Negotiating the new normal of a safe return to school

12 MAY 2020

Negotiating the new normal of a safe return to school

Three academics from the Charles Sturt University School of Teacher Education share some advice for teachers and parents to support students in their transition back to face-to-face learning at school amid COVID-19.

By Associate Professor Deb Clarke, Dr Richard Liu, and Brian Moore from the Charles Sturt University School of Teacher Education in Bathurst.

Children, parents and teachers will continue to have many questions since NSW schools moved to a staggered return of students on Monday 11 May to one day per week.

Information about COVID-19 on television, radio and social media has bombarded everyone. It’s certainly caused all sorts of worries for children, parents and teachers. So, to facilitate a smooth return to school, it is important to be truthful and provide as much certainty as we can. A rule of thumb: don’t over promise.

Whether you’re a parent or a teacher, you can help children understand and cope with their experience of COVID-19 and the return to school.

It’s important to make time for brief chats. A good place to start is to find out what your children already know, including any misunderstandings.

This might be confronting when you’re not sure of the answers and are worried too. Be sure to draw information from trusted sources like the Australian Government’s Coronavirus app and WhatsApp, rather than from social media. Remember, your own response to the COVID-19 situation models coping skills for children.

When talking to children stick to the facts and use a calm and reassuring tone. It’s helpful to share your own feelings and let them know what you’re doing to cope.

For younger children, keep COVID-19 chats brief, simple, and clear. Give them your full attention, acknowledge their feelings and concerns, and always end with positives and good humour. Try not to overload younger children with excessive information. Instead, focus on healthy eating, hydration, physical activity, play, rest or sleep.

The President of the NSW Secondary Principals' Council Mr Craig Petersen has stressed that teachers and families need certainty. A sense of certainty helps us cope in very unpredictable times.

For teachers, certainty means re-establishing structures and routines in their classes with adequate virus protection. However, amid the COVID-19 crisis, these routines may be drastically different. For example, allowing children to directly enter a room rather than milling in lines outside a classroom, re-arranging desks to create sufficient physical distance between children, or creating quiet spaces and times for children to read or regulate their emotions.

At times like this, we all need to remember what teachers are good at – fostering a safe place where quality care, interaction and learning interplay.

When business is not as usual, flexibility is the best way forward.

Teachers and parents should remember that learning will take place. But in the early weeks of returning to school, teachers shouldn’t feel pressured to follow the prescribed curriculum pathways, nor is there the need to play catchups on formal academic instruction.

In many cases, parents might be feeling guilty about their efforts to supervise their children’s learning from home, but we all need to acknowledge that everyone is doing their best in these unprecedented times. 

Amid this new normal, learning should give more weight to authentic tasks related to COVID-19. Children could create time capsules for future generations, examine global and national health data, analyse language styles used by politicians and journalists and showcase physical or creative activities undertaken while learning from home.

Building trust with the school community is paramount. It’s important that multiple channels of communication are available to connect and update teachers, parents and children on essential information. Schools also need to explain measures concerning drop offs, class rotations, physical distancing, hand sanitising and visitors.

Lastly, schools should encourage concerned parents and children to discuss their family situations with teachers to form customised return plans. Your return to school plan should be informative, pragmatic, flexible and attend to all involved in a school community.

Media Note:

To arrange interviews, contact Rebecca Tomkins at Charles Sturt Media on 0456 377 434 or

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