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

The Covid-19 pandemic changed how we all worked. Poets in Schools was no exception, and throughout 2020/21 we ran a reduced number of digital and socially distanced visits.

As we move forward, teachers are keen to invite poets to inspire their students about poetry, and to use poetry to explore wider themes like community, climate and racism. The majority of visits are taking place in-person, with many (though not all) schools happy to switch to a digital back-up if a poet needs to self-isolate or government guidance changes.

This page is designed to complement the usual guidance 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.

If you are a registered Poet in School, we have also set up an informal Facebook group in order to share ideas, support and best practice – get in touch if you’re not already in it. If you have any queries please contact our Education Team on [email protected].

In-Person Visits

“I just wanted to thank you so much for your visit on Thursday. The response after from students was so positive and it was great to see them so engaged. It was a great success. I appreciate all your hard work and swapping around the workshops just for the benefit of a few of the students. It was such a great experience to see some of our students realise that they actually are creative after all. I loved it.” – Teacher, October 2020

So many of you have been doing such brilliant work over this difficult time. As you continue to run successful and inspiring Poets in Schools visits, please bear in mind the following practical notes:

  • Poets will be expected to follow each school’s Covid-19 safety protocols. We will convey as much information about this as we can, but ultimately the onus will be on you to investigate the school’s policies and ensure that you feel comfortable before going in.
  • 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.
  • At the point of enquiry, we will make it clear at whether a school would be happy to convert to a digital visit if you need to self-isolate or government guidance changes. Where a school wants to avoid digital visits, we would push for a rescheduled visit; but if a school wants to book a poet on a particular day, we may have to book a different poet. We will be as transparent as possible, but please make sure you are happy with the set-up before you agree. Check our cancellation terms in the links above.
  • Your own safety and peace of mind is paramount. Let us know if there is anything else we can do to make you feel more at ease, such as drawing up a risk assessment. If anything makes you uncomfortable before or 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 if you are booking a taxi this must be agreed in advance.
  • Please let us know if you develop coronavirus symptoms in the 10 days following your visit to a school.
  • Please keep us informed of any changes to your booking.

If you would like to reduce the amount of contact with students, some ideas to structure your day might be:

  • Starting the day with a performance and Q&A in a well-ventilated room
  • Would you prefer to work outdoors?
  • How do you communicate poems at a distance? What poems can you make in Morse code or semaphore?
  • Collaborative exercises between students might be particularly welcome given the long period of isolation during the lockdowns
  • 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?

Digital Activities

“The sessions were full of energy and it bought a buzz into the school. We definitely preferred the virtual – more classes could have a session and the children were engaged. Worked perfectly!” – Teacher, October 2020

The majority of Poets in Schools visits will be taking place in person. However, some schools will prefer to have a digital visit. 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 social media? 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.