C-19-safe Poets in Schools visits: for poet facilitators

When the UK locked down in March, our Poets in Schools bookings stopped. As lockdown eases – gradually, partially – teachers are getting back in touch with us again to see what sort of adapted visits we can arrange for the Autumn and onwards. Over the last few months we have been consulting with both poets and teachers to gather ideas about how best to run creative and safe activities within Covid constraints, and their responses have informed this page, which is designed to complement the usual guidance and paperwork associated with a Poets in Schools booking. You can read our updated general terms of agreement for poets in schools visits here for the school and here for the poet.

Our key survey findings were…

  • Poets and teachers are still committed to working together to help students create their poetry
  • We will facilitate in-person visits according to schools’ individual C-19 safety policies
  • We can tailor many versions of digital Poets-in-Schools visits to schools’ requirements
  • The Poetry Society is big enough to have access to a wealth of poets, resources and ideas – but small enough to be able to offer schools an individual service.

One of the most encouraging things we discovered over these last few months was that there is a genuine desire for the poets we work with regularly to form some sort of informal network in order to share ideas, support and best practice, so we will be working on that. Meanwhile, if you have any queries please contact our Education Team on [email protected].

Socially Distanced In-Person Visits

Lockdown guidelines and social distancing advice will be subject to short notice change, and each individual school will have its own response to local and national conditions. Some classes will form ‘bubbles’ and will be allowed to work together. Some classes will be social distancing, some might be smaller than usual. Familiarise yourself with the school’s Covid-19 policies and make sure to clarify any uncertainties before you go in. For both in-person and digital visit bookings, the relationship between The Poetry Society, the poet-facilitator and the school will be much closer than before because there are all sorts of new variables to consider and confirm. Be prepared for more emails than usual!

Depending on the age and stage of the students you will be working with, school policy and your level of comfort, some ideas to consider are:

  • Starting the day with a (socially distanced) performance and Q&A
  • How might a poetry session work outdoors? Are you allowed to chalk on the playground?
  • How do you communicate poems at a distance? What poems can you make in Morse code or semaphore?
  • Collaborative exercises might be particularly welcome given the long period of isolation during lockdown
  • Will the students perform their own work at the end of the day? Or will they end up with a giant paper poem to put in a window?

Some practical notes:

  • If you or any of your household has coronavirus symptoms, do not visit the school and contact the teacher and The Poetry Society immediately. We will try and convert this into a digital Poets in Schools visit if you are well enough to deliver it.
  • Your own safety and peace of mind is paramount. Ensure you feel comfortable with the set-up before you go in: if not, let the teacher and/or The Poetry Society know and we will do our best to find a solution. If anything makes you uncomfortable during the visit, be honest about this with the teacher and share it with The Poetry Society afterwards.
  • Travel to/from the school in the way that makes you feel safest. Your reasonable expenses will be paid by the school, but these must be agreed in advance.

Digital Activities

Schools will be using a variety of educational and commercial platforms to deliver online learning by itself and – hybrid-style – in combination with in-person teaching.

Depending on the age and stage of the students you will be working with, and school policy relating to online contact, some ideas to consider are:

  • How will you be beamed in? On a big screen in the hall? On individual computer screens? Carried around the classroom on an iPad? How can you use technology creatively to engage the pupils?
  • If the students perform their own work at the end of the day, how can you use technology to enhance this? Will they record their poems and upload them to YouTube to create a digital showcase that can be emailed out to parents and local groups? Will they share videos to the school’s Instagram? Will the videos be displayed on any TV screens around school?
  • A suggested structure could be to start with a reading/performance followed by a Q&A, mediated by the teacher, then split off into smaller workshop groups with discussion and sharing/feedback – just as in an in-person visit.
  • Some schools may prefer to have pre-recorded content. This could include: videos of your performances; videos/text of other people’s poems; recordings of you delivering workshop activities and writing/editing/performance tips to camera, accompanied by written down exercises and/or worksheets (such as Joelle Taylor’s resource here). Make sure you know if the school will be using these after your visit and how.
  • You may be able to offer more feedback on students’ work during digital sessions. Make sure that this doesn’t extend the visit any longer than agreed.

Some practical notes:

  • Even if you are familiar with the platforms used by the school, have a quick tech run-through with the teacher at least a couple of days before the ‘visit’.
  • If you aren’t familiar with the software, let the teacher and The Poetry Society know as soon as possible. Often, teachers are happy to give you a quick tutorial and help with tech in the sessions.
  • Ensure there’s always a teacher/other adult from the school present in any calls.
  • If you are sharing video, make sure you’re well-lit, appropriately dressed and that you have a plain(ish) background. Avoid virtual backgrounds – when they flicker they are distracting at best, and at worst can cause seizures for those with epilepsy. More on this here (though this offers advice in an events context).

The Society of Authors has a free guide on virtual visits for authors here.

Curriculum Catch-Up or Pandemic Processing?

Some schools will want to focus on activities which are directly related to the formal schooling students missed during lockdown; some will want activities which help students process the collective traumatic experience of the pandemic. Discuss with the teachers their preferred approach, and make sure that you are equipped to deal with the complex wellbeing and mental-health issues in relation to illness, bereavement and isolation which might arise from activities which focus on pandemic experience.

Depending on the age and stage of the students you will be working with, some ideas to consider in relation to pandemic-processing are: working collaboratively where possible, sharing any of your own poems and experiences in response to the pandemic, getting the teacher involved, looking at well-being generally and poetry as a way of processing emotions.

Practical resources

  • Here’s a helpful page on running workshops online from Scottish Book Trust.
  • This video tutorial is useful when getting to grips with Zoom’s break-out rooms

Creative resources

The Poetry Society’s role

The Poetry Society will continue to advertise our Poets in Schools programme and endeavour to book poets for appropriate schools ‘visits’.

Before confirming the booking, The Poetry Society will share with the poet:

  • Relevant information about ages of students, group sizes, number of sessions, any themes for workshops, outcome requirements etc.
  • Any Covid-19 measures or contingency plans (e.g. whether you are required to wear a mask etc.)

If the visit is digital-only, The Poetry Society will additionally share with the poet:

  • The school’s online safeguarding policy and any other relevant policies
  • Which platform/software is preferred and how it will be used (e.g. will the students be sharing video etc.)
  • If there are pre-recorded video activities, when these must be sent by, and whether they will be used by the school afterwards

Before confirming the booking, The Poetry Society will agree with the teacher that they are responsible for:

  • mediating the technology and ensuring the poet is comfortable with this tech before
  • classroom and behaviour management
  • helping the poet make sure no student is left out during the session, and by providing relevant information about students before the session

Standard Poets in Schools fees remain the same whether the visit is in-person or digital.

A note on safeguarding

We have more detailed notes on safeguarding which will be made available when we make bookings with you, but the two key things to remember are firstly, when working with a school, you are not the lead on safeguarding.  There should always be a teacher/librarian/TA in the classroom or online space to lead on this. Secondly, if a child discloses abuse or that they are a danger to others or themselves to you, or you see or hear something related to emotional, physical or sexual abuse, or neglect that worries you, you must share this with the school.

If you’re interested in doing an online safeguarding course, we recommend those offered by the NSPCC or Barnado’s.

These guidelines are current as of August 2020, but are subject to short notice change, and may be adapted depending on your booking’s individual circumstances.