Pastoral care is, arguably, the most important provision in a school. After all, students can’t learn well and they certainly can’t flourish if their pastoral needs are not met.
But how do we provide that in a pandemic, when schools are closed?
It's not easy. One of the most important ways pastoral care takes place is by seeing students and sensing that something isn't quite right. As professionals, we know when students are behaving in a way that is different from usual or when they say something unsettling.
Picking these signs up while working remotely is not easy, though. It’s a source of huge guilt for us at the moment, for teachers and pastoral leaders alike.
However, your instincts don't leave you – you just need to adapt how you use them. Now, more than ever, schools need to employ the right strategies that will still allow us to know if something isn’t quite right.
Coronavirus: How teachers can deliver pastoral care
Here are some suggestions about what schools can do.
1. Use your virtual learning environment
Asking form tutors to check in with their forms is really important.
In uncertain times, a sense of familiarity is vital. Knowing that someone still cares is incredibly powerful. Ask your tutors to do this once or twice a week.
From there, any concerns can be passed on to pastoral leads to follow up on, and anyone who doesn’t reply should also be followed up by a pastoral leader.
2. Identify your worries
Any pastoral leader will have a number of students that they worry about most.
Plan how you’re going to ensure continuity with these students – a phone call home or an email to the student or parent can be a good way to make that initial contact.
These students will need to know that someone still cares, that that safety net of someone looking out for them is still there, just in a different form.
It’ll take a while for you and the student to adapt to this new way of working, but this is an important strand to incorporate into any whole-school approach to provision during school closures.
3. Listen to your gut instinct
Schools will be asking teaching staff to set work and often to have this sent back to them in some way. This will be a vital part of staff still having their gut instinct. Has a child written something that doesn’t feel quite right? Is something out of character with what they’re doing? Has an eager child stopped engaging completely?
Our gut instincts will still work in these contexts – we’re adaptable beings. Make sure staff know how to report this remotely and which staff they need to inform.
4. Accept this isn't easy
None of this is ideal.
But we’re in circumstances that are less than ideal. Pastoral work comes with an extra level of guilt and worry at the best of times. Now, we are all living in a world that we’re not in control of.
That, in itself, adds to the level of guilt we’re going to feel. But, at the same time, letting this take over is not a healthy approach. We can’t change the position we’re in, but we can make sure we have a solid approach that puts us in a position to be able to support students.
It might not be as good as what we could do in school, but the time has come to accept that.
We’re all in this together, ultimately, and as long our students know we still care, and they are able to let us know if they need us, we’ll have done a great job in the face of extreme challenges.
Amy Forrester is Tes behaviour columnist, English teacher and director of pastoral care (key stage 4) at Cockermouth School in Cumbria