Eleventh day of Christmas – schooling with a difference…

School’s back, or soon will be for everyone else. Terms will also start in many hospitals, too, so children who are inpatients don’t have to miss out.

There are lots of ways of helping children keep up with school progress and interests in learning while they are in hospital, or off school for long periods due to their illness.   Some of the Children’s Hospitals could have as many school staff as some average size schools.  The staff may teach in small classrooms, in corners of a ward, or one-to-one at the bedside.  Most children will be short-stay patients so teachers will have to build relationships very quickly and work with flexible lesson plans, as well as often manage some intense emotions.

For the children it is a way to recover some normality, something familiar, creative distractions from serious illness and the traumas of being in hospital.  But it’s not just ‘back to school’, it needs to be tailor-made to suit the students and their circumstances.  The vision of the James Brindley Academy, providing schooling through Birmingham Children’s Hospital, is “…to ‘Think Differently’ to inspire young people to overcome all barriers and achieve their dreams.” (A good model for education everywhere?)

For those children, and sometimes their siblings, in hospital for lengthy stays or frequent visits, the school team is a valuable part of the picture.  Good support for parents too, seeing their children cared for and enjoying opportunities to develop their skills and learning.  Time to slip off for a coffee, or a phone call, with gratitude to yet more people in the team.

Meanwhile, in the home community, there are teachers who help the class show their care for their absent friend, holding their space in the place they know best.   Cards made in class time, letters written from school friends and sent to the hospital, are treasures that reassure a distant patient that they are not forgotten and haven’t lost their place.  A ‘welcome home banner’ painted by the class.  Time given helping classmates understand the reality of the illness and the space given to the young person on their return to school.  A chance for them to tell their story, if they choose, and to be accepted and understood if not.  A novel about children and organ transplants read together in class with sensitivity and understanding.

For some it can take other pathways.  Time out of school can bring disruption to friendships and circles.  Misunderstanding of medical conditions and fears that grow in the absence of accurate information can leave someone vulnerable to isolation or bullying.   The schools that manage that well will not be forgotten (nor, sadly, will those that don’t).

How do teachers, learning support assistants, others in the school teams, deepen their own understanding of organ donation, or other long-term conditions, to make it better for everyone?  How can they sharpen their focus on the children in their charge who are in most need of support?  Paradoxically, they may be the very resources that could strengthen abilities in us all for empathy, compassion and care.

(Live Loudly Donate Proudly has helped ensure organ donation awareness materials are available for all primary schools in N Ireland, with secondary schools to have the same this year – for more see our previous blog).

Schools, like the rest of us, work best when we pay caring attention to those who need it most.  It’s repaid many times over.  Grateful for our own experience, and that of many other friends, thank you – thank you to those who make it all work through their teaching in hospitals, at home, or in our schools, teaching much more than a curriculum.  Five Gold Stars on the chart…