Simple and Effective Steps to Help You Prepare for Students’ Return to School
Let’s face it, this school year has been like no other. With distance learning, hybrid teaching, schools closing, and some reopening, teachers and students have been faced with a monumental challenge.
But in spite of the obstacles – both teachers and students have risen to the occasion!
As the tides change and hope is on the horizon, more districts will be opening up their schools and welcoming students back into their hallways in the next month. And while some schools and states have had students back in the classrooms, a large number of students are preparing for their return. With all this change happening...
...Maybe you’re feeling anxious about all the new safety procedures.
...Maybe you’re excited to have your sweet kiddos back in the classroom – to feel the warmth of their laughter and see the twinkle in their eyes.
...Maybe you’re concerned about whether you should be returning at all.
Whatever you’re feeling – and valid as it is – the time has come for more parents, teachers, and students to prepare for in-person learning.
So how do you prepare? And more importantly, how do you support students during this new transition?
It all can seem quite daunting, I feel you. But preparing yourself and your students doesn't have to be overwhelming. You can use some simple yet effective steps to get ready.
Preparing for Your Return to School
Preparation is the best way to ensure a smooth transition for you and your students. When you feel ready, safe, and in control, you will be a strong positive force for your kiddos.
So let’s focus first on you.
Know Your School’s Plan
Many districts and schools have adopted new safety plans and protocols to meet state and local guidelines. Changes can bring about feelings of stress and uncertainty. Most of us are aware that stress can negatively affect your job performance, your engagement with others, and your day-to-day functions.1
So take some time to dig into the new procedures. Talk to your administrators, ask questions, and get the clarity you need to feel ready.
You know the saying – knowledge is power. The more you know, the more confident you’ll be when students are back in your classroom.
Plan New Classroom Routines
If we’ve learned anything this year, it’s that business as usual doesn’t fly. You’ve had to adjust your teaching and step out of your comfort zone to create an engaging online learning environment for your students.
Now’s a good time to revisit your Classroom Management Plan and take a closer look at your systems and procedures.2 Your first step will be to set up your classroom according to your school and district’s new safety protocols. But after that, think about what your new day-to-day will look like once students have returned.
Will you have all students in-person full time? Will it be a mix of students in-person and some live online?
Whichever your situation may be, mentally walk through your day and prepare how to address situations that arise.
Where will your computer be?
Where’s the best place to stand if you’re teaching in-person and live simultaneously?
What will the flow of classroom traffic look like considering the new health guidelines?
How will you teach the new routines and procedures to students?
What’s the number for tech support if issues come up?
Use these questions to help get you started. With a plan in hand, you can’t go wrong.
Take Care of You
We’ve all been there – unexpected situations, stress, exhaustion – all these things can quickly take a toll on our health. To be the best teacher and role model for your students you must take care of #1 – YOU.
Students will have many different feelings and challenges coming back to school and it’s important that you’re able to model good coping skills by being calm and caring.
Consider taking some time before they return to create a self-care plan.3 Jot down situations that may trigger a response and come up with solutions beforehand so that when the time comes, you’ll know how you’ll handle it.
Maybe create a list of activities you can do while you’re at work that will help you re-center your mind and body. Know your limits and arm yourself with the tools you need to help you stay happy and at peace throughout the day.
Trust me, Happiness is contagious!
How to Support Your Students
You’re more than halfway through this school year. You’ve worked hard to connect with your students through the many different learning platforms. And you’ve built an online community with your students.
You’re probably very aware of the many challenges some of your students are facing. The pandemic has brought on shared trauma for communities and individuals.4
Whether grief, fear, or separation anxiety, students will be arriving at schools with a wide range of emotions.5 And they’ll be looking to YOU for comfort and support while on campus.
So now that you’ve gotten yourself ready to welcome students into your classroom, let’s take a look at some ways that you can help support your students during this transition.
Listen, Validate, and Affirm
Students may be experiencing all kinds of emotions they may not understand. It’s likely the events that have happened will have an impact on their mental well-being.6 So it’s important to listen to your students, validate their feelings and offer them the emotional support they need to feel safe.
As teachers, it’s important that we show empathy and understanding to our kiddos. Providing them with space to express their thoughts, fears, and questions is very powerful. Normalizing their worries and anxieties will help make their transition much smoother.7
Encourage students to ask questions and open up either with their peers or one on one. Talking about it as a group will help them realize they’re not alone in their feelings.
Use Art as a Form of Expression
Students love art and it's a wonderful tool for self-expression. Using art as therapy helps people explore their emotions and work through unresolved trauma or conflict.8 Creating art is also a creative way of bringing people together and connecting through a shared activity.
Recent events may have brought on feelings of loneliness and isolation. So, consider planning a whole group art project. When each person contributes a piece to a larger project it creates a sense of unity and belonging.
Something as simple as cutting out their handprint and gluing it to a larger canvas alongside their peers – and teacher – goes a long way toward helping your students feel connected again.
Focus on Social-Emotional Learning
Schools have begun prioritizing and embedding Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) curriculum in the classroom. Now more than ever is the time to adopt SEL principals, since SEL is crucial to helping students transition back to in-person learning.
Studies have shown that SEL is the key to students’ success, especially in elementary and preschool-aged children.9 Many students are now facing loss, fear, and trauma and the SEL curriculum is designed to help them work through these big emotions.
One activity you can do is practice mindfulness as a class. Guide your students through short mindful breathing exercises they can use to help them refocus their worries and relax their body and mind.
Plan, Prepare, Embrace
This new road back to the classroom is one that can bring both worry and excitement. But if you take the steps to plan your return you can thrive in the transition.
Prepare yourself, your classroom, and your game plan for a smooth transition and you’ll be ready to embrace the journey. It can be the most rewarding and healing time for you and your kiddos.
For more information on incorporating SEL into the classroom, check out these resources from CASEL.
Need some last-minute self-care activities to get you through your Spring Break? Check out The 6 Essential Elements you Need to Know for Quality Teacher Self-Care.
1 Mental Health in the Workplace. https://www.cdc.gov/workplacehealthpromotion/tools-resources/workplace-health/mental-health/index.html
2 How to Set Up a Simple, Effective Classroom Management Plan. https://www.smartclassroommanagement.com/2011/08/06/effective-classroom-management-plan/
3 Self-Care Guide. https://mindpeacecincinnati.com/wp-content/uploads/SelfCareReportR13.pdf
4 Supporting Pupils Return to School. https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/coronavirus/returning-school-after-lockdown/support-pupils-return-to-school
5 Back to School Anxiety During COVID. https://childmind.org/article/back-to-school-anxiety-during-covid/
6 Educator Resources https://www.anxietycanada.com/resources/educator-resources/
7 Managing Unexpected Endings and Transitions. https://www.annafreud.org/media/11627/managing-unexpected-endings-transitions-may2020.pdf
8 15 Art Therapy Activities, Exercises, and Ideas for Children and Adults. https://positivepsychology.com/art-therapy/
9 Social Emotional Learning Should be a Priority During COVID Crisis. https://www.nea.org/advocating-for-change/new-from-nea/social-emotional-learning-should-be-priority-during-covid-19