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A Different Back-to-School

Tomorrow we go back to school after a week-long March Break. Tomorrow will be the first time that we’ll be heading back to school after March Break in two years. Along with this return, there’s also a decrease in many COVID restrictions, including masking, cohorting, distancing, and classroom design.

For some people, these changes are exciting. They can’t wait to return to “normal.” As educators, we can reduce our need to be the COVID police, and spend more time focused on students, relationships, and learning.

For other people, these changes are terrifying. We’ve been told for two years that masking and distancing keep us safe, and now we’re told that we can eliminate both. We might be “over COVID,” but is COVID actually over? While many people in Ontario are vaccinated, there are still many that aren’t, including some of our youngest learners. In fact, in our class, about half of our children are still too young to be vaccinated. Maybe the risk to them is limited, or maybe it’s not.

What Might Happen?

For two years, there have been almost no colds, flu bugs, or respiratory illnesses in schools … forget COVID. Maybe the masking, distancing, and increased hand-washing helped with this. What will happen though as masks come off? Will the colds and flus of the past return, and how will students, caregivers, and educators feel as sneezing, coughing, sore throats, and stomach bugs make their way into learning spaces again?

It’s the unknowns that are hard for some people right now, for with these unknowns come many questions, uncertainty, and stress. Yes, tomorrow will be the start of normal Ontario and normal schooling again, but are we all ready to go back to normal? I keep returning to this wonderful blog post that Beth Lyons shared before March Break. I think it’s a good reminder for us that as we start school again, we’re going to need to be stress detectives.

  • What behaviours are we seeing in our students?
  • What are we noticing when interacting with caregivers and staff?
  • How can we meet everyone’s diverse needs, knowing that some might be ready to “go back to normal” while others are finding calm in our “new normal?”

Prepping For Change

Just because things can change does not mean that they need to change immediately. Nor do things necessarily need to go back to what they were before. Maybe as we watch and listen to kids, interact with colleagues, and communicate with families, we’ll find some creative options that work for all. My teaching partner, Paula, and I are not averse to making classroom or schedule changes. At the same time, we want to go slow and see what changes kids help make when we empower them.

The Instagram post above is what some of this co-creating looked like prior to March Break.

Co-created classrooms have been discussed for years. Will choosing this option reduce stress as we move into another phase of the pandemic? Hopefully, we’re moving into a final phase, at that. As we return to the classroom tomorrow, I know that I’ll be watching and listening to kids more than ever before. I’ll be doing the same with adults as well. I wonder what they’ll share in their words and actions, and what this will mean for classroom design and routines. What about you?