Our British international school in Tokyo is in its sixth week of online learning. There has been an incredible response from our school community to an extraordinary situation. Imaginative lessons have meant students continuing to engage with their own learning, displaying inquisitiveness, creativity and resilience as they collaborate with their teachers and peers in both new and familiar ways.
However, we have also seen that learning from home for an extended period of time adds considerable stress and anxiety to students’ lives. Some may have already been struggling pastorally or academically. Others have begun to struggle with the new conditions. As such, supporting students is now more important than ever.
Coronavirus: How closed schools can provide pastoral support
Below are the ways we have learned to tackle pastoral care during this period, so we can ensure that we are helping students to feel involved, happy and safe.
1. Know your student’s needs
Working online rather than in a classroom removes some of the mechanisms that teachers use to identify pastoral concerns. Before we moved to online learning, our pastoral teams regularly reviewed and discussed our students of concern, and agreed appropriate support.
We recognised from the start that these conversations needed to continue under our new circumstances. So we send out regular wellbeing surveys that we use to help us identify students who may be struggling.
We have also made it our focus to understand each student’s individual circumstances, mindset and needs. In this way, we can continue to put the necessary support in place.
2. Monitor student engagement
We have continued to use our existing behaviour management systems, including house points and behaviour logs. This is for consistency but also because it acts as an early warning system.
For example, we have asked our teachers to record all instances where no online learning is submitted for any particular lesson. This has allowed our pastoral teams to quickly identify students who are struggling and provide appropriate, timely support.
3. Communication is key
The role of a tutor has changed significantly. Students are encouraged to contact their tutors if they need support. Additionally, all tutors maintain regular contact with their tutees, to check-in with how they are doing and identify any issues.
For our students of concern, our pastoral leaders maintain close contact with the students themselves through emails, phone calls and online conversations.
Furthermore, our school counsellor has continued to support those who need it through online counselling sessions.
During this time, good communication with parents is essential, especially as parental engagement has never been higher. They are first-hand witnesses to their child’s struggles and are the biggest source of support for them.
By communicating honestly and openly with parents, we can better provide the support the students need and work with them to improve the experience for their children.
4. Listen to the community
Actively seeking feedback from students, parents and teachers has allowed us to better respond to their needs.
Within the first 10 days of online learning, we learned that students particularly valued live Zoom conversations at the start of lessons. They told us that the live interaction helped them to feel connected to their peers and teachers, and supported the development of healthy routines for their days and weeks.
As a result, teachers have incorporated even more of these live conversations into their lessons.
5. Safeguarding at the core of our practice
Teachers continue to have a duty to safeguard students from harm and report any concerns they have. A general rule of thumb is that whatever is applied to in-school learning still applies online.
We have provided guidance to support our teachers and ensure a safer environment for all during live Zoom conversations, and we have communicated clear expectations of online behaviour to our students.
I am extremely proud of the incredible work of my colleagues over the past month. It has been humbling to witness their dedication to ensure continuity of student learning at such short notice, but the care and attention they have provided to our students and their families is evident in every Google Classroom, Padlet and Zoom chat, and sets an example for us all during this challenging time.
Duncan Grey is deputy head of secondary school at The British School in Tokyo