Going back to school this fall is quite different than previous years. Unlike last year, you are most likely going to be back in person. Unlike all years before the pandemic, kids are no longer used to being in a classroom, especially a post-pandemic classroom. Just because everyone is back in the classroom, does not mean it will be the same experience as before. Every school will be a little different in its rules and regulations, but nonetheless, the students will need to adapt to something new, again.
For some kids, a new school year brings the excitement of finally seeing friends again. For some, it brings anxiety and nerves that are just heightened by all the changes happening in the classroom. As an educator, you will have more responsibility than normal to help calm these nerves, create an open environment, and help the students ease back into the classroom.
It will be very hard to know how to help your students if you don’t know what’s wrong. Check-in with your students in class, in small groups, and individually to see how they are doing. Having one on one time with them will build a good relationship with open communication where the student will feel comfortable sharing with you. Creating an open environment in the classroom will encourage sharing and normalize the strange feelings the kids might be having about being back in school. Each student’s experience over the past year has been different, make sure they know that is ok. Talk about how you know the past year has been strange, and now going back to “normal” might also feel strange, but remind them it is ok to have those feelings. If you listen to your students, validate their feelings, and give them any support you can, they will feel your love and it will make all the difference in the world.
It is also important that the kids are comfortable with themselves. A good way to get kids to open up and be honest with themselves is to get them started with journaling. Each morning have an open ended question on the board for the kids to write about. It will only be them reading it, so they don’t ever feel self conscious about what they’re writing. Make the length flexible, some days they might fill two whole pages, but other days it might just be two sentences.
Communication is the first key to forming relationships. Being open with your students and showing them they can trust you is a great way to form meaningful connections with them. It would make a big difference to humanize yourself to your students. Show them that you are a real person and you understand what they’re going through.
Meaningful relationships are not just about teacher/student but also student/student. Include group work and collaboration to re-socialize the kids. Try to help them build relationships with each other. If they have not been in a classroom for a year, they have probably not had many extracurricular activities or playdates. Students who have not had a lot of social interaction over the past year might have anxiety when it comes to being back in school and trying to rekindle friendships. Friends are important to a kid’s growth and development. It is important to encourage your students to make friends.
Implement Brain Breaks
Encouraging brain breaks is another fun way to get kids to loosen up in the classroom. A three-minute freeze dance game will reenergize them and remind them that school is fun! Even doing little things like having snack time and playing soft music in the background of independent work times might make the difference in a kid’s day.
Another way to engage kids and get to know them better is to do a motivational quote of the week. Instead of the teacher choosing it, let the students choose it! Every week, assign a student to write an inspirational quote on the board. They can share about why they chose it, its significance, the author, etc. This is a fun way to get kids more involved in the classroom and show them that you care about what they find important. Small things like this will make the year memorable, comfortable, and fun. It will get them back into the school groove and let them be themselves around you and other students.
Make Yourself the Model
As a teacher, you will always be a role model for your students. You have a lot of responsibility and a big role in their development. If you stay calm, are honest with them, and loving towards everyone, they will follow suit. How you handle your fears, stress, and how you act throughout the day will impact how your students assess their own situations and react to them. Be honest with them about your pandemic experience and how you coped with it. This will make them feel more comfortable and validated. You will make them feel less alone and give them a path to follow in their own struggles.
Always remember to take care of yourself as well. It will be easier to help your students if you are doing ok. It is ok if you are having your own anxieties about going back to school. Remember your own personal coping mechanisms. Get plenty of sleep, eat healthily, drink lots of water, exercise regularly, and do things you love. You need to take care of yourself even when taking care of so many others.