Dealing With COVID-19 in the Classroom

This school year will be full of changes in policies and protocols to ensure the safety of both staff and students. Below are some ideas to effectively manage these changes in your classroom. Keep in mind that your students will be looking to you and other adults to provide guidance during this time, so try your best to be a good role model by setting the example you want them to follow.

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Handwashing is one simple way to protect your students and keep your classroom safe. Here are some ways to teach students how to properly wash their hands.

  • Teach the 5 steps of handwashing:
    1. Wet hands
    2. Lather with soap
    3. Scrub with soap and water for 20 seconds
    4. Rinse with water
    5. Dry off
  • Place signage near sinks to remind students how to properly wash their hands. 
  • Help students understand when they need to wash their hands, such as upon entry into the classroom, after using the restroom, before or after eating, after playing being outside, or after coughing, sneezing or blowing their noses.
  • Set times throughout the day for handwashing. While we’re all doing our best to make sure our students are washing their hands when they need to, it’s difficult to keep up with whether or not every student washes their hands when they should. Help make up for any handwashing misses by scheduling handwashing breaks throughout the day (between lessons, before brain breaks, etc.).
  • Make handwashing fun.
    • Sing songs or make up a fun game. Create a class song together that lasts for at least 20 seconds or use pre-existing songs, such as the ABC song or Happy Birthday (twice). For older kids, make it into a competition to see who can create the best 20-second song.
    • Use a stamp or washable marker on students’ hands and challenge them to scrub enough to make it disappear before moving on to the next activity.
  • Have hand sanitizer available. While washing hands with soap and water is ideal, using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer (with at least 60% alcohol) is the next best thing. As best you can, try to stock up on hand sanitizer. Keep hand sanitizer out of reach of younger students to prevent consumption.

Whether masks are mandatory or optional in your school setting, some students and staff will likely be wearing masks. Here are some tips to help you navigate this in the school environment.

  • Explain the importance of wearing a mask. Directly communicate with students about the reasons for wearing masks, reminding them that it keeps them and others safe. 
  • Be mindful of limitations with masks. Facial expressions are an important form of communication. With masks covering a large portion of the face, facial expressions may not be as easily communicated or observed by others. Make sure your verbal language is as clear and direct as possible, as students will not be able to rely on other nonverbal cues.
  • Make masks fun. Help make masks less scary and more approachable by encouraging students to decorate their masks with stickers or other craft supplies. Note: As much as possible, try to provide each student with their own supplies, rather than having them share. 
  • Normalize mask-wearing. For younger students, help them see that wearing masks is OK and normal by putting masks on stuffed animals and other comfort items.
  • Use visuals to remind students how to properly wear masks and to help specify where masks are required. 
  • Take masking breaks when possible. If you are able to, try to give your students opportunities to safely remove their masks throughout the day to help prevent mask fatigue. Maybe you can take everyone outside for a mask break or go into the empty cafeteria where there is enough space to spread out. For younger kids, help them understand how much space they need to keep between one another by having them use “airplane arms.”   

While the pandemic has been top of mind for everyone, other illnesses, such as the flu, colds, etc., have not gone away. So, even though research indicates the risk of transmission from surfaces is low for COVID-19, we still need to protect our students and ourselves from germs.

  • Clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces routinely. Make a habit of cleaning frequently touched surfaces within the school and on school buses, such as tables, doorknobs, handles and handrails, seatbelts, light switches, countertops, desks, phones, keyboards, sinks, etc., at least once a day or as much as possible.
  • Avoid sharing materials and utensils as much as possible. While it may not always be avoidable, try to keep kids from sharing pens, pencils, markers, toys, calculators, etc., whenever possible. When supplies are limited and sharing is necessary, try to clean and disinfect items in between uses.

Social distancing is challenging for all of us. Here are some tips to help your students maintain social distancing during the school day:

  • Be clear and direct. The term “social distancing” may be confusing for some kids. Explain that social distancing refers to 6 feet of physical distance, rather than socially isolating. Kids need to understand that they are not being asked to isolate themselves, but rather, to be aware of distance between themselves and others.
  • Be developmentally appropriate. Adapt how you explain the concept of social distancing based on the child’s age and comprehension level.
    • For younger kids, help them understand that we can share our germs with other people when we talk, play, shake hands or hug. 
    • For older kids, help them understand that keeping our distance is important because we can still carry the virus without showing any signs or symptoms.
  • Demonstrate what 6 feet looks like. For many students, it may be difficult to remember how far apart 6 feet is. 
    • Use a measuring tape, yardstick, ribbon or string to demonstrate to students what 6 feet of distance actually looks like. You can make this into a game by having each student guess how far 6 feet is—the closest guess is the winner! 
    • Use 6-foot-long posters of animals or other images as a visual reminder or marker in hallways and other large spaces.
    • Have students use “airplane arms” to help them maintain space when standing in line, moving from place to place, etc.
  • Clearly mark important spaces in the classroom. Mark distances on the floor with tape, such as where kids should stand as they wait to use the pencil sharpener or how far they should be from each classmate.
  • Use physical objects to build awareness. Particularly for younger students who may be struggling to maintain distance, try using objects, such as hula hoops, to build their awareness about physical space and safe distance from classmates.

Your job is already challenging enough without having to constantly worry about proper hand hygiene, proper masking, keeping a clean classroom and keeping kids separated. Do the best you can, and try to go easy on yourself when things go wrong—because they will.