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One thing’s for sure

By Lynsie Monro

The last day of the school year elicits a mixed atmosphere. There’s something slightly apocalyptic about it while at the same time, being delightfully euphoric.

The gates swing shut and elated, albeit exhausted, staff members gather their flowers, chocolates, Best Teacher cards and head to the local pub. With a well-earned beverage in hand, they reminisce and exchange tales about the highs and lows of the past year.

Some head off early while others make a night of it, relaxed by the thought of a non-alarmed wake up. All are willing their minds to clear of school-related thoughts, although much of the first week is usually spent reflecting on the students, their triumphant and tricky times. A week or two in and the downtime is eventually embraced. As a school leader and class teacher, I always experienced conflicting thoughts between the desire to “switch off” and the opportunity the holidays provided to plan.

This year has seen a premature, although potentially temporary, end to the academic year. It is highly unlikely schools will see a summer term, or at least not a full one. As Dr Hope mentioned in his recent Pivotal Podcast, education is characterised by uncertainty, particularly at the moment.

Teacher’s forte

Luckily, planning for the unplanned is a teacher’s forte. Three weeks has been spent tirelessly working to ensure the transition to lockdown has been as easy as possible. The stoic reaction to decision-making without the availability of all the necessary information, certainly deserves applause. Having reached some sense of normality and settled into a new routine, talks have now turned to when schools will reopen.

It’s difficult to think ahead when we don’t know what next week looks like, let alone next month or September. However, top performing organisations are forward-thinking, carving out new ideas from the status quo. There has been a lot of speculation that virtual learning will change everything and should now be incorporated into the delivery of the curriculum. It has been suggested that it would open our eyes to the idea that we should’ve engaged with online teaching much earlier. I do agree it will have an impact on the way lessons are delivered in the future but really, I think this situation has further highlighted the importance of a well-designed classroom culture.

Where relationships and pupil wellbeing are concerned, which as we know precede the ability to learn, the classroom is irreplaceable. No matter when schools reopen, the key to every pupil’s and teacher’s smooth passage back to school as always will be, relationships. You might now be thinking, relationships, I get it but how many of us are actually using this time to plan for genuine success in re-establishing a culture which supports, redirects and sustains the positive relationships between all staff and their pupils?

Space to reflect

This crisis has given us some space to reflect on the relationships we have with our children and young people away from any end of term distractions and time to plan for what we absolutely know pupils will need across the world, regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, socio-economic background. They will need adults in front of them with mechanisms and frameworks which ensure a fair and consistent approach to supporting their emotional development so they can get back on track with their learning as soon as possible.

Some pupils will have been surrounded by adults who can adult – models of excellence who can verbalise their hidden thought-processes when tackling challenges and have established clear rules and expectations attached to keystone routines so they can for the most part, effectively manage their children’s behaviour.

At the other end of the spectrum there will be homes where the adults who, due to unmanageable circumstances, won’t have had the ability, motivation and/or discipline to do what’s necessary to support their children in continuing to develop emotionally, physically or academically.

Varied experiences

We don’t know exactly the level of support our pupils are getting at home but we do know it is varied. Over the past 20 years, we’ve understood the need for differentiation when designing lessons. I think we should be using this time to ensure we have the structures in place which will allow us to differentiate for behaviour.

It’d be unfair to have the same expectation of each of our learners who will have been surrounded by such diverse conditions. I would think through what the various levels of support could be, as we do for maths and English (high, middle, low – or something to that effect), then when they return we can start to make reasonable adjustments.

One thing’s for sure, every single one of our children and young people will need a classroom culture that acknowledges their varied experiences of lockdown. They will need an adult equipped to provide them with, bespoke support, opportunity and hope. Let’s make a plan for that.

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