What matters most in the post-lockdown classroom

Audrey Pantelis
Audrey Pantelis is an Educational Consultant and Director of Talespin Consultancy Ltd. Talespin Consultancy offers training and support to schools and organizations on diversity and inclusion; leadership support and development including coaching. Audrey was a founding Head of School of a free Special School in North West London for five years, leading the school to its first Section 5 Ofsted inspection where the school gained a judgement of ‘Good” with Outstanding features. She has been in education – from unqualified teacher to senior leader - for the past thirty years.
 
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 The process of getting us back to where we were is currently hesitant, uncertain and we are not the same as we were. We have all been changed, regardless of  how you considered your mental state to be. We are very aware that the world is uncertain – and it’s not just about coronavirus. Along with the change of/lack of routine, we can identify five barriers of uncertainty that have come about from this crisis:

 

  • Restlessness and agitation
  • Aversion and ill-will
  • Sensory pleasure
  • Sloth and torpor
  • Doubt

We all bring varying degrees of these obstacles to our workplaces as we return – or in the case of teachers and school leaders – or continue to work through the changing world we inhabit. As educators, we are expected to have all the answers – but we don’t. There’s a lot of ‘noise’ (think ‘government guidance’ and media analysis of educators that is anything but!!) in the world of education and as we navigate our way through this liminal place, we no longer have certainty in the answers that we once relied on in the classroom and indeed in the educational system.

While there is a lot of analysis on what is needed with regards to ‘lost learning’, there is a real need to address some of the basics that need to be put in place to ensure that successful learning can begin to take place. More importantly, there is a conversation to be had on what is taught – we were already in the process of looking at curriculum review prior to the pandemic. In light of the #BlackLivesMatter consciousness/awareness, this has enabled some thinking of how we manage our approaches to learning and how we are more inclusive.  

We also need to recognize that we are all holding so many different voices and we carry trauma in our bodies – it’s a sensory experience. It definitely contributes to the list of hindrances of uncertainty and we are all bringing some form of trauma – whether we have physically suffered the loss of family or friends from Covid 19 – or our loved ones and family contributing to the front line through their work and the difficulties that this brings up. A definition of trauma is given below:

 “Trauma is an experience or series of experiences and/or impacts from social conditions, that break or betray our inherent need for safety, belonging and dignity.”  Staci K. Haines

I believe that we need to primarily focus on good relationships and good educational outcomes but before we can build on this we need to rediscover the basics – the ‘look’ of school and how to manage this; re-establishing relationships (parents were teachers, so what are teachers now? What do parents need to learn from teachers?); the process of learning – is it important? Why is it important? We need to develop a model of interconnectedness between teachers, pupils and families. Nurturing – at all levels – is crucial in gaining the certainty that we crave, whether we present this outwardly or not. Schools are inundated with demands from so many stakeholders and audiences.  

The following key points are important to consider as we return to our classrooms – which, in all honesty, will look and feel different:

  • The focus on relationships was crucial but it’s now a non-negotiable part of our pedagogy – between all stakeholders 
  • Staff wellbeing is not a bolt on – it’s an essential and integral part of re-building the school’s resilience
  • Inclusion of children and young people’s viewpoints is required in ensuring their voices are heard in order to promote a strengthened sense of belonging 
  • Reassurance from ALL staff that the environment is SAFE will reduce anxiety – potentially through challenging behaviours -  from children and young people
  • Consistency is key – good communication will reduce mixed messages

More importantly is the need to recognize that we are teaching the next generation to not only be academically able, but to be successful, confident, happy and resilient human beings. Modelling these attributes through the delivery of values based activities will assist in this objective.

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