Recovery is about rethinking our values, not just rewriting our lesson plans, writes Mary Myatt

It’s pretty obvious that we can’t just pick up, without missing a beat, exactly where we left off. We need to acknowledge the big event everyone will have experienced in terms of the lockdown – and for some, the significant loss associated with it – before we can hope to get back to the business of teaching and learning. In the words of sociologist and holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl, “suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning”.

But what might we hope to achieve through any kind of “recovery” process? One ambition might be that, given what has happened, we can arrive at a better frame of mind, individually and collectively. Another might be that we can set out clear, agreed expectations for how things will be from now on. And a third might be to find a mechanism for acknowledging recent events in a way that allows us to get on with educating children.

Out of consideration for this need for schools to make sense of our shared experience, some have suggested a “recovery curriculum”. Yet there is an inherent danger in the phrase, which implies rethinking content and rewriting materials. That could be pretty time consuming and detract from teaching by adding workload to an already stretched and tired profession.

Our values provide the lodestar for our decisions and actions

The alternative is to consider the “recovery conversations” we have as adults and with children. As we are human beings first and professionals second, it’s important to start with the adults first. (And when we are talking about adults, this should include everyone: teaching assistants, site staff, lunchtime supervisors, teachers and leaders.) The way an organisation acknowledges its collective experience will affect the school climate and, in turn, how pupils respond upon their return into that environment.

There is something so momentous about the lockdown that it cannot be ignored. Everyone will have a story to tell and many will want to share theirs. This might be in small groups, departments or whole staff, but whatever form it takes, if there isn’t some way of allowing people the chance to talk about what has happened, feelings are likely to fester. Of course, there is a complicating caveat on disclosure: not everyone will want to share their experiences, and that should be respected. However, it should be an expectation for all that we listen to those who choose to recount their experiences.

Beyond the catharsis of expressing personal narratives, our conversations ought to consider how our experiences stand in relation to our school values. In other words, we have been through a collective experience and we need to articulate again our core purpose. Why do we come to school each day? What difference are we making? What is different now from before? Our values provide the lodestar for our decisions and actions and the return to school for all pupils is a chance to revisit these.

There is a case to be made for a similar process as classes and tutor groups come back together. There can be a tendency only to focus on the negative, but it’s important to remember that no experience is ever black and white. There are plenty of accounts of pupils rising to the challenge not just of doing work set by teachers but also of looking out for others and helping during lockdown. One way of doing this is to deliberately scaffold these conversations to identify and acknowledge both negatives and positives. Underpinning this is that we listen carefully when others are talking. And the option to speak, or not, applies to pupils as it does to adults.

In this way, by investing time in and for the whole school community at the start of staff and pupils’ return – through storytelling, speaking and being heard, and wrapping things up as a collective – we acknowledge what has happened, good and bad, and can draw out the most positive aspect of all: that it is good to be back together. Hopeful, not helpless.