This is the start of a very strange term. After months of working from home and going into school sporadically, teachers are about to step into their classrooms again and begin direct work with their pupils. The pupils will all have had very different experiences of lockdown - some will have disengaged from school, others will have worked independently, some will have done the bare minimum and a fair few will have sunk into the warm embrace of home and felt their anxieties around school drift away. Many pupils with SEND have missed their provision and support and may have struggled to access home learning. There is no such thing as a level playing field.
The end of the summer term and those last few days of freedom tend to bring on the ‘going back to school’ dreams in all but the hardiest of teachers. Even after over 25 years of teaching, I still think something is going to go wrong and I will have lost my touch! This new academic year is going to be a trial for all of us - experienced and newly qualified. The health and safety aspects and the exams nightmare have occupied a lot leadership time but even though we have had time to think about return to school, how many staff have played out in their minds the reality of teaching in the post lockdown classroom? Think about how many strategies and teaching habits you have that depend on proximity; the quiet word over a pupils’ shoulder, the ‘on the hoof’ writing frame you draw in an exercise book, the spellings you provide at the desk, the strategic roving and observing you do round the classroom to keep everyone on task for example. For secondary school teachers, these handy tools are not going to be possible with physical distancing. We are all going to have to think of different ways to engage and manage our classes.
Now think of all the vulnerable learners in your classes. Some of these pupils rely on your strategies to support them in their learning. Some of these pupils benefit from great support from TAs who know them and their class well. How is the post lockdown classroom going to be for them? It’s definitely a challenge and a concern. The uncertainty of how things might be is an issue for staff and pupils alike.
What to expect
- pupils may be anxious, and anxiety presents very individually in each of us
- pupils with identified SEN may be reluctant to be in class without their usual support
- distractibility and concentration issues may be more noticeable
- peer relationships will need rebuilding
- refusal, opting out, reluctance to engage may be common at first as pupils get used to new rules
- regression to younger age type behaviours/ acting out may be a sign of distress
- tearful or physical signs of distress - tummy and headaches
- worries around new routines, rules and hygiene
- pupils may be testing the boundaries – to check the teachers are still in charge
There seem to be plenty of materials out there about how to support mental health but little about how teachers can adapt their teaching within the distancing rules whilst acknowledging that our most vulnerable pupils are still going to need bespoke support.
What to think about
- read what you can about your new classes - especially the SEN pupils.
- focus on relationship building in the first few lessons – share likes and dislikes, find out their interests, ensure you greet everyone in the class.
- plan lessons rigorously and think about the resources you will need to have to hand because you can’t support in person as usual. Think about how much information you can add visually. For example, images on ppts, have instructions bullet pointed or visually displayed, have concrete examples of topics. Video clips, word games, stories may be useful to plan.
- Focus on key content and take time planning the activities the pupils are going to do independently. Do you need to have writing frames, key word lists of exemplars ready for key pupils? How can you adapt ahead of time for different levels in your class?
- How are you going to feedback about progress? Can you use a visualiser to share work safely?
- Modelling is going to be a go to strategy - think about varying the way you model the task; using computer to type an answer with class, writing on board, demonstrating a task, pretending to get things wrong so pupils correct, silent modelling.
- Discussion and debates and talking partners are going to be a great way to assess progress and engage students.
- Speak to the SEN dept asap - can TAs help make resources or advise you about level of work, strategies and what might help.
- Share resources with colleagues electronically so that other pupils benefit and workload is shared.
- Think about alternative classroom management strategies that you can do from the front – repeating instructions calmly, wait time, great questioning with cues, use of humour, getting class attention effectively.
- Follow up work online may help pupils who have support at home or who have time outside lessons with TAs.
- Peer support is going to be a useful tool - does your seating plan allow for pupils to support those who would normally get adult support?
- We are all in this together – it’s weird for everyone so normalise this. Getting the ethos right and working as a class team will help classroom cohesion.
As a SENCo, although I recognise this term is going to be learning curve for everyone, I am optimistic that there are opportunities for inclusion here. To meet the diverse range of needs in class, everyone is going to have to be more creative and plan more thoroughly. Effective departments will share resources and collaboration will bond teams together. Relying on TAs won’t work, so maybe teachers will focus more on unpicking the best ways to engage their vulnerable learners. If so, there may be long term benefits for all pupils.
That my hope anyhow!