Louiza is Assistant Head – Pastoral at Brighton College Al Ain in the UAE with over 23 years of teaching experience both in the UK and in the Middle East. Her passions have always focused on the well being of the pupil in order to achieve their best and feel fully supported. Louiza has worked in a variety of schools with various responsibilities within pastoral care, including Head of Year, House Mistress and Assistant Head.
As we inch ever closer to the day we return to the classroom, there are still many anxieties amongst each and every one of us. Starting a new academic year always bought excitement to me however this will be my 24th and the one that holds the most uncertainty. Over the summer break I have had time to reflect on the events of early COVID, school closure, distance learning and even how my own daughter has been effected. Now, I am thinking about what might be valuable once we finally return to school. For me it will be about reconnecting with our pupils and trying to establish the bonds that we left behind, albeit in a very different environment. Our schools will look different with social distancing, thermal cameras and masks, our class teachers may have changed and our friends moved away. Staff and pupils will be returning with a mix of emotions and experiences and as teachers, we will need to think about how we can best reconnect in a positive and supportive way.
Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others and I do believe that this could be the best way forward. We should not return judging or underplaying the feelings and emotions of our pupils, but accept that behaviours might have changed alongside many other things. Our pupils have aged, mentally and physically since schools closed, they have not been exposed to as many opportunities as they would have if we had continued as normal, for some they did not see other peers or family members for many weeks or months, technology has played a very different part in their lives and we must accept that unfortunately for some of our pupils their experiences could have been darker and crueller, facing bereavement and or abuse. The truth is until we return we are only guessing what might happen to our pupils, families and fellow colleagues and how this might alter their behaviour when they return.
Teachers who are involved in pastoral care in all schools all around the world will have been thinking of the best ways to support their pupils on return, hoping that we can reconnect positivity and appropriately as a community.
It is not a competition or race, each school has its own values with unique individuals and what will work for one might not necessarily work for others. Being empathic however should be at the forefront of everyone’s thinking, being able to listen and not judge, trying to understand a person’s feelings, emotions and actions before reacting.
Schools might need to reconsider their reward and sanction policies or how it is implemented, especially within the initial return to school. Teachers might find that the usual “A” grade pupil, who never put a foot wrong, returns knowing no boundaries, or requires more support than ever. Staff may need to be more aware of child protection and to know what to look out for and we may see an increase in pupil disclosures. On the whole, we need to be prepared to adapt, spend some time on reconnecting, whilst also moving forward, getting back into academic life. It would be wonderful to think children will return to the classrooms as model pupils, who knows, maybe they will?
In all of this we also need to remember that we have to be kind to ourselves, this is not going to be an easy time. Rethinking our way of teaching and how we connect with our classes and pupils is going to be as equally important. Even after 23 years of teaching, I know that I have to be ready to respond differently. Colleagues should be open to asking for help and sharing resources. Not all teachers may be open to in-depth discussions or “circle times”, keeping activities comfortable for both pupils and teachers will be key, having a range of options and allowing staff to find their way of reconnecting will be more powerful in the long run, although keeping the underlying theme the same is important.
No one would have anticipated this pandemic and the disruption it caused to the world, hopefully we are on the right path to recovery and we have the skillset to help each other. We still remain in this together and it will continue to make us stronger.