Banishing The Back To School Blues

After all the fun in the sun of summer, heading back to school doesn’t have to be a chore

I can recall (now many years ago) as a young learner, the awful dread and ‘knot’ in the stomach I used to feel with the impending doom of a return to school after a prolonged summer break. No more sport with friends until a late darkness arrived, no more quality time with my Mum, Dad and sister. The fear had truly set in.

I can recall one older teacher, whom it seemed had neither the enthusiasm nor commitment anymore to help a child progress, who would greet me on that first school day in September, stone-faced and worksheet ready. Clearly, they were as excited as I to be returning. The transition could not have been less invigorating; from fresh air and sunshine to gray walls; from happy, playful families to rigid timetables with stressed teachers. Joy!

After teaching for seven years in the UK primary school system, at both a tough urban primary school and in a more rural setting, it was clear that a shift in teacher mindsets had occurred during the 20-plus year span from my childhood, to working within the sector. Teachers (generally) had become more aware of their learners, more empathetic to their various learning needs and more determined to positively impact their growth. The educators I had learned from, worked and collaborated with in those seven years, returned to school after their summer break having rested, reflected and been reinvigorated in their love for teaching.

While the misinformed might argue that it matters little what happened in the year past, it is quite the contrary. Effective teachers will spend a significant amount of time during this summer break thinking about what was successful and why, as well as what could be improved for the upcoming academic year to ensure the maximum amount of progress for their learners. The time spent on reflection is perhaps an aspect of the job that many leaders would admit isn’t focused on enough during the school year; considering what is truly inspirational teaching and how it can be emulated across the school.

This focus on the art of reflection has had a knock-on effect for our learners. Since the turn of the year, our teachers have allocated roughly 20 to 30 minutes every Friday afternoon so that children reflect upon the learning that took place over the course of the school week, what they retained and how it might help them make further progress in the future. This ownership and ‘mindedness’ towards their learning saw an increasing ability to confidently express themselves and raised levels of self-esteem. Soon, they saw classmates identify with the same achievements and struggles, realizing that learning is not one fixed point of success, but more a journey we all embark upon.

So if the teachers and children return to school in a far more positive and enthusiastic mindset than years gone by, what of the parents? It’s quite possible that they are mistaken by others as ‘celebrating’ their child’s return to school after a long period at home, when really, fears and worries also creep into their minds. Is my child happy, eating well and drinking enough? Are they learning at the ‘right level?’ Are they making friends?

The nature of education today is far more transparent and open than it certainly used to be when I was at school. Rather than call days ahead to make an appointment to meet the teacher, parents are encouraged to be a regular voice within the community, help identify improvements where required, and see the effective teaching and learning taking place. Not only are they more welcome on site, but by using advancements in technology, such as apps like Class Dojo, parents can receive regular updates of their child’s lessons, learning and social development.

Now, in my fourth year overseas in an international school in Vietnam, I am fortunate enough to work again with talented, dedicated professionals who I am certain will have also reflected upon their children’s progress in depth. In doing so, they will have already mentally planned and prepared lessons for the upcoming year, lessons which no doubt reignite a child’s hunger and passion for learning after the holidays. As they attempt to do so, they will do it in an environment that protects, nurtures and stimulates the learner, ensuring they return with a smile on their faces and the ‘blues’ are left at the school gates.

BIO: James Quantrill is the Deputy Headteacher at Saigon Star International School. He moved to Vietnam in August 2014, having previously taught at an outstanding school in the UK.

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