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Striving for a Better Back-To-School for All

Updated: Sep 12, 2023

With September just around the corner and kids going back to school very soon, it can be easy to think that they've all had the same kind of summer experience. However, the sad truth is that they haven't. Miss Leach shares her suggestions for making the classroom a safe and inclusive place for all students this September! Read her blog here and let us know what ideas you have so a safe and inclusive classroom!

Written Park Street Education Co-Founder, Sam Leach.

Prepping for September is going to look a little different for me this year. It will be the first time since I was five years old that I won’t be preparing to go “back to school” either as a student or as a teacher and I must admit I’m finding it very strange! I will be swapping stationery purchases for nappies (diapers) and will be starting a totally new learning journey in September. However, I have taken some time to reflect on the significance of back-to-school. While back-to-school is a source of excitement for many students, it is important to remember that the start of a new school year can be an incredibly complex experience for many, especially underserved youth. It is essential that teachers are prepared to welcome students back into their classrooms whose summer break may have been challenging or who may be experiencing mixed emotions about the return to school. Here are some thought starters for teachers to help them create a positive back-to-school experience for ALL students.

1. Not all students have had a “good” summer break

When you think of summer break, you may think of vacation time with family, summer camps, and having fun days out. Sadly, for many kids, the summer may have been incredibly challenging. Some students may have faced difficult circumstances, such as family issues, economic hardships, or personal struggles. As teachers, it's essential to approach each student with empathy and understanding. Of course, you can ask students how their summers have been, but try to ensure that this is not the only question asked. Create opportunities for students to share their experiences and actively listen to their stories. Provide a supportive and nurturing environment that allows them to express themselves and feel valued. For example, on the first day of school, you could hand out a paper bag to all your students and put a little note on it asking them to fill this bag with 4 things or objects that tell something about themselves. This will ensure that students have something to share beyond what their summer break was like.

As well as encouraging an empathetic sharing environment, you could also allow students to share with you confidentially via something like a letterbox so you can be aware of any specific challenges that might need addressing.

2. Some students will be experiencing intense anxiety about going back to school

The return to school can bring on intense feelings of anxiety for some students. It's crucial to create a safe and inclusive classroom environment where students feel comfortable discussing their worries and fears. Encourage open communication and provide opportunities for students to express their concerns. You can also do this by sharing your own personal worries and concerns about the school year with them. You could also implement calming strategies, such as deep breathing exercises or mindfulness activities, to help alleviate anxiety. Establish a routine and set clear expectations to provide students with a sense of predictability and stability.

3. There will be significant learning loss for some students

Extended breaks from school can lead to significant learning loss, particularly for underserved students. Did you know the term “summer slide” refers to the learning loss students experience over the summer months? Underserved kids, particularly Black and Latino youth, regress by 25-30% more than their peers. Summer is an especially vulnerable time for underserved and at-risk students, reversing some of the progress they have made over the school year.) Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Recognize that students may be at different academic levels and adjust your teaching accordingly.

  • Conduct assessments or pre-tests to identify areas of weakness and tailor your lessons to address those gaps.

  • Offer additional support through one-on-one or small group instruction. Utilize differentiated teaching strategies to accommodate different learning styles and abilities.

  • Focus on building a strong foundation while gradually bridging the learning gap.

4. Not all students will arrive with the correct equipment

Inequities in access to necessary school supplies and technology can hinder students' learning experiences. It is important to create a supportive system where students can confidentially communicate their needs. Again, this could be done via a letterbox where students can tell you the things that they are missing. Is possible, collaborate with fellow teachers, school administrators, and community organizations to secure resources for students who lack essential equipment. You may also want to establish a lending library for supplies or arrange for community donations.

5. Not all students will feel “included”

To ensure all students feel included, it’s vital to promote a culture of acceptance, respect, and celebration of diversity. You can check out our free lesson on ‘Identity and Names to give you some inspiration about how to promote inclusion in the classroom. One of the exercises in this lesson is to allow all students to share the correct pronunciation of their names and what students can do if they get it wrong. You could also create opportunities for students to share their backgrounds, traditions, and experiences – the paper bag activity would also work well here. It is always great to incorporate diverse perspectives and cultural references into your lessons. Implement collaborative group activities that encourage interaction and foster teamwork among students from different backgrounds. Personally, I always establish a zero-tolerance policy for bullying or exclusionary behaviors and address any incidents promptly.

There are many other ways to create a positive back-to-school experience for all students, so we’d love to hear from you!

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