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As educators across the region have recently returned to school for the second term of the academic year, it is expected that a lot of planning and contingency have gone into making sure schools continue to be safe for students. Continuous planning is key for high needs students of determination and indeed all students and teachers alike. The student should be at the centre of everything we do.

Promote wellbeing

Because of the isolated existence we have all been getting accustomed to over the past year, students and teachers may be feeling a sense of loss. Many families have been impacted by illness, migration and even death during the year. Ensure that the school’s designated safeguarding lead is both prepared and available to help support the communities returning to campus. Share contact details and access to related support groups, webinars and upcoming events.

Open Dialogue

Continue the dialogue around Health and Safety and the impact of masks, hand sanitizing and social distancing for our students of determination. How can we ensure that students with sensory needs are protected if they can’t wear a mask, is there an alternative available like the face shield? What about students with communication challenges who rely on lip reading or facial expression to understand the world around them. Can their teachers wear a clear mask or face shield, instead of a cloth mask, so that students can see their faces? By engaging parents and students in these discussions continuously, multiple plans can be in place to avoid distress for vulnerable students.

“Plan your work and work your plan” – Napolean Hill

Review your Inclusion register to ensure all students are catered for. Update your Inclusion and Safeguarding policies to account for any changes in procedure or practice and share it with the school community. Survey your staff and appraise, where they most need support and revisit safeguarding training. Review third party agreements in line with new practices. Be mindful to account for the protection and support of individual learning support assistants. Ensure that there are clear guidelines for those who work in close physical proximity with their students of determination or those who handle their students regularly.

Look to the regulators

ADEK have collaborated with parents, teachers and relevant authorities to issue comprehensive guidelines to support schools as they return. KHDA update their sites regularly, keeping track of current events and responding and preparing accordingly. Always look to trusted sources of information for guidelines on procedures and avoid fake news. If in doubt – find out!

Keep an eye on the media

Be mindful of the messages that students and families are being exposed to. All too often, there are explosive and terrifying headlines like

“Middle East faces scary rise in COVID” The National

“Coronavirus is a human crisis beyond most of our scariest dreams” – The Guardian UK.

These could have an extremely negative effect of students, families and teachers’ perceptions around their return to school.

And finally Reach Out!

The inclusion community in the UAE is hugely supportive. Reach out to your community schools and centres. Make connections and share good practice. Ask questions and offer support where possible.

We are all in this together and together we can make it happen

By Catherine O’Farrell

Catherine O’Farrell (PGCBA, BSc-Psych, B-Ed) is an experienced psychologist & consultant. She has worked in educational and medical institutions across Ireland, the UK, Australia and the UAE for over 15 years. She is Director of Phase 2 for the Dubai Inclusion Network.