For teachers, working from home brings about a new, unusual set of challenges.
Where do you even start?
Some parents will be clamouring for you to provide detailed study content for their children; lesson plans with clearly defined outcomes and opportunities for assessment…
But whilst it’s really important we focus on children’s learning and are providing families with resources and tips to support some continuity academically, it is also crucial to not overlook the elephant in the room.
Things are different. Things are unknown. Anxiety is high.
It is great for many young people to have a semi-structured timetable to provide some semblance of normality and purpose. This is to be encouraged and the novelty will provide some renewed enthusiasm for learning no doubt.
However – for some young people this unchartered territory will be more worrying than exciting.
We must not overlook these young people in our desire to be seen to be “doing something” educational.
Think about your conversations over the past week or so, with family or friends as well as with work colleagues.
Our national obsession over discussing the weather, sport and what you binge-watched last night on TV has been overtaken by conversations around health, food shortages and vulnerability.
Very real worries which impact our actions and thoughts.
You might find yourself checking your newsfeed more often than previously or find your thoughts distracted when you were supposed to be focussing on work matters.
This is totally typical – our priorities shift in times of heightened emotional reactions.
We all get anxious.
Why then do we presume all children will be able to focus on academic concerns when the rest of their world is shrinking rapidly?
Children will be outside less, mixing with friends less, using their energies less. They might be spending longer online or on games consoles. They might be going to bed later and getting up later.
Another issue is how we are providing feedback – some children get stuck if they don’t know that what they have done is “right or wrong” – they freeze from moving forwards or they lose motivation.
So piling on the work to be completed in the form of workbooks might pile on the pressure for an anxious child.
Again, balance is key – provide some, but not endless tasks.
How realistic are our expectations of when work is to be completed by?
Tight deadlines can increase anxiety at a time when we want to reduce it.
So what can we do to avoid adding to existing anxieties? Here are a few thoughts:
1. Plan for shorter, flexible days
A popular response to the current situation is to try to create a very detailed “timetable” of activities and “lessons” for children – with an aim to replicate a typical routine.
This is understandable, but in these unusual times does it create an extra layer of pressure for young people who are not used to working alone, without face-to-face support?
What if their anxieties over what’s happening in the world are preventing them from concentrating on the timetable provided?
If we put it in context – children who are home educated or taught in small groups in alterative provision do not usually have a typical 9-3 timetable.
Working alone or on a one-to-one is mentally intense, there is less time to have a “mini-break” as there is in a classroom when a teacher typically shares his or her attention amongst 30 pupils.
So let’s recognise that whatever we provide needs to be shorter in time than a school day and varied in style.
2. Plan for a lack of equipment
Children who are keen to work and would happily complete hours of school activities might not have the equipment to do so.
A family of five with two parents working from home might not have five laptops – so not everyone with “internet access” will actually be able to access work.
Consider ways you can support families with offline work and alternative ways of learning.
3. Communicate with parents
Communicate with parents (and children in an appropriate way) about what work you do expect (most) children to complete.
Be realistic in deadlines and be clear about what will happen if work isn’t completed (not a huge list of sanctions!)
Tell parents not to worry about their child “regressing” – once everyone is back in school teachers will plug any gaps – it’s what they do best!
4. Prioritise emotional wellbeing
Signpost parents to where they can get support for their own and their children’s mental health and emotional wellbeing – www.youngminds.org.uk is one place you could start; they have a section on the Coronavirus.
Stress that mental health is more important than academic skills.
And look after yourself too! Working from home can be a real shock to the system, so make sure you’re staying mindful yourself.
5. Suggest alternative activities
Give out suggestions of other activities families can take part in to support each other, for example, crafts, games, social activities.
This is as important as giving a list of educational websites!
If you would like some inspiration, please visit our Parent Resources page where we’ve collated a list of educational and non-educational suggestions for keeping children busy during this time.
6. Encourage positive relationships
Explain to children and families that when people are stuck together in close contact for long periods of time, people can get grumpy and sometimes even angry.
That’s not unusual – so encourage breaks, let children play on their games console more than usual, encourage them to read a book; bake cakes, watch movies together – anything to encourage positive relationships and make children realise they are not alone.
Give out the Childline number to children – 08001111 – and teach them when they might want to use it to chat.
7. Support your vulnerable children and families
Keep in regular contact with vulnerable children and families (at least) by phone (using a work phone or at the least blocking your number first) – liaise with your DSLs.
Safeguarding is crucial – if you think how stressed your family will be in enforced limited social contact, imagine how much worse it is for families where there is a heightened risk of abuse or neglect.
This isn’t just those children with a child protection plan – it’s all children who you have identified on your vulnerable children’s list.
Whilst it’s a good idea to keep children’s minds ticking over while we commit to social-distancing, it is not the be-all and end-all and we need to remember to encourage parents to focus on social activities and mental health and wellbeing as well as education.
Services For Education are here for you. In the coming weeks, we will be publishing blogs, resources and advice for parents, teachers and children confined to their homes. So watch this space.
If you would like some advice, please feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
If you would like to see government guidance on Educating your Child at Home, visit this link.
Wishing you all the best during these troubling times – stay safe.
About the Author: Jo Perrin
Jo Perrin taught PSHE in schools for over a decade and held the role of Designated Safeguarding Lead and pastoral lead. She currently works as an Education Adviser for Services For Education which allows her to combine her experience in schools with a personal knowledge of child protection and childhood trauma as a foster carer.
In addition, Jo worked as a West Midlands’ Adviser for a national PSHE resource, has delivered a presentation to the Sex Education Forum National Members’ Event and has created a variety of RSE resources as part of her role for Services For Education.
Jo’s advisory experience is not limited to training school staff as she works with non-education based organisations to support them in safeguarding and emotional health and well-being aims and is an affiliated trainer for Mental Health At Work.