Transitioning Back to School

Learning from the Past: Managing the latest transition back to school following Learn@Home

As we experienced last year, the transition back to school following another round of Learn@Home brings its own set of concerns for parents and girls as they get ready to return to face-to-face learning.

One of the most important things to bear in mind about the current return to school is the knowledge that we have successfully done this before. While the transition phase is often tricky, if we take things day by day we have the experience of successfully navigating this “in between” stage.

As we learned from last year, there are a number of things that can assist this transition back to school. Here are some of the most useful tips that helped last year.

Routine, again

Just as maintaining routine throughout the Learn@Home journey was important, establishing a back-to-school routine is one of the most important parts of easing students into life back at school. For many people, sleep patterns have changed during the period of isolation, and getting into the pattern required for school is particularly important. Students will be significantly more physically tired once they are again learning at school, so going to bed at an appropriate time and waking at the time required to get to school, will assist with a smooth return. If students have been wearing Sports Uniform every day, it might be time now to put on a full School Uniform and see how that feels. If students have been retreating into their bedrooms for most of the day, regular mealtimes with other family members, being involved in other routine activities such as exercise, grocery shopping or other household tasks can be a way of transitioning out of isolation and back into a more normal school routine.

Focus on the why

Parents can support their girls in returning to school by focussing on the positives associated with being on site at St Catherine’s and the reasons why going back is important. For some students this will be easy – they have been longing to return to friends and to the teaching in the classroom. For others, they may need support to think through the benefits of returning to school. For some girls this may be seeing friends who have missed them, for some, making contact with supportive teachers, and for others, returning to activities that they have previously enjoyed. Parents can be realistic about the fact there may be some hiccups along the way and can reassure their girls that they will be there to support them in navigating those, but maintaining a positive attitude with children is vital.

School as a safe place

An important part of supporting a student’s return to school is to promote a sense of safety and security in that environment. Ensure they are aware of the steps they need to take to keep themselves and others safe. There are a number of new processes that are different from the return to school last year, so go through the Return to School Information Booklet to be aware of the most recent steps that the School is taking, and reinforce the things your family is doing to stay healthy as restrictions ease.

Create new goals for the rest of the year

We know from our experience last year that the period of isolation is sometimes a time of “survival” rather than goal setting. Many people have found themselves feeling unmotivated. Setting some goals for the rest of the year is a good way to get back on track. Goals may be social, based on renewing friendships and reaching out to people that have drifted apart during lockdown. Academic, with new goals for learning and for what students want to achieve, or personal, getting back into activities that have not been possible during the lockdown. Preparing for these goals, perhaps reaching out to friends that have been missed, reorganising the study area, or reaching out to teachers can be a good way to set up for achieving those goals.

Moving out of the “comfort zone” when anxiety is high

For students who are finding it more difficult to manage their worries about returning to school, two strategies are especially important for families – encouraging realistic thinking to replace anxious thoughts and reducing avoidant behaviours.

Anxious students often over-estimate the risk of a feared event occurring. Challenging this overestimation by offering fact-based information about situations, looking at the realistic likelihood of feared events occurring, and developing a plan of how to tackle difficult situations can support the student in feeling like they have more control. Parents can discuss what students might say in different circumstances, who can support them at school, and how they might access that support if needed.

Supporting students to come up with ways to move themselves out of their comfort zone prior to returning to school can assist with managing avoidant behaviours. It is important that these things be practised repeatedly. Working each day to do more to challenge avoidant behaviours will mean that the student feels more confident and able to manage at school.

If a student is really stuck, then meeting with their Head of Year, or other Wellbeing staff, can help to devise a way to step out of the ‘bubble’ that Learn@Home has created for some students and back into the classroom.

Ms Amelia King, School Psychologist