COVID-19: Returning to school

Returning to full-time, face-to-face learning in schools after the COVID-19 restrictions is an exciting time for students and teachers. It is also a critical time regarding maximising learning opportunities, both during and after this transition.

Here are some tips and suggestions to support school communities in managing this transition for all students, and particularly those with additional needs.

Routine, structure and communication

A return, as quickly as possible, to regular school and learning routines will be like a comfy warm winter blanket for all students, particularly our students with additional needs. For example, many families of students with autism would attest that the almost daily changes in ‘rules’ regarding COVID-19 have been an absolute minefield. This may ring true for many students, with or without additional needs, who thrive off known boundaries and predictable daily routines.

Harness self-isolation experiences to build student confidence

The unprecedented level of responsibility that school students of all ages have had to embrace, is worth both celebrating and harnessing. Smart operators will use quality student output produced during the study at home period as a vehicle for substantive teaching and learning conversations. This feedback can be used to instil confidence in students’ self-direction capabilities.

Planning for inclusion and reducing anxiety

Clear communication and planning are ways to reduce anxiety around the transition process for everyone. All educators, especially school leaders, taking the time to think and plan for the integration of COVID-19 restrictions within previously established routines and learning structures will ensure as ‘normal’ a school experience as possible for students. At an instructional level, teachers allowing multiple entry points into any new or newly adapted activities (rather than opt in or opt out) will help to reduce student anxieties. Planning for inclusion by designing teaching and learning activities to cater for the needs all students has never been more important than now.

Share and explore home learning experiences

Our students will need time and space to readjust to school-based learning. For some, this transition will be filled with as much anxiety as the first day of school or the school year. Being prepared and catering for their potential needs should be one of our highest priorities. We can provide multiple opportunities for students to explore their home-school experiences to support this transition. We can use class discussions during morning or yarning circle; while writing, poetry, music, art, dance, drama, etc. would all provide authentic therapeutic opportunities.

A new school-family relationship

During the study at home period, all teachers, especially teachers of students with additional needs, have needed to take care not to overload, exhaust and frustrate parents and carers with too many demands to support their children’s learning. COVID-19 has created so many complexities, insecurities, and anxieties. We have all been trying to balance and deal with the impacts on our own work from home lives. Happily, it would appear, this has created more opportunities for parent and carer understanding and empathy for the work of teachers, and vice versa. There may never have been a better time for schools to harness this new depth of relationship to support student learning.

This is an edited version of an article that first appeared in Teacher magazine and has been reproduced with the permission of the Australian Council for Educational Research. To read the full article and to read more articles like this visit