Bonny Bhansali, Principal, The Green Acres Academy
With almost two years of empty classrooms, silent playgrounds and deserted corridors, schools are set to welcome students back to the campus. This is a good time to reflect on how we can make this transition as smooth as possible for our students. All children might have had different experiences during the lockdown, and they may react quite differently to the reopening of physical schools. Some will readily return to school, while others will struggle and experience anxiety or apprehension about moving out of the comfort of their homes. Teachers must be prepared to deal with this and devise a transition plan that benefits everyone and allows for a smooth return to school. It might make sense to reopen in a phased manner. Fewer school hours for the first few days might be the best way to go as it will help students make the gradual transition from online school to physical school.
Some basic guidelines that can help educational institutes and teachers to make this smoother for children, include:
Focus on safety protocols:
As schools reopen, everyone’s emphasis will be on safety protocols, especially because children are not vaccinated. Parents may be wary and have reservations about sending their child to school. Try to put the parents’ mind at ease by informing them of all safety guidelines that are in place in the school. Creating a virtual tour so that new parents can see the infrastructure and classrooms and understand what it would be like for their child to attend school will definitely be very useful. Additionally, schools can organise virtual parent orientations to debrief parents about everything they need to know and prepare for before school starts
Need for structures and routines:
An important thing for teachers to focus on would be how can he/she create a classroom environment that welcomes children back to school after the long hiatus? Creating a daily schedule will help children know what to expect. This schedule can be shared before the school reopens to give students time to understand it and come well prepared on the first day of school. Having a physical copy put up in the classroom might also prove beneficial. Setting up classroom routines will be extremely important as students have not seen a normal school day for a long time. The online routines and structures were significantly different so teachers will need to spend time to set up the in-person classroom routines so that students know what to look forward to each day.
Balanced school day:
It will take time for students to adjust to a full school day, so interspersing co-scholastic and sports activities will keep the students meaningfully engaged and help them stay focused and calm. Giving adequate breaks in between will provide a breather and some respite from academics.
Teachers can also provide the option of flexible seating as it will give students a voice to choose a place that is most comfortable for them and will make the classroom seem more inviting.
Group work opportunities:
Devising learning plans that provide more opportunities for authentic group work will enable students to build connections and forge new relationships with their classmates and also ease them back into in-person learning.
Another way in which teachers can help students develop a common class identity would be by asking students to choose a class mascot or by thinking of a unique name for their class. This might help them develop a sense of connectedness and kinship.
Teachers, especially homeroom/class teachers might need to help students understand the importance of identifying and managing their emotions. It is vital to let students know that their teachers are always available and they can ask for help whenever needed. Having a “calming corner,” or a quiet spot in the classroom where children may go in case they are feeling overwhelmed, is an excellent way to help learners adjust to a full school day. This will relieve anxiety, allowing students to return to their task when they are ready for it.
Teachers will also need to stay connected with the parents and keep the lines of communication open informing them about their child’s academic and social progress.
Staff enrichment and well-being:
School leaders will also have an essential role to play in preparing their teachers for success in dealing with the challenges of this transition. They must provide opportunities for professional development and support for teachers. They must review and enhance resources for staff health and well-being and make sure that teachers have access to mental health support.
It’s not going to be an easy transition to make. Setting a positive tone for return to physical school will require thinking out of the box and adapting quickly to changes. But there’s nothing that you can’t achieve with some strategic planning, flexible approach and a positive mindset.