Lee Mullen is a year 6 teacher at Penistone St John's Voluntary Aided Primary School in South Yorkshire. He describes what it’s been like being back with his class since his school opened more widely on 1st June.
That Sunday night feeling… it had been a while. I’d spent the days before planning for the week ahead and adapting my practise to tackle head on what would be the ‘new normal’ at least for the next few months. Desks were positioned 2 metres apart, individual equipment packs were ready and the school one-way system was in place. It was time to get back to where I and all those smiling Y6s belonged: the classroom.
I’d been in constant contact with my class through an app called ‘Edmodo’ – it was perfect to allow for a combination of setting work remotely and maintaining a social relationship with the children. I set the usual maths and English learning you would expect but also came up with a creative and fun daily challenge with the aim of continuous engagement. We had an art week, a DT week and most fun of all, a competition week. I got local artists, professional photographers and famous poets, including Barnsley’s own Ian Mcmillan, involved to judge the competitions and give them that extra edge. Keeping those Y6s in love with learning was my utmost priority as I knew pastures new beckoned for them in the not-so-distant future.
Right from day one, I was a huge advocate of Y6s returning to school before the academic year was out. There were many reasons for this – one being that they all missed each other, and I missed them. But, most importantly, they are about to embark on probably the biggest change in their school lives: going back to being the smallest fishes in an absolutely giant pond. For me, it was vital that they returned to some sort of normality so that I, alongside their parents, could coach them through this.
Seeing each child arrive one-by-one and smile at me meant that all the worries of the weekend quickly went away, and we could get back into routine. No hugs, no high-fives and not even a pat on the back, but it didn’t matter. Each child was stood in line, 2m away from everyone else and waving at their friends from afar. I’d purposely left the whole morning free on Monday as an open forum to discuss new protocol, as well as their individual experiences of lockdown. I’d set myself the goal of keeping all conversations as upbeat as possible, reminded the children that we were all ‘mood makers’ and reiterated what they knew was my favourite phrase: positivity is key!
Before I knew it, morning one had passed. It was great to hear the children talking so freely about their different experiences and one even expressed that they felt like they were ‘living through a page of a future history book’ – a future philosopher if I ever heard one. We spent the afternoon putting our conversations on paper for the first time in the form of a piece of artwork linked to our feelings and emotions.
From then on in, days have flown by and we got back into structure and an environment of learning. Our English consisted of a lost in space transmission, science focused on evolution and an impromptu news conversation led to us downing tools on Friday afternoon and creating a giant piece of artwork linked to the great Nelson Mandela.
Week one proved one thing to me: we constantly underestimate the ability of children. They took to the new normal like a ducks to water - now we’re back into a routine and, in many ways, it feels like we’ve never been away.