The following article comes from class teacher Toria Bono, who shares how she creates a safe space for her pupils.

How has your week been?

Are you still using terms such as the ‘new normal’ in your school or are you finally saying normal? Having got used to one sort of ‘Bubbling’ at the end of the Summer term (when I had a Year 6 bubble), I have now become accustomed to another type of ‘Bubbling’ – the one that I have with my Year 4 class.

On Friday, assuming the children were now used to it too, I revisited the previous conversations I had had with them about routines, desks and one-way systems to ensure that the children truly understood why we were still being so ‘rigid’ about certain things. They did. However, the conversation morphed into something so much more important than why we face forward – it became a safe space for the children to talk about how they felt and their fears.

The greatest fear they had was that we would go back into lock-down. None of the children in my class wanted this to happen because they love school. Now, I would like to think that it is because of my engaging and scintillating lessons that my children run in every day. However, I think it is more the fact that we are social beings and lock-down has affirmed for my children that we need each other.

They love being with their friends and chatting, they love playing games with others and they love being taught by a real person with people around them. When I asked how they had felt during lock-down many said ‘sad’ and ‘lonely’ because they were away from school. Coming to school for these children is their normal and without it many were lost.

The reason I wanted all children to be back in school so much wasn’t because I was worried about them missing learning, it was because I was concerned about their mental-wellbeing. I truly hope that is the reason why the government is so concerned about schools remaining open, because they realise that without it, the mental-health of our young people will be significantly impacted.

Mental-health. A few years ago, mental-health was rarely discussed but now that and well-being are buzz-words that everyone is using. However, mental-health isn’t a buzz-word it is a real thing. Our children’s mental-health needs to be looked after and supported because it is fragile. From that same discussion, I discovered that some children always feel unwell because they are so scared of contracting Covid-19, others talked about being worried that their relatives would die of it. Children have eyes and ears, they see and hear and they pick up on the conversations happening all around them. They don’t always hear full conversations though and due to this, they try to make sense of the part that they heard – this can sometimes be frightening for them.

We are in the midst of an international pandemic, our children need to wash their hands countless times a day, have surfaces cleaned after they have touched them and often walk one-way around the school. They can’t play with everyone across the school the way they used to and they are still adjusting to the ‘new normal’. So, my question to you is this? Are you still talking about it.

In my school, the adults are talking about things as ‘normal’ now because we are the ones implementing many of the new routines. That doesn’t mean that the children have necessarily adjusted to school-life in the midst of Covid-19 so please just check-in with them this week and ask them how they are feeling. I found that re-visiting previous conversations enabled me to truly understand how my children were feeling and ensured that I could respond to their worries and fears. I can’t begin to know how the children in my class feel unless I ask them and as you all know only too well, if a child feels anxious, stressed or worried it is unlikely they will be able to readily engage with any learning.

Mental health matters. Wellbeing matters.  Have a great week and happy bubbling!

Primary teacher Toria Bono

Toria has had many roles in the primary sector – from class teacher to school leader, but is happiest when she is teaching children. She currently teaches at Thomas A Becket Junior School and wants all children to have the best possible learning opportunities.

She is committed to using research to inform her decisions about how best to teach and is keen to support other educators to do so too.

Through her blog Teaching Others & Learning All The Time, she shares her experiences, opinions and lessons learned in the classroom. She also empowers other eduleaders on Twitter via the #TinyVoiceTuesday and #TinyVoiceTuesdayUnites hashtags.

Follow Toria on Twitter – @ToriaClaire

Visit Toria’s website here.