Creating a smooth transition back to face-to-face learning

5 mins read
Eliescha Bazley

After weeks of learning virtually, it’s time to go back to our physical classrooms. And while this will be easy for some teachers and students, for others, the transition will be challenging. 

Fortunately, we’ve learnt a lot throughout this pandemic that we can apply to reduce stress and manage the emotional waves that yourself and your students might experience when physical classes resume. 

  1. Support student’s emotional wellbeing
  2. Incorporate hygiene practices into learning
  3. Balance social opportunities with focused learning
  4. Continue blended learning and differentiated teaching approaches
  5. Look after yourself

1. Support student’s emotional wellbeing

Returning to face-to-face learning brings with it a host of mixed emotions – from excitement and apprehension, to concern and even sadness. While it’s a relief to get back to school for some, it’s a source of stress for others.

Mental Health UK point out that everyone’s experience of the pandemic has been slightly different, and some children may feel anxious about being around people, becoming sick with COVID-19 themselves, keeping up with learning at school and being away from their family.

The most important thing you can do to support your student’s emotional wellbeing is to acknowledge that the time spent at home and the return to school will feel different for each student. Anticipating how students will feel could do more harm than good. Instead, ask students how they feel with the genuine intent of learning and then respond accordingly.

Once you understand how students feel, here are a few practical ways you can support them:

  • Provide emotional support at drop-offs for primary school students who experience separation anxiety.
  • Give students the opportunity to talk. Have open discussions in class where they can share their feelings and experiences. Let them know that their feelings are normal and it’s okay to talk about them.
  • Discuss with students what they can do to feel calm during times of uncertainty. Anxiety Canada suggests these might include writing down their concerns and placing them in a worry jar or doing mediation or mindfulness practices.
  • Offer students the opportunity to speak with you individually if they aren’t comfortable sharing their feelings in a group.
  • Be upfront about any changes at school such as additional hygiene practices or how sport or extra-curricular activities may work. 
  • Plan breaks and quiet time to counter the fatigue some students might experience as they expend extra emotional energy on socialising and structured learning. 
  • Offer a phased approach to returning to school for students with special needs as they may find the transition more difficult.
  • Keep them focused on a positive future by talking about exciting events coming up such as sports days or fun projects.

TIP: ClickView offers videos about mental health for all ages which make great discussion starters, in addition to guided meditations and mindfulness exercises.

Unfortunately, for some students, their time at home may have been traumatic. As always, be on the lookout for signs that students may have experienced online bullying, neglect or abuse at home and refer them through the appropriate reporting and support channels for your state.

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2. Incorporate hygiene practices into learning

Covering hygiene practices as early on the first day will get students into a routine and help them feel safe at school.

Be open and honest with students about the virus but reassure them that with good hygiene practices like handwashing, sanitizer, masks and social distancing, they can stay healthy. 

TIP: You can make hygiene part of your lesson plans with one of these ten teaching activities and by showing ClickView’s videos about hand washing, social distancing and masks.

Social distancing will be a challenge with a dozen or more students in the class and this will look differently for everyone. Continuing to use technology such as your virtual classroom to facilitate quizzes, group work or ‘writing on the board’, and delivering content via ClickView videos either to student’s own devices or to the whiteboard can all help maintain distancing requirements.

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3. Balance social opportunities with focused learning

Returning to familiar routines as soon as possible is important and will offer a sense of comfort to students, however overwhelming them with curriculum or testing during the first week may worsen their anxiety and stress. 

You may feel some pressure to ‘catch up’ on curriculum, but it’s important to remember that learning outcomes will only be achieved when your students feel comfortable and calm. 

Plan sessions for the first few weeks that allow students to re-establish their relationships with each other and with you as their teacher. Mental Health UK suggest that art can be a great way to do this – students could contribute to a whole-of-class artwork such as a sculpture or mural, create a playlist of music together that makes them feel good, or learn to sing a choral version of a popular song they already know or love.

When it comes time to learn, asking students what they need help with and if there are topics they’d like to cover again can be a good way to ease back into focused learning. This avoids exacerbating any stress felt by struggling students who may not have fared well while learning at home.

TIP: Create clips of the ClickView videos that you used during home learning to refresh their minds in class.

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4. Continue blended learning and differentiated teaching approaches

The pandemic has been a fantastic study in how students respond to different modes of learning – while some students have struggled without in-class instruction, others have thrived with the autonomy of learning on their own without the distractions of friends. These differences mean that not all students will be thrilled to be back in the classroom.

Continuing to deliver learning flexibly will give students the best chance of success as they transition back to the classroom. Start by asking students what they like and dislike about learning both at home and in the classroom. You can then create a blended approach that builds on the successes you’ve had during lockdown using the technology embedded in your school (ClickView, virtual classrooms, Teams etc.) together with traditional in-class teaching methods. Essentially – don’t throw out what works.

A hybrid approach also allows you to provide differentiated teaching approaches by offering different entry points for a topic according to skill and ability level. Some fast-finishing students might like to work independently online with video tutorials and quizzes, while other might like to face the board for direct instruction. 

The transition can also be made smoother for students who liked working autonomously by suggesting to parents that, if possible, they keep the home learning space intact for homework. 

TIP: You can still use ClickView’s interactive videos in-class to test student understanding or deliver learning to independent learners on their own devices.

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5. Look after yourself

The transition back to face-to-face learning isn’t just a challenge for students, it can be hard on teachers, too. As the saying goes “You can’t pour from an empty cup”, so it’s important to look after your own wellbeing so you can support your students.

Firstly, accept your own feelings:  it’s normal to feel anxious or stressed right now as this is new for everyone. If you are struggling, find someone you trust in your faculty or on the school staff to talk to – it’s likely they feel the same way.

Secondly, you’re used to being at home too so expect to feel like it’s the start of the new school year. You’ll have the same jitters on the first day as your students will.

Finally, take time to switch off from work, whether that means resting in front of the television or exercising. 

TIP: There are many videos on ClickView about mental health that may help you understand how you are feeling and what you can do to improve your wellbeing.

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Talking openly, listening to concerns, allowing space and time for re-establishing relationships and maintaining a flexible, blended approach to learning will all contribute to positive transition back to the classroom. Make sure you also take note of what works (and what doesn’t) and share it with your colleagues.