How do you unite a school community that’s spread across home and school learning environments, while also trying to navigate the many other challenges of phased school re-openings? This is yet another riddle that school staff have been faced with this week, but one that they’ve been solving with the same steely determination that’s gotten them through the pandemic so far.
With that in mind, here are some top tips and examples of how you can bring together a divided school community, at a time where togetherness has never been more needed:
Keep every parent up-to-date, wherever their children are
Your school community will likely be a bit split right now - parents included, with some keeping their children at home and others sending theirs back into school.
It’s understandable that you will want to focus your communications towards parents whose children are in school, reassuring them that their child is safe, and rightly so. But the other parents will still want to know about these safety measures, not least to reassure them that their child will be safe when they return.
One way to tackle this is to send weekly newsletters to all parents, and include pictures of the latest safety measures you have in place - from social distancing markers in hallways, to special equipment like protective screens. Some parents may need more than this, especially if their child isn’t back at school yet - so you could try giving video tours of your newly reopened school and share these on your school’s website to combat any fear of the unknown.
Mayflower Community Academy went one step further and held a 'coffee in the car park' event to give parents an opportunity to return to the school site, re-familiarise themselves with the environment and flag any concerns or questions. Doing this will also make up for that lost interaction between parents and teachers at the school gates thereby helping to not only reassure parents but also reintegrate them into the school community.
Make sure remote classmates are being included - both in learning and socially
Similarly, it can be tricky to reestablish that sense of togetherness in the classroom right now, but there are extra steps you can take to make remote pupils feel fully included.
When setting in-class activities, keep remote pupils looped in using free video conferencing and online learning platforms such as G Suite for Education or Office 365 Education. These platforms have features that will allow pupils to collaborate on work tasks, such as shared hubs where you can assign work, and shared documents so pupils can collaborate.
There’s also no reason why you can’t take advantage of these platforms to create fun activities for everybody too, for instance setting up quizzes and games in Microsoft Teams and using the ‘forms’ function to keep scores.
You could also set up video calls or messaging chats between on-site and remote pupils during break times so they can catch up. This may feel a bit risky, but both G Suite and Office 365 let you set up calls so pupils can only join if the teacher has invited them, and you can also adjust privacy settings to log messages and record all calls.
Bring different year groups together with whole-school activities
Lastly, it’s really important to keep a sense of unity between year groups who likely haven’t seen each other for a long time. Video calls are a great way to host activities that bring different year groups together, such as assemblies and church services, happy birthday messages for pupils and staff, as well as fun fitness activities. For instance, some schools are running "keepy-uppy" football, dance routines to learn together, or hula-hoop challenges via video conferencing platforms like Zoom or Google Hangouts.
And for your Year 6 Leavers who won’t be getting the usual send-off from other year groups, you could use shared cloud drives for pupils to drop their goodbye messages and videos into. One school got really creative and collated videos of children singing a line from a song, before stringing them all together and sharing with the whole school. This could be a particularly touching way of saying goodbye and would no doubt make them feel special.
While it’s no match for face-to-face interaction, technology can certainly help bring pupils and parents together at this potentially divisive time - so hopefully, you can take inspiration from one or more of the above tips as you move forward with phased re-openings.
I’ll be back soon with more insights from within the sector in the coming weeks. In the meantime, if you are working within a school right now, the team at ScholarPack wishes you the very best of luck as you reintegrate your school community.
To get these insights directly to your inbox once a week- head to the top right hand corner and subscribe to our newsletter.