But Covid-19 has changed education. Whatever shape the new school day takes, we are living in a different world now.

Post-lockdown, children need time to reconnect with their friends and many are having to come to terms with the loss of loved ones. Now is the time to take a slow and steady pace so that children and their teachers can adjust to a new norm – with the focus very much on nurturing wellbeing.

Formal Learning should wait

Children’s emotional health has always been a key element in the education schools provide. But in these exceptional times, it needs to be at the very heart of a return-to-school strategy.

A Public Health England study, found that pupils with better emotional wellbeing at age seven were found to have a value-added Key Stage 2 score that was 2.46 points higher than pupils with poorer emotional wellbeing. That’s the equivalent of more than one term’s progress, which could make a real difference, both to children’s emotional and academic achievement in the long run. So it is evident that focusing on this aspect will have a huge effect on achievement.

There are many resources available that teachers can use to help develop their skills to support students.

These are a great place to start:

Re-entering a busy classroom 

Most children have gone through an experience that is a world away from what they were used to before lockdown.

Many pupils have spent more time in recent weeks on a laptop or tablet at the kitchen table, some with parents or carers juggling work and home schooling at the same time. The children of keyworkers and others who have continued attending school have got used to a very different learning environment too, interacting with fewer pupils and staff.

So, teachers need to factor in the time it takes for their pupils to acclimatise to the classroom environment again as the school gates re-open.

Collaborative activities may help with the transition to being part of a class again, but importantly, plans will need to remain flexible to meet changing requirements around social distancing and protecting pupils and staff.

Activities don’t have to be complex games or tasks. Pupils could collaborate in small groups to create an art project or have two teams in the class working together to complete a maths challenge with a prize. It’s a great time for schools to think about how they can integrate EdTech into the classroom too, so that the digital activities many children have become familiar with can be incorporated into the day.

Some children will need a little extra help and encouragement to re-discover friendships and social skills, so teachers have an important role to play here too.

Avoid the ‘big test’

The time will come for assessing children’s knowledge and identifying gaps in their learning and when it does, schools will want to take a gentle approach.

There’s a plethora of choice when it comes to assessing children’s progress in the classroom.

Technology can help to make assessment feel less test-like for children. By using tools that minimise the pressure of sitting a ‘big test’, teachers will get a much more accurate view of a child’s learning to help them understand and deliver the support their pupils need.

Below are a few examples of useful assessment resources:

  • Literacy – @LexploreUK can identify a child’s reading age by tracking their eye movements as they read a story from a screen and results are available in just a few minutes.
  • Maths – @MathsWhizz will provide the child’s Maths age after they sit a simple, fun, online assessment.
  • Handwriting – The National Handwriting Association (@NHA_news) gives lots of great advice on assessing handwriting quickly and easily.

The new normal

The classrooms teachers return to will be very different to the ones they left prior to the Coronavirus lockdown.

They will likely have pupils who need to catch up with learning they have missed, and those who might benefit from some additional pastoral support to process what has happened while they have been away from class.

Children have become used to digital online working, so integrating EdTech into the classroom has never been so important.

Now more than ever, schools need to ensure pupils’ wellbeing is at the forefront of the decision-making process and that the methods teachers use to assess children’s learning are fun and timely.  

It’s difficult to know at this stage what the impact this experience has had on pupils in the longer term. But the key aim is for all children and young people to thrive once again in a safe, happy and healthy classroom. To achieve this, some things will have to wait.

David Whyley has worked in education for 40 years as a teacher, headteacher, local authority education advisor.  David has also worked with the DfE and now as an education consultant with Lexplore Analytics.