Wellbeing guidance for teachers

Supporting student wellbeing when they return to school under alert level 2.

Some families will be anxious about their children returning to school, while others will be excited. For students it will set off a flurry of feelings. Anxious feelings and feeling scared are normal responses to abnormal situations and can be expected during times of transition or change.

For some families/whānau and children, the transition back to school will be more difficult. These children may appear quiet or withdrawn, nervy and giggly. Some might cry, be clingy or get angry. Expect the unexpected, your calm response and delight at seeing everyone back and together again can make a significant difference.

Be assured, even though children will have a range of reactions, most will settle over time as routines are re-established. Reactions will settle as children begin to feel safe; they know and practice routines such as entering the class and handwashing. When their families are reassured of their safety, children can focus on learning with their peers.

Before all children return to school

  • Welcome families back. Tell them what will happen when their children return to school, including hygiene practices. Clear communication and reassurance provides a sense of safety and certainty in uncertain times.
  • For families new to the school, give special attention to creating a welcoming and supportive atmosphere.
  • Establish ways to have ongoing positive contact with whānau eg opportunities to volunteer help, positive feedback regarding participation, apps like Seesaw to share experiences.
  • Be aware some students will have nervous butterflies. Be aware and flexible around these fears and plan for a range of activities to promote inclusion in the classroom.
  • Some families may need additional help to settle their children back into school. Check in with families of students that haven’t returned to the school. Work together with your SENCO, Learning Support Coordinator or pastoral care team to support families.
  • Publicise a list of resources and supports for families and children. Some families can help themselves and just need time or prompts to access support.
  • Know that difficulties may take time to resolve, however getting help early will help.

As school starts

  • Talk with teachers, parents, whānau and students about the positive aspects of being back together, what you are all looking forward to. Keep in mind that wellbeing needs to be addressed before teaching and learning will happen.
  • Remind students about hygiene practices - maintaining physical distance so that they are not breathing on or touching each other, coupled with practices like coughing into your elbow and regular handwashing and drying.

Classroom and learning activities

  • Learning experiences at home will have been varied. Focus on where children are at today, new activities will support their engagement.
  • When talking about children’s individual experiences, avoid putting them on the spot. Invite them to share when they are ready. 
  • Be patient, listen. Distracting children from things they find distressing can be appropriate. Acknowledge their sadness, fear or anxiety but gently move on to another activity. Use calming relaxation exercises, listen to a story or quiet music. Sparklers has a range of great activities to explore https://sparklers.org.nz/(external link)
  • Focus on what we are doing to stay safe and how everyone is working together to help each other, rather than telling children that what we went through will never happen again.   Children and young people need to hear about positive action.  This will provide inspiration and hope for their future.
  • Have fun. Playing a game, designing an activity together, re-reading a favourite story or watching a video can help lift the mood. Children need to know that in the midst of uncertainty there is still happiness and hope.
  • Games, physical challenges, and getting outdoors can release energy and tension as well as provide a break from indoor activities.

Take time to check in with your colleagues, look after yourself and each other as your develop your resources. Building in times during the days, weeks, and months ahead to keep checking in on each other, creating support buddies or groups can help.

A series of wellbeing guides have been developed by Julie McCormack (Clinical Psychologist) with support from Future Curious Limited and funding from the Ministry of Education. A new guide Preparing for and returning to school is now available on the Learning from Home website:

Preparing for and returning to school – Learning from Home(external link)

The module provides practical information, tips and activities that teachers, parents and caregivers can use as children and young people integrate back into the school community. It also provides advice for teachers on preparing themselves for a time when they may be teaching learners both at school and at home, helping children understand the health and safety regulations and supporting children who have been challenged by the lockdown.

Promoting kindness and respect

The Race Relations Commissioner has raised concerns that students of Asian descent could become the targets of COVID-related racism when they return to school. During this time it is vital to be clear about and reinforce your school values, use these to support the way all school staff talk about and care for others. The Not Part of My World toolkit is a teaching resource that can be used in years 3-8 to support understanding of all cultures, to reduce racism.

As you know, a wide range of resources and guidance on tackling bullying behaviours, which often emerge from racist beliefs, can be found at bullyingfree.nz. Everyone in the education system needs to have a clear understanding of different lives, perspectives, and cultures.

The Race Relations Commissioner has asked that schools to do their best to stop racist or discriminatory behaviour and promote and facilitate kindness and respect.

Not Part of My World – Diversity toolkit(external link)

Bullyingfree.nz(external link)

Don’t forget - take a breath! With all this preparation, your students will be in great shape. If you're relaxed and calm, they'll feel excited and be ready to learn.



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