It’s a word that at this time of the year can send shudders through a weary teacher’s bones. During the summer holidays, I always feel a mixture of emotions: exhausted (from all the usual Summer 2 term activities), relieved (we got through it all), excited (usually I’m ready to board a plane and get away for a bit) and reflective (what went well this year? What will I do differently next year?). Obviously, this year has been more intense with the relentless work during COVID-19 but also for me, the retirement of my current headteacher. The usual excitement for the new academic year is there as I look ahead to my new class, the new personalities coming my way and the new things we’ll all be learning but I feel this September that the sleepless nights which occur days before that inset day won’t just be focused on messing up in the classroom – it’ll be around COVID-19 and ensuring our school is as safe as possible for everyone (not to mention a new boss starting too!).
So how would I suggest that you prepare for September?
I think the most important piece of advice is to rest. After an extremely difficult 4 months for everyone, self-care is crucial for these 6 weeks. Whether you are going aboard, staying somewhere in this country or choosing to be at home, do what you need to unwind.
“Sometimes self-care is exercise and eating right. Sometimes it’s spending time with loved ones or taking a nap. And sometimes it’s watching an entire season of television in one weekend while you lounge around in your pyjamas. Whatever soothes your soul.” Nanea Hoffman
I sent this quote out to our team on the final day of term and it made me reflect on what I need to focus on over the holiday to help myself feel rested.
2. Talk and clear those nerves
For a lot of us, there will be worries about September depending on what is going on with COVID-19 by that point. All children back in… social distancing… managing everyone on the school site… staggered start and end times… the playground… the list is endless. What I would urge you to do is speak to a senior leader at school and let them know your concerns. At my school, the executive leaders ensured they were visible and keen to address any worries and I believe having these discussions helped us to have a very successful final half term with the children who returned. Staff knew they could come to one of us (whether that was in person, phone or WhatsApp) and we would listen. What’s important to remember is that your voice is valued. Everyone will be viewing their reopening plans/document with fresh perspectives based on their role in school so do contribute and say. Even something small which could be overlooked by SLT (who are looking at the bigger picture) is important to the school’s success at this time; an example we had during our initial plans in May overlooked the younger years coming to school with school laces. You will not be the only one feeling what you’re feeling but hopefully you will get the reassurances that you need.
When I’m at home during the summer holidays, my aim is usually to get ahead and be prepared for the first half term. This year however I won’t be quite as prepared as normal but I’m fine with that. Similarly, it is okay for you to not be as prepared but hopefully your school has or will explain their expectations for September. For myself, other than a transition day, my new class haven’t been in since mid-March (unless they were in the key worker pod) so I need to be flexible based on their personal circumstances during COVID-19, anxieties coming back into school and the level of learning they’ve accessed. Our curriculum is also adapting as we link Oak National Academy (where appropriate) to support us in the event of a localised lockdown and that’s something I’ve been exploring recently for our curriculum maps.
Instead, what we’ve asked staff to look at is a focused first week back themed around the fantastic text ‘After the Fall’ by Dan Santat. If you haven’t read it, I would definitely recommend it as it is an excellent exploration of resilience. Our first 3 days with the children will use this stimulus to welcome them back safely into the classroom and ensure they are emotionally ready to learn.
Hopefully you can have a restful summer and feel excited for the new school year ahead. Like we did in June, we will provide a safe, welcoming atmosphere for our children to return and grow. We won’t have all the answers I’m sure but we’ll figure them out together.