Bring the cafe to the classroom

My happy place to go to is the cafe. I love sitting down with my strong flat white, ordering the most outrageous meal on the menu and chatting with friends and family. However, we can’t go out to a cafe at the moment, so bring the cafe to the classroom! Our students need to feel like they are in their happy place when they return to school this week. How can we recreate that feeling we get when catching up with our BFFs in our favourite cafe? 

It doesn’t matter what your own personal beliefs are about the current schooling situation and Phase 1, we need to remain positive and model the attitude we want from our children. To facilitate this and ensure their wellbeing is okay we need to bring the cafe to the classroom. As well as creating an environment that becomes their happy place, the acronym I have created for CAFE is a set of rules we can follow as teachers in Phase 1:

Calm

Amid the chaos and unpredictability that COVID-19 has brought upon teachers, when the students start re-entering physical classrooms this week, it is more important than ever, that teachers remain calm. There are going to be a lot of anxious students this week, but also anxious teachers. It’s called, “reverse culture shock”, where we become overwhelmed with being reintegrated into our normal routine. As leaders and teachers, it is normal to feel these things. It doesn’t matter if you’re like the duck that looks peaceful above surface but is kicking like crazy below it. What’s important is that the kids see someone who is calm. 

There’s a good chance that they will come to us in all sorts of emotional states – anxious, scared, overly-excited, worried. They then may feel let down when they realise that their friends aren’t there or they don’t have their normal classroom teacher. Whatever state they come in, we must remain calm. It is ingrained in us as teachers to be organised and in control, COVID-19 has flipped this on its head. Things will go wrong over the coming weeks and that is okay, however, we must remain calm.  

Attention

Our students are going to feel like many of us have felt, except they are lacking in the same level of self-regulation skills. Some of them will be craving a conversation with someone else other than their family. Others may have felt a sense of neglect because of parents having to juggle jobs, stress, managing the learning from home, juggling multiple children and who are struggling mentally themselves. When we talk about how every child matters, we need to ensure that every child feels like they matter. Give them time to chat to you and with each other. Build your relationships like you would want to do at the start of the year.

We also need to pay attention to any warning signs that things aren’t right at home. Are there any signs of neglect or if the child is at risk. We know that domestic violence is already too high, but the stress of COVID-19 has increased those cases. 

Finally, we’re going to need to re-train them on how to pay attention and stay focused. Some have come from households that lacked any structure or routine, others have been on their electronic devices for hours each day. Remind them that we are back in school where there are rules and routines in place to ensure every child can learn and feels safe. Repeat every hour.  

Fun

One thing that COVID-19 has allowed us is more time to think and reflect. Teaching and learning shouldn’t feel like work. How can we expect our students to become lifelong learners if it feels like work or is boring? It should be a fun and enjoyable experience for all. We are either developing as an individual or helping someone else develop. What’s more satisfying than that? 

For now, in NSW NESA have given schools “the authority to decide which syllabus outcomes and content they teach and assess.” This may allow teachers to spend more time on getting the basics right, helping their students to connect to the content, building relationships and making it enjoyable. Many teachers have put together some super fun videos that have their students questioning why they never see that side to their teacher in the classroom. Bring back the fun! 

What sorts of games can you play that will have them learning without them even knowing it? Games like charades, celebrity head, scattergories, pictionary and have you ever. Adjust them to your year level, subject and you’ll all be having fun in no time!

Empathy

They have been stuck inside the one place for a couple of months with limited contact to the outside world. We need to show them empathy and that we understand how tough it has been for them. Naturally, we might question why they haven’t done any “work” when learning from home.

What about the 9-year-old child who helps Mum prepare dinner every night or is one of five children trying to share one electronic device? As John Hattie has pointed out, after the 2011 earthquakes in Christchurch, many students missed out on up to a term from school and yet their results were not affected. In fact, some students even improved and this was before the extensive availability of online learning platforms that we have now. So, Phase 1 is not about helping them catch up, but rather giving them a place to check-in.

Show the students you care about them, help them develop those Social and Emotional skills that are so important in life and take your time. Do your Circle time types of activities. Nathan Maynard, co-author of Hacking School Discipline, talks about allowing all students to feel respected and that they speak from the heart. Set it up so that it is fun and as inclusive as possible. Then acknowledge, affirm and validate what they say and feel. Edutopia also has some great tips on using circle practice in the classroom.

Keep those gold nuggets coming

Despite being Week 3 of Term 2 and feeling like Week 10 of Term 4, we are going to have to treat Phase 1 like the start of the year and we’re getting married on MAFS again! However, the battle will be repeating this for each day the next 25% of the school comes in. At our school Executive Meeting this week, it was referred to as being like Groundhog Day!

Bill Murray Groundhog GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

I have no doubt that teachers will come out the other end on top! I have been inspired by so many amazing teachers going above and beyond for their students and the community during COVID-19. I know that this will continue to happen and I look forward to seeing those gold nuggets continue to pop up.

*Are there coffee-scented essential oils?

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