How international schools can soothe back-to-school panic

“It is important that schools show a willingness to hear the worries and fears of parents.”

Many teachers might soon be asked to put away their computers and webcams and return to reality at the front of the classroom, writes Katie Harwood of Haut-Lac International Bilingual School in Switzerland. Naturally, this restoration of normality might not be so simple as it seems on the surface, and students and staff alike will likely feel a little daunted by it. Many might even have to return from their home countries, having sought comfort from familiarity during the pandemic. However, there are a few simple things schools can do to make their teachers and students feel more comfortable about the situation.

Make the classroom a social-distancing friendly space

At Haut-Lac International Bilingual School in Switzerland, as in many other schools, measures are being put into place to ensure students and staff are safe. Tables are spaced further apart, classes of larger size have been cut into two and students sit at opposing ends of their desks.

Teachers and students may wear masks if it makes them feel more comfortable and are gently reminded to maintain good distance between themselves and others. The number of adults allowed into the building has also been reduced.

Other measures must be taken in the dining room, where microwaves are no longer in use and staff eat separately from students. Although the school worried initially that these measures might feel formal and scary to students, they have now become second nature and work well to maintain harmony and safety in equal measure.

Listen and reassure

It is possible that some students’ parents might not want them to return to school. However, most national directives are beginning to call for students’ return, meaning that teachers could be faced with some very anxious pupils and parents.

It is important that schools show a willingness to hear the worries and fears of these parents, considering a large number of families could be experiencing some level of anxiety. It would be unwise to alienate a large part of the school community by attempting a blasé demeanor that fails to convince.

Explaining and showing evidence of the safety measures in place and reassuring parents that other families are happy to send their children back will bring relief to many. After all, seeing tangible measures being taken and knowing that their children are happy are the most important things to most parents at this point.

Be present on social media

Faced with this deadly disease, many parents have developed powerful protective instincts and are wary of anything that might impact the health of their children. Therefore, schools reopening could be considered a threat to the relative safety of at-home learning and confinement. That is why it is imperative that schools step up their social media presence. Knowing what their children are getting up to in the day will give parents a sense of control and thus greater peace of mind.

In this vein, some schools are filming students in the classrooms and playground. They then diffuse these short videos on social media as visual proof of measures being taken seriously, as well as students and staff compliance. Others are adopting encouraging voices, posting photos of students happy to be back whilst hoping to incite those students still at home to join in the fun.

The more schools can communicate with parents on a positive and reassuring note, the more they will regain that fragile trust that was so badly shaken by the virus.

This remains an unpredictable moment for everyone, but as we return to our routines and take up our habits, it will likely not be long before life in the classroom resumes its usual rhythm. Teachers and schools should be aware that this is a time that could impact international students, far from their homes and loved ones, more than most. That is why it is so essential for schools to begin creating and curating a considerate and compassionate attitude. Trust is fragile, but can be easily rebuilt under an attentive touch. Take comfort in returning normality to the lives of your students – they will be grateful for it.

Katie Harwood is a member of the communications team at Haut-Lac International Bilingual School in Switzerland, overseeing the school’s blog which covers all things education and child development.