6 ways to support wellbeing as schools return

One international school leader explains how his team have prioritised staff and student wellbeing as they return to the classroom

Tes Editorial

A teacher in a face mask

This article was originally published on Tes News and was written by Matt Seddon from Kellett School, Hong Kong. 

I suspect that when we look back on our careers, 2020 will stand out as one of our most challenging years. 

We have needed to re-examine everything we know about teaching, changing our whole way of working and experiencing significant professional development in ways we could never have imagined.

Reopening our schools is the next unique challenge we face in this unprecedented year.

As soon as it is safe to do so, we want to fill our classrooms again with laughter and learning, because a school is not a school without children.

Navigating the next stage will not be easy. A never-ending list of legislation and risk assessment await schools beginning the process.

But schools have a vital role to play in supporting their communities to heal, and any school that is serious about this should spend an equal amount of time considering wellbeing as they do the unavoidable red-tape.

Here are six lessons and reflections that we have learned through reopening while thinking about our communities' wellbeing.

1. Encourage empathy

Our communities are not the same as they were a year ago. We have all experienced loss in different ways and divisions are likely to appear that did not exist before. 

Being mindful of this and prioritising a spirit of empathy when responding to one another gives schools a better chance of bringing their communities back together.

Communication will be at its most effective if we first pause, remember that we are in this together, and really try to understand one another’s perspective before responding.

2. Set the tone

Before making day-to-day operational decisions, spend time thinking about the atmosphere that you want to create in your school.

If your community has had very few recent transmissions of Covid-19, for instance, you may want to focus on encouraging a sense of hope. If, on the other hand, there is still a prevailing feeling of anxiety within your community, the tone you set should acknowledge and reflect this.

Each community is unique, but spending time to agree on a consistent tone and message will help to reassure both parents and students.  

3. Keep new rules simple

New rules will be needed to support a very different and unnatural way of working. Some of these requirements will be government directed and others will be operational decisions unique to your setting.

Try really hard to keep any new rules as simple as possible. Subtle adjustments will be needed in the early days – but try to find the right balance between listening and responding to staff feedback, without causing confusion due to regular changes.

4. Go the extra mile for staff

Think about the extra things that you could do to support the day-to-day work of your staff. If there is a requirement for daily temperature checks, can you purchase thermal scanners for the front door, so that your first interaction is a warm welcome, not a queue for the thermometer? 

Where social distancing is a challenge, can you fit Perspex screens to the desks? Your staff will be incredibly grateful for any extra miles that you can run for them in order to support the return.

5. Control what you can for students

Although many requirements will be out of your control, there will be many things in your control that could make life easier for everyone.

If it is a requirement for students to wear uncomfortable masks every day, could you relax your uniform policy? Could you introduce more non-uniform days? If students are required to eat in unusual, socially distant arrangements, could you play music or films to create a lighter and more enjoyable atmosphere?

These small touches will make a big difference to your students' day and will help with encouraging the behaviours that you want to see.

6. Make learning fun

Focus on enjoying the time with your students and prioritise what we do best: bringing joy to teaching and learning. 

Just because things have always been done a certain way, doesn’t mean that they need to continue that way. Look at your calendars and remove unnecessary noise.

If we have managed to assess our Year 11 students without GCSE examinations, then do we really need that Year 8 end-of-year exam? If we do, make it low stakes and remove all pressure and consequences.

Our homework policy may normally be sacrosanct, but is it really relevant right now? Perhaps a pause on homework to allow  families to spend time with each other at the end of the day would be appreciated by everyone

Define your new 'normal'

It is important that we really consider how we will guide our communities through these early steps of re-opening. There is no textbook telling us how to do this, and we now have a golden opportunity to define what the new "normal" looks like.

If we really evaluate and prioritise what is important to us upon re-opening, we will be in a strong position to make a change for the future and to ensure that we don’t just slip back into old routines.

Matt Seddon is deputy head of senior school (house and pastoral) at Kellett School , a British international school in Hong Kong

This article was originally published on Tes News

How can you support staff wellbeing at your school? Through short, anonymous surveys Staff Pulse enables your staff to give honest feedback to you and your senior leadership team on areas that are affecting them. Enquire about Staff Pulse and book a free demo today.

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