Click the play bar below to listen to this week's show now:
If you're a new elementary teacher (well, if you're ANY teacher, for that matter), you've likely already started thinking and wondering about how your classroom might look and run differently with restrictions due to COVID.
The CDC Guidelines (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) recommend that students remain 6 feet apart and do not share resources – and this is no small task for elementary school teachers.
In addition, although there will likely need to be less students in your classroom to help maintain social distancing requirements, if students are not able to leave your classroom during the time they are at school, this may pose some additional classroom management challenges as students (and you) get restless from being required to stay in one room for much of their time at school.
Let’s talk about 9 ways that you can uniquely manage this challenge inside your classroom to ensure that both you and your students stay safe while minimizing potential emotional stress. Although your school will provide specific guidelines with regard to policies and procedures relating to COVID-19, here are some considerations to keep in mind as you think through your classroom management plan.
Just a caveat - before we dive in to COVID-specific strategies, I am going to assume that you have already decided on very clear rules, routines, and class jobs for your classroom and that you are planning to teach and practice these routines and expectations with your students in the first weeks of school. If you need help getting started with your classroom management, grab my free Classroom Management Checklist here:
As you are doing your planning for the first weeks of school, your students will be much calmer and will be able to navigate all of the changes involved in coming back to school during COVID if you keep the following considerations in mind:
You likely aren’t going to see this on the CDC website, but children (and you) are going to need a lot of opportunities to relieve the latent, low-grade stress that will accompany this weird time of going back to school. I recommend that you schedule, directly into your planning every single day, opportunities for children to get up and move for 2-3 minutes every half hour of the school day.
Remember – a lot of kids may not have even been in school for 5 months, so the idea of “doing school” again in a sustained kind of way is going to be a challenge. You will likely need to build in a lot of opportunities for kids to move more than usual because they’ve likely become used to having a lot more freedom than they typically do at school.
One way you could build in movement breaks safely is to assign each child a number, and then place brightly colored dots (stickers) spaced 6 feet apart from each other with one number printed on each with a Sharpie on the floor all around your classroom. That way, children can quickly find a space to go to that is away from other students, and then put on your favorite GoNoodle or Cosmic Kids Yoga activity!
As another stress reliever, you may want to think of a fun and simple way for children to work towards a small reward every day or every couple of days instead of having them earn a more long-term goal. This could be something as simple as earning the letters to spell the day of the week (TUESDAY) by following rules & showing kindness to each other, and then getting to choose a favorite song to play and dance to at the end of the morning or at the end of the day.
These are not normal times, and you are likely going to need to spend a lot more time focused on keeping children engaged and inspired to learn when nothing in their world feels normal right now.
Related to this, when it comes to both academic achievement and engagement, this is the time for compassion more than for pushing children to excel. In many schools, they never even did report cards at the end of the school year in 2020, so it will likely be very challenging to see how much your students have regressed in terms of skills because they haven’t been in school for so many months. You will likely need to ease in slowly and build towards momentum as children learn to adapt to yet another new normal.
These children have been asked to adapt to so many things this past year, and it just might take more time than you would like for them to engage in the way you would normally expect them to. Just be patient, remain positive, and I’m confident that they will come around.
Don’t worry – we’ll get to the practical classroom management routines that you will need to implement. But before we get there, I want to take a moment to invite you to think about ways that you can build in opportunities for lightness, for fun, and for laughter to help students manage the emotional toll that COVID is taking on them and on their families.
This might mean choosing funny animal videos for your students’ reward, sharing a hilarious read-aloud, or inviting students to each bring in their favorite joke to tell the class at the end of the day. Whatever it is, remain cognizant of the fact that children need to feel safe before they can learn and that the emotional toll of this experience will likely need to be attended to first.
Read books that help children to process and normalize feelings of fear, and talk openly about how they are feeling and experiencing life each day during this strange time so that they come to see school as a safe place to be and as a break from all of the weirdness in the world right now.
On a more practical note… your school will likely have a special policy in place for bathroom use because children can't visit the bathroom in groups. If you are planning to use Hall Passes in your classroom for bathroom use, ensure that these are regularly sanitized before after each use, or simply put the hall passes away for now and opt instead to write a child’s name on the board when they go to the restroom so you have a simple record of who is out of the room.
As if a pandemic wasn’t enough – to minimize the risk of Legionnaire’s disease and other diseases associated with water, you may want to encourage students to bring their own water bottles and keep them in a designated spot away from other students inside the classroom.
One way you could do this is to provide one bin for each student where they will keep all of their supplies, notebooks, and materials, and keep these spaced out around the room. Then, students can place their water bottle in front of or behind their bin.
Because of social distancing, you will likely need to have lines clearly marked using brightly colored tape on the floor as a visual guide to let students know how far apart they will need to stand from each other when lining up to leave the classroom (and for when walking in the hallway). You will also need to emphasize the importance of not touching anything in the halls and keeping their hands to themselves, especially during this time.
Perhaps the most important jobs you will want to add to your Happy Helpers Job Board is the job of Chief Sanitizing Officer (I would recommend that you have two students on this job – one boy and one girl). This person’s job is to wipe down all common surfaces in the classroom using disinfectant wipes – and I would have them do this every hour or two.
You may also want to have two children on the job of Soap Monitor. These children will be in charge of dispensing one pump of hand sanitizer into every student's every hour or two. I’ve heard of some schools ringing a special bell each time children were required to wash their hands… and this bell rings often!
And just a side note – if we do this, I think it’s only fair that we also provide some kind of moisturizer for kiddos every now and then. That hand sanitizer is horrible for people with eczema (ask me how I know)!
If your school doesn’t ring a bell to let students know that it’s time to get clean, you may want to set a timer inside your classroom to remind you to have students do this often. Regular hand-washing is our first defense against this virus.
Again, try not to stress too much about this because your school will provide you with very clear guidelines regarding how they will want things done inside your classrooms, and they’ll likely provide a lot of support to help ensure that you know and understand what to do.
I just wanted to start this conversation with you today so we can brainstorm ideas together – you don’t have to do any of this alone, and you certainly don’t have to figure all of this out by yourself.
If you haven’t already joined our Beginning Teacher Talk Private FB group, come join us because we will be having these conversations and many more inside that group.
Remember to take this one day at a time and try not to get overwhelmed. You don't have to figure any of this out on your own!
P.S. Here are the links to three key websites so you can check out any updates as soon as they come available:
CDC’s Guidelines & Considerations for Schools:
The World Health Organization:
The U.S. Department of Education’s Collection of COVID-19 Resources:
Dr. Lori Friesen | Beginning Teacher Mentor
Creator of the R.E.A.D.Y. for School Academy, Dr. Lori Friesen has mentored thousands of beginning teachers across the country through her workshops and courses. Host of the popular podcast, Beginning Teacher Talk, and creator of the innovative literacy program for 1st and 2nd grade, Dogs Help Kids Read and Succeed, Dr. Lori is dedicated to serving educators and inspiring learners. Learn more at drlorifriesen.com and at howdogshelpkids.com.
Want to listen to the podcast on a different platform? Here are the links:
Join our mailing list to receive the latest news from our team. 💛💕 Your information will not be shared.