As we greet 2021 with relief (2020 is finally over!) combined with trepidation about what lies ahead, the thundering news that the UK recorded 58,784 new cases yesterday is a hammer blow. Schools have worked ceaselessly over what should have been the Christmas holidays to get ready for testing and to welcome children back to the highest safety standards possible within the space limitations of school buildings, yet now they are to close in yet another lockdown that many called for weeks ago.
Recording the highest daily total of positive cases since the pandemic began will undoubtedly be anxiety-inducing for many. We know that the NHS is under excessive pressure and those who staff it need our support. It is also clear that school staff have experienced immense stress over the uncertainty around schools opening, so the announcement that schools are now closed for the foreseeable future just might be a relief – at least we have a period of certainty we can work with.
With this latest lockdown in mind, here are some ideas to ease the path. We hope they help:
- Stay flexible: Whether home learning goes to plan or not, it’s a big shift in family life when school-goers can no longer attend. Flexibility all-round is key. If the house gets messier temporarily, so be it. If some days are tougher than others, these too shall pass. Take a deep breath and go easy on yourself.
- Maintain relationships: Parents often have concerns about their children losing touch with their school friends during lockdown, so it is worth facilitating virtual meetups when possible to help them to maintain those links. But it is also important for parents to maintain links with other parents and teachers to help to guard against isolation.
- Ask for help: Don’t suffer in silence if home school just isn’t happening, or is too much of a slog. Ask your child’s teachers for some motivational tips or for a shift in the tasks set so that your child can get back on track.
- Pace your day: If you are trying to keep house and home going, work from home, and keep children on task, burnout is likely if the day isn’t paced. Some things may have to drop off the list, and that is ok. If you have concerns about how much, or how little, your child is completing at home, talk to their teacher sooner rather than later.
- Reward your efforts: Everyone needs a little motivation every now and then. In a national lockdown the options for treats are fairly limited, but both you and your child will need the boost. Make a list now of what helps you all to feel motivated and nurtured and aim to do something off the list at least once a week.
For teachers and other school staff:
- Build collegiality: After the last nine months your team is probably watertight, but those great relationships will need nurturing. Say thank you as many times as possible. Ask if anyone needs help. Listen. Empathise. Leave no one isolated. This is a time to pull together like never before. Make asking for help a normal part of being a functioning team member.
- Brush up: There is always more to learn about your school’s online teaching and learning platform, and how you can utilize it to greatest effect in the subject area you are focusing on. Your school may already be facilitating this, but if not, set up a forum for the sharing of ideas between staff so that those who are less confident teaching in this way can glean support. Jodie Lopez has put together some great tips on teaching online here: Remote Learning Top Tips - YouTube
- Breathe: stop, pause, relax your jaws, bring yourself back to this moment. Tension builds up and needs to be released to prevent anxiety from taking hold. These are truly extraordinary times. They are bound to be impacting us, perhaps in unfamiliar ways. Keep an eye on any symptoms you may develop and get a blood pressure check if it has been a while since you had it done. Blood pressure monitors are easy to come by in your local pharmacy, or your GP can arrange for this to be done.
- Celebrate: Children won’t be having a normal school experience while they are learning at home, but different is not necessarily worse. Celebrate achievements with your classes, talk about what children are getting up to, set challenges, play games, share successes. It’s ok to lighten the load every now and then to reinforce the fact that you are sharing this experience.
- Communicate: Keep talking to colleagues, parents, pupils and anyone else who is a part of your working life. A lack of communication can create a space in which small problems become unmanageable at a time when patience may, sadly, be in short supply. Keep your family and friends in your sights too. One day at a time.
While there is often an emphasis in discussion about the pandemic on the need to balance education and health, it is far more appropriate to think in terms of prioritizing health (and therefore life) and supporting education in the new context in which it must operate. To use a well-worn phrase, we will get through this, just not quite yet.
Remember, if you are experiencing worrying symptoms as a result of anxiety about Covid-19 do please talk to your GP. You can also access support 24/7 from Education Support: 08000 562 561
A Practical Guide to Teacher Wellbeing, published by Sage, can be found here: A Practical Guide to Teacher Wellbeing | SAGE Publications Ltd
About the author
After graduating with a degree in Politics and International Relations from the University of Reading, Elizabeth Holmes completed her PGCE at the Institute of Education, University of London. She then taught humanities and social sciences in schools in London, Oxfordshire and West Sussex, where she ran the history department in a challenging comprehensive. Elizabeth specialises in education but also writes on many other issues and themes. As well as her regular blogs for Eteach and FEjobs, her books have been published by a variety of publishers and translated around the world.