The hardest moment of closing schools to the majority of our pupils was saying goodbye and not knowing when exactly we would see them again. As teachers we had spent just over 5 months with our classes. Not only did we see them make progress in their learning and behaviour, we spent time getting to know them; forming relationships which enabled them to thrive both personally and academically. Our main priority has and will always be the well-being and the connectedness we have with our pupils and their families and this was being compromised by the lockdown. Our mission, ‘personal and academic excellence; everyone, everyday’ intentionally starts with the personal because we know if our pupils don’t have their personal needs met then they have little chance of accessing the academic learning and this couldn’t be more true during the current pandemic.
We wanted to ascertain how the pandemic and lockdown was affecting our children’s well-being so worked with ImpactED; a company whose mission is to improve pupil outcomes and life chances, to find out and evaluate what was happening. The results showed that 93% of our children who took part in the survey were managing their feelings well. This, I think, is a tribute to all the work we do on values at Surrey Square, and the way we actively teach a ‘personal excellence’ curriculum. The 7% that were struggling emotionally were discussed by the pastoral team and with advice on how to best support our children from our Place2be officer (Place2be is a charity we have a long-standing relationship with). Teachers, who have the strongest relationships with those pupils, contacted them to gain an insight as to why they were struggling emotionally. Not only did the survey serve as a tool to help teachers ask the right questions about what was going on for our pupils but kept the dialogue open for how we could continuously review and support them. The survey was repeated 4 weeks later and again the results were similar with 5% of children admitting to struggling emotionally which was mainly due to them missing their friends. Not only are the majority of our children managing their emotions well, the results showed that their emotional state is currently above the national average.
Connecting and continuing to build relationships through phone calls and Zooms
We wanted to increase teacher-pupil-parent communication that went beyond academia. All pupils are invited to attend weekly zoom sessions as a way to connect with their peers and teachers. Activities focus on supporting their well-being, sharing of information and asking questions or expressing concerns that they might have. The week ends by celebrating and showcasing their learning and playing virtual games. Some zoom meetings are laid on for individual families or pupils who don’t feel comfortable or confident being around their peers or because they require more contact with an adult.
Pupils are also contacted by phone as another form of maintaining relationships. One pupil stopped attending zoom sessions just so his teacher would call him on the phone. This spoke volumes to us. In school we see pupils avoiding work or acting out to gain their teacher’s attention. This pupil avoided interacting with his peers just to get 1:1 attention with his teacher. How often do we see children who are missing playtime due to their behaviour use that time to speak and connect with teachers. Why do we wait for these behaviours to materialise before spending extra time with our children?
Parents have also appreciated being given time to talk about how they are doing, what they have been doing and how they have been spending time with their children. They have also shared with us the difficult moments. This time has allowed us to connect with parents on a deeper level beyond the conversations in the playground and the formal meetings around progress and behaviour. Lockdown has allowed teachers to see parents as being more than just parents and parents have seen teachers as being more than just their child’s teacher.
Working remotely has allowed us to increase the amount of contact we have with our children. Relationships have continued to develop and strengthen during a time where we have had to learn to find different ways of communicating.
As we learn to live in the new normal, it is vital that we continue to find ways to build more meaningful relationships with our children. Can the curriculum be re-designed so that it is a universal entitlement for all children to have the opportunity to have 1:1s with their teachers that goes beyond academia?
Working with parents more frequently and in a systematic way that isn’t solely focused on academic progress and negative behaviour could help strengthen relationships all round.
Continuously reviewing our children’s well-being and assessing the impact of both the personal and academic work we do with them should be seen as critical. This should be universal so that we are not just targeting specific groups of children such as those in challenging circumstances.
Several key lessons have come from lockdown but none more valuable than the importance and need for relationships. We have seen the impact lockdown and distancing has had on us as social beings and how we have sought ways to connect with each other.