The reality for teachers and pupils of going back to school during a pandemic - Jacqueline Cassidy
Children and staff returning to school dominated headlines in August and September, but what has been the reality of being in school during a pandemic? How are staff managing their new role as frontline workers, and how are they being supported to continue their invaluable work teaching and providing wellbeing support to children? Jacqueline Cassidy, Director (Scotland) at children’s mental health charity Place2Be, spoke with Leanne Hepburn, Head Teacher at Murrayburn Primary School, to find out more.
Reflecting on the first term, what has return to school been like?
Initially returning to school was difficult, no one knew what to expect. We did as much as possible to mitigate risks, reduce the impact for children, and start learning again. However, things have settled down now and we are used to our new routine.
Our priorities have been on safety, and getting that right, as well as focusing on the health and wellbeing of the children. Our children work in year group ‘bubbles’ and we ask that classes don’t cross bubbles, this helps us to keep pupils and staff safe and we can better track movement around the building. Staff are wearing masks in the corridors and shared spaces and this feels normal now.
What’s gone well?
We were delighted that children came back to school.
Although things are different, there are many aspects that make school feel like the most normal place to be. You almost forget that there is a pandemic, especially when the children are out in the playground and you can hear them laughing and playing.
Staff have enjoyed getting back to a daily routine and having the chance to reconnect and interact with the children. Most children are delighted to be back too!
What has been more challenging than expected?
Settling back into school was hard for some and behaviour was tricky to manage, but that is improving as children get used to being back. For staff, the challenge has been not having the opportunity to come together as a whole team as we can’t be physically in the same room.
Daily communications with parents and carers was easier during lockdown as we had the luxury of time. Now we are back in school we are having to be creative with how we can meet with families and continue to build positive relationships.
Covid has affected everyone including your staff team, how are you supporting them?
We’re currently surveying staff health and wellbeing and possible Covid anxiety. I’ll then meet with all staff for a one-to-one meeting so a whole school support plan can be created. Part of the plan will look at ways we can be stay connected when we can’t be together. For example, during lockdown we had a regular Quiz Night, an online ukulele group and a choir, and we want to look at reintroducing some of these activities.
What support do you think staff need?
Capacity to support each other can be reduced when we are under stress and we are focusing on staying positive. Teachers always make their pupils a priority, and will keep going and adapt. I think it is important that staff know that we also care about them and that we value the job that they do.
At Place2Be we are providing 5000 free places across Scotland for school staff to participate in our Mental Health Champions - Foundation programme to support staff understanding of mental health and wellbeing, and we are working with partners at Education Scotland and the General Teaching Council for Scotland to support teacher’s own mental health through a programme of virtual peer-group wellbeing sessions called Place2Think.
Staff at Murrayburn Primary School have used Place2Think in the past, what do you think of the programme?
Some Murrayburn staff have accessed Place2Think and know the value of having the time to think and reflect, especially when we’re so busy focusing on others.
Place2Be has offered child mental health support in Scotland since 2001 and currently reaches over 14,000 pupils and their families in 45 schools. Place2Be is supported by a range of funders including players of the People’s Postcode Lottery. Find resources and activities to support children’s wellbeing at place2be.org.uk/coronavirus
Jacqueline Cassidy, Director (Scotland) at children’s mental health charity Place2Be
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