Learn about how Jordan Day‘s school re-engaged with their school community following the pandemic.

The COVID-19 lockdowns have had many and varied impacts on the lives of children. Learning time has been lost and children have had fewer chances to practice social interactions. Life for many has become more insular, and yet children have never been more aware of what they have to be grateful for, nor of the contribution that many people make in society. We as a school wanted to re-engage children with the wider community, expanding their perspectives while spreading some joy to the world outside our gates.

How we’ve been engaging with our school community

FACEtime

Coming towards the end of the second school closure, a few of our staff came to think about how community engagement would work in a post-COVID world. As a school, we have always enjoyed inviting families and other visitors into school to celebrate the children’s work. In the past, we have invited families to cafes, exhibitions, bazaars and performances, but in a world where parents and carers weren’t allowed on site, we were challenged by how we could achieve the same excitement.

We also wanted to reconnect children with the people and organisations in the community in which they lived, to give them the feeling of being a part of something bigger than themselves. A few of us formed a working party to share ideas and, after reading everything we could find to help us, we came across an acronym from a Welsh Government document, talking about ‘FACE’ – Family And Community Engagement. That stuck and seemed to crystallise what we wanted to achieve.

A family affair

Families are, after all, the heart of any community. They had to be at the very centre of what we were trying to achieve. We were able to maintain a close relationship with our families over both lockdowns using the online platforms that we had access to. Seesaw and Google Classroom were used to communicate about home-learning tasks and Class Dojo enabled us to communicate with parents easily, even when we weren’t able to see them face to face. Other platform give the same benefits and we keep these under review to ensure the best possible offer. Maintaining these platforms as the children returned helped us to ensure a smooth transition back to normality and helped the parents to pass on those little messages that they wouldn’t want to trouble the office with by asking for an email to be forwarded.

We are also lucky enough to have a very supportive PTA and we learnt early on that it was important to keep them involved in whatever projects you plan – if you start unwittingly stepping on toes or fail to bear in mind events that they are planning, it can undermine everything you’re trying to achieve. They are, after all, generally the most engaged families you have! Our PTA was keen to stress the ‘T’ in PTA… It’s worth thinking about how staff can be more engaged in PTA processes – maybe a rota for attending meetings could be drawn up so staff are only asked to attend one or two meetings a year. This has to be done with staff involvement, as you obviously can’t ask staff to do something that they are not comfortable with, and which is not, after all, part of their job. But if you can encourage at least some staff to get involved, you can reap huge benefits.

An eggs-traordinary achievement!

During the Christmas lockdown, one of our members of staff decided to set up a Facebook group to provide presents for residents of local care homes who were unable to see family or friends at Christmas. People and local businesses quickly got on board and a succession of care homes were signed up. Within weeks, 26 hampers full of presents had been donated for 705 residents across 22 care homes, as well as care home staff. This was an incredible achievement, and one that, as a school, we wanted to support and help to continue in any way we could. We decided to ‘adopt’ four of the care homes. Our plan is to maintain a relationship with these care homes moving forward, sending choirs to sing at Christmas and artwork to brighten the communal spaces, inviting residents to school events and interviewing them when children are learning about events in living memory.

Our first opportunity came with an idea to repeat the success of the Christmas presents with Easter eggs. We decided to hold a non-school uniform day, except rather than asking for a monetary donation, as we had done in the past, we asked children to bring a voluntary donation of an Easter egg. We weren’t sure what the response would be, after all, it was still only essential shops that were open, but we were inundated.

A couple of days later, we filled the school minibus (along with two cars) and delivered nearly 600 eggs (along with nine boxes of books, after a plea from one home that we posted on the school Facebook page) to seven care homes. We even had to phone around for extra care homes on the morning of deliveries as we had so many eggs! The messages we received back from the care homes were truly heart-warming and showed how much a relatively small gesture from each individual child was appreciated.

Virtual celebrations

We also had to think about how we celebrate the children’s learning. We were still eager to do this and are still coming up with ways in which we can do so at a distance. Our English team used Padlet to set up a ‘reading river’, to give children the chance to share the texts they have read with others online – while we are also looking at using Flipgrid to share videos of children’s learning.

We look forward to welcoming parents and family members back into school this year as nothing can replace the ‘buzz’ of a hall full of children eagerly showing their work to their families, and we’ve already got some ideas for events in the diary, but we have been working on the basis of first asking, ‘What would we do, given the opportunity?’, before then discussing how we can best replicate that using the technology available to us.

This is going to be a lasting change as virtual celebrations offer much more flexibility to working families and those who struggle to access the school site during the day.

SmART thinking

Our next project is an art project for the whole school. Again, linked to children’s experience of the COVID pandemic, children have used their art topic in Term 6 to create a variety of objects for a ‘wall of hope’, an installation that will showcase, through the children’s learning in Art, what has given them hope over the last year and how they have stayed positive. Through a partnership with local church groups and other organisations, this installation will be displayed in Kent Life, a large, open-air museum. This will then allow the children to share their work with others outside of the school, while further reinforcing links between the school and community organisations. Free tickets given to children will also give them a memorable experience, seeing their work alongside other displays.

Digital opportunities

The virtual world offers us so many opportunities to connect with others. A Twitter plea when we first started thinking about engaging more with the community led us to the ‘Let’s Localise’ platform, a website on which schools can manage fundraising, identify particular things they are raising money for, run online events, coordinate volunteering opportunities and much more. Primary Futures is also an amazing organisation that sends people from a wide variety of jobs and backgrounds into schools in order to challenge stereotypes and widen children’s aspirations. Through digitising their offer, they have been able to match schools to volunteers from across the country, without travel being an issue. Children are now able to meet and speak to people who prove that if they can dream it, they can do it.

 

Our top tips

Work with what you have: Got a great PTA? Maybe a member of staff has links outside of school? Reinforce the bridges you have before you attempt to build new ones.

  • Bear the calendar in mind. The PTA won’t appreciate it if you organise a community event in the same week as something they have organised. Keep an overview of what’s happening across the school to avoid clashes.
  • Building links works two ways. Think about how your school can help the organisations you want to involve, as well as what you, as a school, get out of that link.
  • Don’t stray from your core purpose. At the end of the day, we are teachers, and we are there to help children learn. Using community projects to add relevance and enrich your curriculum is a great idea but be careful of being led away from your curriculum, however exciting an idea might be!

Author

  • Jordan Day

    Jordan is a classroom teacher in a large primary in Kent. He has led history, PE and geography, as well as taking responsibility for the school website. He is a founder member of the Global Equality Collective, having worked extensively on teaching children about gender stereotypes, completing a study with two major universities. He also leads on community engagement within the school.

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