Due to extensive fires this summer, thousands of NSW residents have been displaced, either temporarily or longer term. Others have been focused on the support they can give to their communities, or their families, or have been on the front line fighting the fires themselves.
More than 2100 houses have been destroyed and schools have also been affected too. So as the 2020 school year approaches, we are planning how to adapt and support each other through this time.
These FAQs are good place to start.
- Our school has been affected by fire – I’m not sure if we are able to run ethics classes when school goes back?
Email us at email@example.com to let us know. We can pause the usual processes for generating Authorised Volunteer Lists and other start-of-year activities and revisit in March 2020. We’ll assist you to liaise with your team and school if that is useful.
There are other ways we can help – eg by offering pre-printed lesson materials to ethics teachers and supplying Welcome Letters. Please let us know if this could help you or if you have other suggestions to hep get you underway.
- I planned to volunteer this year but my situation has changed.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know. We’ll put a pause on your profile and get in touch in March to see if the situation has improved for you.
- How can I prepare myself or my team to ensure a safe environment for myself, my team and/or my students?
Schools are required to provide site inductions for ethics teachers. These cover important issues such as
- Emergency evacuation procedures
- Relevant school policies (such as whether children are required to always travel in pairs)
- Where a classroom teacher or Department of Education staff member can be located when needed
Ethics teachers should also be told if children with special needs are attending ethics classes, and any important details that will help that child stay safe in their ethics class.
With recent fire-related incidents, this should also include
- Are there children who are particularly susceptible to smoky air, and how is this to be managed, say, if the child has difficulty breathing?
- Are there children in the class who have suffered recent trauma (such as having been evacuated) and what assists the child if they are struggling to cope?
- What has the general approach of the school been to recent events? Has it been discussed in class or in assembly, for example? Do children know there is a school counsellor available if required?
- Does the school remain open on days of extreme or catastrophic fire danger and/or would ethics classes be postponed?
- Has the school’s water supply been impacted and are there any guidelines to be aware of around that?
Every volunteer is asked to read Preparing for your first lesson prior to starting ethics class for the year for more information.
We’ll be liaising with the Department on ensuring that schools are reminded of the importance of the induction, too.
- Given the recent events, I’m concerned the students in my class may have worries. How should I manage the class?
- Keep to the routine, and the ‘script’, as much as possible. Your role as an ethics teacher is, as always, is to create and manage a safe space for the children to learn , to feel secure, where the rules that apply are familiar and fair eg share the talking time but speak only one at a time, and that the teacher is neutral. Ethics classes are not to become a counselling space. The school will have mechanisms in place and qualified staff to take on this role.
- If a child offers a statement or asks a question related to recent events, do not offer a personal opinion or ask them follow-up questions. Listen empathetically, acknowledge that what they said is really important and encourage them to talk more to a parent or teacher about it later. And then, get back to the story or use anchoring techniques to progress the lesson.
- Know where a teacher is and call on them if a child does experience distress in class. This could be by asking the child if they would like to visit that teacher (and send a friend with them for support) or by sending two children to ask the teacher to come into the classroom to assist. This plan should be arranged earlier and/or covered in the site induction (see above)
- If the distress is minor (ie the child is able to settle or be comforted by a friend) it’s still a good idea to relay it back to the classroom teacher to identify that the child may need additional support
- Use circuit breakers and other classroom management techniques as required. Brush up on the Ethics Teacher Handbook to get ideas to make your ethics class run as smoothly as possible
The Department of Education has also prepared some resources for parents and staff. You may find some of it helpful to you as a volunteer: https://education.nsw.gov.au/public-schools/school-safety/advice-to-assist-parents-teachers-and-students-following-recent-fires
- I’ve been getting emotional myself. What if I break down in class?
Some volunteers may want to put their volunteering on hold until they feel more like themselves. That’s fine, and get in touch with us if that’s you. Others may like to continue to be active and enjoy volunteering as something positive to turn their mind to. It may just be you’d like to mention to your coordinator or regional manager that you’re feeling a bit uneasy. A solution might be to have a casual ethics teacher on call, or to let someone you trust at the school know that you’d appreciate having a class teacher in your room in case you get a little wobbly. Taking three breaths – and even inviting the children to do it with you – can be enough to help. If you like, arrange to catch up with other volunteers so you can support one another. We’re here 9am – 5pm, 5 days a week if you’d like to call us on 02 8068 7752 and just have a talk. We can arrange a longer call-back session, too.
If you’re not already in regular contact with others in your region, we can link you up. Having a catchup over a coffee can be incredibly useful.
- Bigger classes might help us manage the numbers until things return to normal. What do you think?
There are different strategies we can use to manage numbers, but we don’t recommend putting more than 22 students in a class (see our position statement on class size). Let us know if this is a problem for you and we’ll work with you on the options.
- How can I tell which schools are affected?
The Department of Education will be providing updates here on their website: https://education.nsw.gov.au/public-schools/school-safety#Non-operational0