Reactions to change and what to do to support ākonga

Reactions to change and what to do to support ākonga

What to notice and how to respond

Your support will be most effective when you work as part of a team to wrap support around the ākonga – with their whānau, other supports at school (SENCO, LSC and pastoral care), specialist services provided by the Ministry, support from other government and community agencies. Work as a team to identify any ākonga of concern. Check in with other support services who were involved with the ākonga and their whānau prior to changes in alert level. Problem solve and build a plan.

There are some modules on COVID-19 Health and Wellbeing guide — developed by clinical psychologist Julie McCormack and Future Curious Ltd to provide teachers in Aotearoa New Zealand with information and resources that can help them to navigate discussions about COVID-19 with their students and the wider community and support the hauora/wellbeing of their students.

COVID-19 Wellbeing guide MODULE 1: Hauora/Wellbeing during uncertain times [PDF, 16MB] —

Reaction to changes

Most ākonga will have a wide range of reactions to changes throughout the pandemic. Common reactions are fears and anxiety about friends and learning and/or the virus. Reactions will generally change and ease over time as the changes settle.

Common reactions maybe excitement about learning from home again or getting back to see friends at school or early learning services, worries about friends and learning and/or about the virus. Worries may continue if changes continue.

Worries will generally change and ease over time if changes are minimised.

How to respond

  • Prioritise wellbeing.
  • Welcome ākonga, whānau back to school or being back on line. Together, you can reclaim the learning online spaces or with the class.
  • Establish old routines and communicate and practise new routines. Include and facilitate peer support.
  • Ākonga will have had/be having a range of learning opportunities at home. Ākonga will have gained some skills and may need to practice other skills. Know that ākonga will progressively regain any skills they may have lost.
  • Incorporate whanaungatanga exercises into your learning routines e.g. a treasure hunt, to help strengthen connections and belonging and can be part of a daily ritual. If the school has a karakia or school waiata, include that in the daily routine.
  • Be mindful of any former refugee or migrant ākonga in your class. Work with their support kāikao to check their wellbeing, their home situation and their understanding of online learning tasks.
  • Encourage bilingual support staff or kaiako to connect with each other (perhaps within a kāhui ako, cluster or an ESOL professional learning cluster) for support and ideas.

Behaviour that is concerning

You or your whānau may see behaviour in some students that is concerning.

How to respond

Nurture these protective factors:

  • sense of safety and security - I am safe
  • self-worth - I am respected and valued
  • social connection - I am wanted and needed; I can listen and be heard, we can get through this together.
  • self-efficacy - I can do things to look after myself, and others
  • sense of purpose, hope, and meaning – learning at home/going to school is worthwhile.

Showing signs of distress

Ākonga may be demonstrating behaviour that is out of character and prolonged beyond the initial period of distress. 

How to respond

Ākonga with their whānau may have had reduced access to support services during the pandemic. Some ākonga will have experienced stress such as limited access to online learning, exposure to harmful online content, online bullying, inaccurate messaging about the pandemic, witnessing family violence.

Work as a team to support positive behaviours to help engagement, participation and learning. Access the Teaching for Positive Behaviour resource.

Support Material — Positive Behaviour 4 Learning

Be patient and take time to listen to the ākonga. Avoid making assumptions about how they may be feeling. Acknowledge any feelings they may have but gently move them on to another activity - especially calming ones such as relaxation exercises, listening to a story or quiet music. Sparklers has a range of fun activities to try.

helping tamariki when times are tough —

When talking with ākonga about their individual experiences, avoid putting ākonga on the spot. Invite them to share when they are ready. Provide a safe space for students to express their experiences through art, social activities and hands-on projects.

For former refugee and migrant ākonga, talking is an extremely valuable way of learning. Check they have someone to talk with about their learning activities they are doing and encourage questioning. 

Work with LSCs, SENCO, RTLB, Learning Support specialists and your pastoral care team to provide additional support including access to community services. 

Disengaged ākonga

Ākonga who may not return to school or are frequently absent may need care and support to attend school more regularly.

How to respond

Ensure ongoing communication with whānau. Reassure them that some ākonga may find socialising and being back in a classroom environment initially unsettling.

Some suggestions to encourage more regular attendance:

  • Find out about your learners in terms of their background, home situation, cultural context, and learning preferences.
  • Provide opportunities for ākonga to have some flexibility and choice in their learning so they can help shape the direction of their learning.
  • Find out about the principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) — to meet the diverse needs of all students in your classroom.
  • Continue to strengthen relationships with whānau.
  • Talk with your school leadership and work with the person responsible for attendance at your school and your local Attendance Service provider.

Some whānau may need additional help to settle their ākonga back into school. Check in with whānau when ākonga haven’t returned to school. Kaiako with an established relationship with the whānau can build trust quickly.

Family member of ākonga who has died

Ākonga who may have lost a loved one during the pandemic may show a wide range of behaviour. 

How to respond

Losing a loved one during COVID-19 will have been distressing. Do what you can to re-establish a sense of connectedness with the ākonga and their peers. Seek pastoral care and other support agencies if needed.

Find further information here from the Mental Health Foundation.

Getting Through Together –