COVID-19 and the whole school community

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COVID-19 has had significant impacts on the wellbeing of school communities all around Australia.

In response, schools have had to make sensible and practical changes to the way they operate, from encouraging good hygiene and practising physical distancing, to transitioning in and out of an online learning environment. At the same time, they've had to manage the anxiety and confusion that comes with an evolving situation like this.

It's safe to say that it's been a challenging time. Even as we're getting back to normal, we know that the pandemic can be unpredictable. So, it's important to keep in mind the lessons we've learnt as we continue to push forward.

1. Stay up to date

During times of crisis, it’s important that everyone knows what information to seek out, where to find it and what sources to trust. While social media is flooded with opinions from every ‘expert’, it can be hard to determine what’s ‘good’ information and what’s unhelpful, or at worst, dangerous.

Your first port of call should always be your state or territory education authority – they will have the most up-to-date information from informed and verified sources. If you want to seek out more advice, or to direct students, parents, community members or your colleagues to a reliable source, try the following:

  • Australian Government Department of Health

  • Healthdirect

  • Coronavirus Health Information Line

  • World Health Organization

2. Be prepared, not panicked

We've all been dealing with something far more serious than most people have ever encountered. In the early days of the pandemic, it was understandable that our first reactions may have been to panic and start assuming the worst. But from experience, we know that panic is rarely useful and can render us unable to plan and prepare ourselves effectively. Support your school community to take steps to protect itself. Encourage preparedness and forward planning, but do what you can to prevent a descent into panic.

3. Communicate, communicate, communicate

Nothing spreads fear and panic faster than confusion or being left in the dark. Make sure the school leaders are communicating with students, families and staff on a regular basis. There’s nothing too small to bother with – for example, if you decide to cancel a year group meeting, let everyone know and explain why it’s been cancelled. When faced with a lack of knowledge, people are more likely to create reasons for themselves, which will almost always be more far-fetched than the truth. Open lines of communication leave everyone feeling at ease and will assure the school community that the situation is in hand.

4. Soften the blow of missed opportunities

We've all felt that overwhelming feeling of disappointment due to events and gatherings being cancelled. While not as common now, positive cases of COVID-19 can still lead to cancellations. Even when we know it’s for the best, missing out on things we've been looking forward to can be a real challenge.

Where possible, try to limit the negative impact of cancelled events by quickly scheduling a date for later in the year or providing a virtual alternative. For example, if the school disco is postponed, you could work with your class to put together a playlist that they can listen to at home instead. While a virtual disco isn’t the same, it will be a unique, memorable and fun experience for students. Importantly, it will help make the disappointment a bit more bearable.

5. It’s okay to say ‘I/we don’t know’

Since the pandemic began, teachers and school staff have had to manage all kinds of questions from worried students and parents about the implications of cancelled sports trials, exams, school closures and many other things. Some of these have been easy to answer, while others haven't.

The good thing is, we know a lot more than we did in the beginning about COVID-19. But still, the situation is always evolving, so it's okay to say that you don't know what's going to happen next. Remember, you don't need to be an expert on coronavirus, so don't feel pressured to have all the answers, all of the time.

6. Know the protocol

It’s likely that your school has developed a protocol for managing COVID-19. Just make sure the protocol is in line with expert recommendations, such as those from the Australian Government Department of Education and communicate these to the entire school community.

As we know, if a member of the school becomes infected with COVID-19, swift action is crucial in controlling the spread. It’s vital that everyone knows what to do for a coordinated response. Having the plan in place and sharing it with students, parents and staff will go a long way to addressing concerns.

7. Discuss COVID-19 with your students

Young people are often left out of ‘scary’ conversations. It’s easy to assume that they are too young to understand or care, and that as adults it’s our responsibility to protect them from the bad stuff. But this can cause anxiety in young people, who may feel they have no control over or understanding of what’s happening around them.

Again, open communication keeps everyone from spiralling into panic and fear. Ask your students if they have any questions about what’s currently happening with COVID-19 in Australia and around the world, discuss the school’s plans for dealing with an outbreak, and run through the safety recommendations you have in place. Knowledge is power in these situations, and young people have the right to understand the nature of this global crisis.

What can I do now?

  • Read about teacher wellbeing.

  • Access ReachOut Schools classroom resources on coping during coronavirus (COVID-19).

  • Read our resources for parents and students.