The “lost” educators: how are support staff dealing with school closure?

Image: Jude Beck / Unsplash.com

With measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 meaning that most teachers and pupils are no longer sharing physical classrooms, we reflect on Special Education Needs support and other staff who have lost regular contact with learners.

European education systems, schools, and professionals have reacted quickly and creatively to school closure. Online lessons and communication with pupils and their families have been established, with supplementary resources such as workpacks and television programmes. Curricula can still be largely followed and competences gradually developed, assuming that the learners have sufficient access and support from home.

However, the human support that surrounds pupils in the school environment is much more than their class teachers. These professionals – Special Education Needs (SEN) workers, librarians, and extra-curricular leaders, to name a few – may have lost their regular contact with pupils and with their colleagues.

“I feel lost”, says Elizabeth, a SEN worker from Ireland. “Our school is in a disadvantaged area and the pupils need our support and encouragement beyond what they have to do in lessons. I chat with the other teachers online to stay in touch. I was looking forward to the holidays, but thinking about the kids I want to go back. I know many of my colleagues feel the same.”

At the European School II in Luxembourg, librarians are assisted by parent volunteers in organising activities, helping develop pupils’ literacy competence, and recommending books, DVDs, and other materials in different languages for the students to borrow and enjoy. Librarians are aware of their role in providing a richly informative, but also safe and calm space, for pupils. During school closure they might be anxious about the learning environment at home. Equally, librarians might be reflecting on new approaches to improve their own school library when they re-open.

The significant task for these support staff once pupils return after a long period of absence is already recognised by national authorities. How these staff can remain involved in the meantime also requires careful consideration.

Useful resources:

The European Agency for Special Needs and Inclusive Education has online tools, databases and services from various projects, including on “ICT for Inclusion”.

The International Association of School Librarianship has a large number of online resources for educators, including the “GiggleIT” project to promote children’s humorous and creative writing from around the world.