We’ve all heard the phrase “recovery period” when talking about post-lockdown school return. For our additional support needs (ASN) pupils – depending on the council, or even the school – learners have had hugely different experiences over the past few months. Some have been in school full-time, some have had blended learning, some attended hubs, and some home learning.
Covid: Supporting ASN pupils back in school
Let’s break down the “recovery period” and think about what that actually means for our ASN learners.
“Recovery” means just that: our children are recovering from a huge period of disruption in their lives. We have a wide range of developmental levels and, consequently, ways of understanding the pandemic, so it’s important to be sensitive to that when returning to in-school teaching. Be patient, and allow the children to settle and feel comfortable. If we take care of those basic needs, learning will flourish, so work on helping your children to feel safe and secure.
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Now is the time to work on re-establishing routines, both within your class and the wider school. Take a step back from the academic focus. Right now it’s more important to build relationships and self-esteem than to jump back in at the child’s previous achievement level. We can do this by setting short, successful tasks, based on what we know a child can achieve. Perhaps have a focus on life skills. Praise what a child has been doing during the home teaching period, then extend and promote these skills in class. The learning will come once a predictable and safe routine is established and then we can work on our pace and challenge. Use visuals to support these daily routines; visuals are an excellent way to back up verbal instructions with a fixed reminder. If a child is feeling anxious, having something they can refer back to helps regulate and support them.
Build those positive relationships. This is so vital for the recovery phase. We have time to spend rebuilding trust, to give our children a feeling of safety and security. Learning and progress will follow if we spend time on a child’s basic needs.
If we have that positive relationship at the centre, when a child is showing distressed behaviours, they can trust us to help co-regulate with them. Modelling self-regulation and embedding sensory integration opportunities throughout the day will build a child’s bank of regulatory strategies. These can then be accessed when a child is feeling distressed, anxious or disregulated.
What an opportunity to focus on emotional literacy and resilience! Children are experiencing a wide range of emotions, so take the time to label them and help the child recognise physiological reactions. Incorporate your regulation strategies regularly to help them feel better.
In short, take your time. Focus on emotional wellbeing and academic progress will follow. A disregulated child is not a learning child, but a secure and settled child is. What more could we want to achieve from a “recovery period”?
Karen McInnes is an ASN (additional support needs) teacher based in Scotland