4 ways to re-integrate pupils who dislike school

The coronavirus lockdown may have strengthened negative feelings about school for some pupils, so how can we help them re-integrate?

Mark Goodwin

trauma teen

Some young people will not have missed school. Regardless of their home environment, they did not like school before lockdown, and they still won’t like it afterwards. In fact, they may be even more reluctant to attend school than they were before.

How do we re-engage these young people? My role is to do just that, with pupils who have been non-attenders due to either illness or exclusion. I am used to persuading young people that education is something with which they need to engage, and the lessons I have learned in this role may be useful to schools in the next few weeks.

So here is how I would approach it.

1. Understand their challenges

What type of teacher would you need if, as a child, you had experienced a catastrophic emergency? Our challenge is to be that teacher for the young people we work with.

We need to listen, acknowledge and begin to understand their experience. Then we can talk honestly about the universality of the incredible challenge we have faced but equally talk of resilience, coping and overcoming the next challenge.

Shared community stories of overcoming adversity, helping each other and coming together (virtually!) will help to talk with optimism and hope about a shared, collaborative and compassionate future.

2. Focus on nurture

The learning space should first be a nurture space. Avoid deficit talk of "catching up", "being behind", or "missing work". Instead, focus on the pupil and their interests – use your expertise to set engaging, exciting and challenging work that connects with young people’s meaning, purpose and passion.

3. Celebrate the small wins

It is going to take a long time and hundreds of small and maybe hesitant steps to rebuild connections, so notice those small steps young people are taking and celebrate the wins, however small.

Take the opportunity to build a store of school successes to help the young people and the whole school community to see that relationships are being rebuilt and connections remade.

4. Make them feel visible

There are three words that hold so much potential for us to connect with our young people: "I see you". Take the opportunity presented by this "new non-normal" to really see them by connecting with them as fellow human beings instead of data sets, behaviour points, groups or progress scores. Make them see that you see them as a human being and that you are interested in their life, not just their academic grades. 

Everything I have detailed above is a reminder of values and strategies from teaching wisdom of old – it is what has worked for me to build relationships with young people often dismissed as "difficult" and what we need to help all our students to connect with learning, school and ultimately themselves in the months to come.

Mark Goodwin is a teacher in Staffordshire

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