The back to school season this year is completely different to anything we have previously dealt with. It is still uncertain how the next year will play out. After more than a year of back and forth, uncertainty and limited social interactions, it is no wonder students are feeling more anxious than ever about returning to school.

One positive result of the last 18 months is that everyone, in all walks of life, is recognising the importance of looking after our mental health and reducing stress. The mental health and wellbeing of our students has always been important. There have always been students who find the return to school stressful. However, it is likely, thanks to the events of the last year and a half, that it will be much more widespread and could present in more subtle ways. As teachers and caretakers, we need to be extra vigilant and ensure that we create safe spaces in the classroom for students to acknowledge, share and address their feelings of stress and anxiety.

What can you do to help you students with back to school anxiety?

  1. Acknowledge the differences: We may automatically think that the best way to deal with back to school anxiety is to make everything as normal as possible. However, it is not normal. And it has not been normal for a long time. By acknowledging that things are different and that everyone has to learn to adapt and adjust you will reach out to those student feeling anxious and assure them that they are not alone.
  2. Explain clearly what changes need to be made by students and teachers: Being unsure of the rules and expectations in a certain environment can be a huge cause of stress. Although sanitizing our hands, social distancing and wearing face coverings now feels like the norm wherever we go, your students are familiar with the school environment in a different context. They may be unsure of what is expected of them when it comes to Covid-19 precautions in the classroom. Sit down with your class at the start of term and go through in details even the simplest rules that they need to follow.
  3. Create a space for sharing feelings: Sometimes the best way to alleviate stressful feelings is talking about them. Create a space within the classroom for your students to do just that. If you can, dedicate an hour, one afternoon a week where your students can identify and share their feelings.
  4. Talk to parents, colleagues, and other support networks: If you recognise that back to school anxiety is seriously affecting a student in your class reach out to your support network in the school and the child’s parents. Your colleagues may be experiencing the same thing with a student in their classroom. Sharing knowledge and experience is the best way to find solutions. Talking to the student’s parent can also help shed some light on the situation and potential ways to help.
  5. Look after yourself first!: We can only help our students with their stress and anxiety if we are coming from a place of relative calm. Make sure to check in on your own mental health and consider how you are projecting it in the classroom. If an anxious kid comes to school and the environment in the classroom is tense and stressful, their anxiety will only be heightened.

Do you have any tips or ideas for helping your students deal with back to school anxiety? Let us know! Share your experience with us and other teachers on social media using #ZeekoTopTips.