Back to School – Post Lockdown

As children start going back to physical school from lockdowns, they may be anxious, overwhelmed or elated to be back and with their friends. I was recently chatting with a teacher, who had not considered some of the reactions from students which has prompted me to write this quick piece and share my personal experience.

In March/April 2020 I was caught up in New Zealand’s first major lockdown. Having returned from overseas, I was to self-isolate for 14 days at home.  As it was the very start of the pandemic, there were many concerns, unknowns and misinformation and my husband and daughter were told they could not go to work or school if I was in our home. To protect my family, I was fortunate enough to be able to go to my parents’ holiday home in Nelson, which is on the South Island of NZ. (I live in Wellington on the North Island). It was only for 14 days – so we thought. While I was there NZ locked down and I was not able to travel home for 6 weeks. It is worth noting that I am not complaining about being where I was as I had the most amazing weather and view – rather I am relating this story as an illustration of some of the things that might happen when people come out of isolation and lockdown.

In those six weeks, I did not talk to another person face to face, except the delivery person with my groceries for a fleeting few minutes each week. Of course, I had Zoom, the internet and my phone so I was well connected online and had an amazingly productive time as well as shown love by so many people checking in online each day.

The challenge really hit when I travelled home. It was a huge relief to see my family again and I underestimated the impact the time really had. Below are three of the challenges (there were more!) I had, reintegrating with my family and it may well be the same for students in your class who are coming back to school for the first, second or third time… I thought I was going back to ‘normal’ life, however, I was different and this took me, and my family by surprise.

Routines. One of the ways I coped was to have a strong morning routine that got me out of bed each day and set me up for success. I had no one to interrupt the process, to ask permission of or to be mindful of each day as I completed my routines. Suddenly I had to share my space with others, shift the shoes left on the floor where I rolled out my yoga mat, ask if it was OK to have my music on. While this may sound selfish, the routine I had formed was what helped me maintain my positivity and tiny shifts in this felt really derailing.

**Consider the children who have and have not had a routine over the lockdown period. Those that have a solid and safe family routine that is now going to be broken. Those that didn’t have a routine and are suddenly being forced back into one. Those who have become used to the lockdown life may find it challenging and difficult to re-engage.

Noise: Being alone for a significant time, I didn’t realise the impact of having people around me all the time. They were noisy, loud, talked over each other – it was overwhelming. I found myself hiding in my room, or out in my garden looking for quiet – looking for the solace I had had in Nelson. I’d actually and unintentionally developed my introverted side. I was happy with my own company, loved being in a quiet environment and enjoyed being alone with my thoughts. This was the total opposite of my years of extroverted days, of being energised by people and something I am still working on!

**Consider the children who have and have not engaged with their peers over lockdown. Suddenly being with so many other children, the noise, the busy-ness, re-establishing the pecking order may be a huge obstacles for students as they come back to school.

Clutter & Choice: In my six weeks, I lived essentially as a minimalist. I had the clothes from my suitcase and a couple of extras that had been couriered down to me. I wore the same clothes most days and only had the food I ordered each week to eat. Back at home, I was suddenly thrown into abundance – a wardrobe full of clothes, the pantry and fridge stocked up and a mess that I was not responsible for. It was mind-blowing. Making a simple choice about what I was going to wear felt like a mammoth task. Choosing what to eat for meals was bewildering. clearing other people’s clutter and messiness was hard.

**Consider the children who have only had a few toys or games to play with, or the one’s who have had free reign of being able to do anything they want in their home. What about the kids who have had a tiny well-organised environment for so long, coming into a play environment with clutter?

Of course, many children are highly adaptable, have high resilience and bounce factor, and maybe relishing the opportunity to be back at school with their peers. It is worth considering that students thinking they are going back to ‘normal’ might be as surprised as I was that it wasn’t normal and for many weeks, didn’t ‘feel’ right being back in my familiar environment.

Here are some questions to reflect upon as you welcome your students back to school…

  • In what ways might you help your students reintegrate back into classroom life?
  • What might be some of the considerations and flexibilities you could offer students?
  • How might you talk to students about their feelings of anxiety or overwhelm if they come up?
  • How can you reassure families who are also finding the change confusing?

If you have already had students back at school, what worked and didn’t work? What would you do differently? What surprised you about some of your students? Please share your experience below…


PS: It is also worth thinking about how these changes, of going back to school, might affect you…


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Published on Friday, October 22nd, 2021, under Health & Wellbeing, Personal, Teacher Effectiveness

Karen Tui Boyes is a champion for Life Long Learning across nations, industries and organisations. Winner of the NZ Educator of the Year 2017 and 2014 and the NZ Speaker of the Year award in 2013 & 2019, Karen is a sought after speaker who continually gets rave reviews from audiences around the world. Her dynamic style and highly informative content—which turns the latest educational research into easy-to-implement strategies and techniques — sets her apart from others in her field.

2 Responses to “Back to School – Post Lockdown”

  1. A well written article to help parents see some situations from the child’s perspective.
    There are many parents who have some unrealistic expectations of their children and this can cause more anxiety

  2. Wow this is profound. So many considerations we need to make as parents (and educators) and I firmly believe we can and should pave the way for our children, being flexible yet loving, and building back routine and structure as best we can. Thank you Karen for this wonderful article!

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