School leaders and teaching staff face many challenges in re-establishing face-to-face education. Alongside ensuring pupils' physical safety as they return to school, staff know they will need to prioritise mental health and emotional wellbeing.
Barnardo’s Scotland has suggested four simple principles for helping pupils find safety, belonging and connection back in school.
1. Building strong relationships
By offering opportunities to rebuild friendships and providing a gradual introduction of any other additional support, children and young people won’t feel as overwhelmed by the re-establishment of their routine. Creating space for all to talk about their experience of the coronavirus outbreak will help them understand and express their feelings, deepening their understanding of themselves and others.
2. Reframing and modelling behaviour
Slowing down communication and ensuring all children and young people have a clear understanding of what will happen when they return to school can effectively address any worries or concerns they may have. Education staff know that many have faced significant adversity over the past few months; children's difficulty in settling back into school may be a reflection of those challenges rather than a response to the school environment. We encourage teachers to be kind to themselves and to treat colleagues and young people with particular sympathy and understanding over the coming weeks and months.
3. Creating a safe environment and a positive culture
The examples in the film such as "time out cards", "safe breakout spaces" and "worry monsters" all give children and young people options they can use if they need space to manage difficult emotions. While these approaches can be very effective, it is also important to ensure that there is a place in school where they know they can find a trusted adult to speak with if they need to. Many schools also have connections with other organisations who can help.
4. Supporting staff health and wellbeing
Educating our children and young people takes great personal resilience. Making staff health and wellbeing a top priority is an important way of valuing our education workforce – while also ensuring that the best care and support is available to pupils.
Maureen McAteer is assistant director for attainment at Barnardo’s Scotland