No matter how well we prepare for the children and young people we teach during this time of social isolation, they will, to a greater or lesser degree, be experiencing the effects of this monumental change in their lives. However well they have adapted, and however effectively they are supported at home, life is now, and will be for the foreseeable future, viewed through the Coronavirus lens. This is bound to take its toll.
As providers of pastoral care, teachers are usually in a prime position to support the emotional health of children and young people. Yet from a distance, this can be challenging and bewildering for all concerned.
As the parent of a six-year-old I have been impressed with the “distant” pastoral care offered by my son’s school. Parents have received helpful guidance on how to make the best of this home-learning situation and the expectations placed on all seem eminently reasonable. Children have relaxed contact with their teacher and each other via Zoom and there is a great sense of making the most of the situation in the healthiest way possible. That’s not to say that it is necessarily easy helping my son through the work set(!) but the overall atmosphere around our lockdown school efforts has been positive.
As CEO of Woodland Academy Trust, Dan Morrow is well aware of the need for high quality pastoral care during these lockdown conditions. The pastoral support of the children in his schools has always remained paramount, despite the wider challenges of the pandemic. He told me, “We have operated each and every day through weekends and bank holidays. We do daily calls, welfare checks and are also ensuring that there is the right equipment and resources at home.”
The support that families at the Woodland schools might get during a usual term is continuing through the lock down. For example, one of their pupils is sadly unwell and facing further health challenges, so staff members (safely) delivered a gift of sand and toys to the family to help provide some “happiness and memories” at this time when it is not possible to venture far outside the house.
For children in special schools the demands of the current situation may be especially difficult to assimilate. Cherryl Drabble, assistant head teacher at Highfurlong School, an outstanding special school in Blackpool, explains, “As you can imagine, in the ordinary way of things we do lots around pastoral care. We have invested heavily in the Head Start initiatives and we spend a lot of time building children’s confidence. All of that is wonderful; not so easy from a distance of course. What we have been doing is using Seesaw, our parental engagement app, for the children. We have been putting messages on there from the staff. The staff have been singing songs for them too, which we have put on there so they know we are thinking about them. We have had TAs reading stories to the younger children about school and their friends so they know their life will return to normal eventually. We are a little worried about mental health so we’ve given it some thought and are supporting it through personal messages, social stories, songs and FaceTime.”
There are brilliant examples of creative ways of offering pastoral support to children and young people through the lockdown up and down the country. These examples tend to have certain key characteristics:
- Personalised contact where possible – some children will be more motivated than others so knowing who might need some targeted encouragement is key. Emotional wellbeing has to take priority at this time and helping children to connect with you as their teacher and with their class in a low pressure way may help to support that.
- Communication – regular communication with parents and children is a reminder that you are there to support where necessary.
- Safe-guarding focus – be alert to concerns at a distance in the same way you would when teaching under normal circumstances.
- A spotlight on uncertainty – under usual circumstances we spend time preparing children and young people for change. We help them to understand and accept changes ahead and support them through times of uncertainty. A global pandemic is a very different picture. Focusing on what is positive and in our control is a great start.
It is impossible to replicate precisely the pastoral care that is in place when schools are operating under usual circumstances, but we can still ensure that the children and young people in our care know we are there for them and can support where and when needed. Many schools are achieving this phenomenally well. What we must not forget, however, is the wellbeing of school staff in this strangest of times.
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.