Getting Teaching Staff Ready to Reopen During COVID-19

We all miss our students. We can’t wait to be able to hug them and see them in person and finally teach them face to face. In a perfect world, the moment would be in slow motion, heaven would open and angels would sing, and you would run to your student, scoop him up and twirl around with giggles and squeals.  

(Insert screeching halt sound effect) 

But sadly, that is not the reality we are in. The day we open our doors to our little ones will look much different than what we wish it would be like. This doesn’t mean it won’t be fun and exciting, but it’s important to mentally and emotionally prepare for what it will be like in this “new normal” for at least a few months. As educators, we must be prepared so that our expectations are not all over the place and remain realistic.

There’s a quote that was used in the military that has always motivated me to prepare for any task and it says, “Proper preparation prevents poor performance.” Let’s not forget that preparing for reopening does not just involve cleaning and lesson planning. We must also prepare our hearts and minds for what is to come.

Here are some ways to prepare ourselves for the realistic expectations for when we reopen:

Children Will Have Separation Anxiety

The children who used to be with us for 8+ hours of their day have been with family around the clock for months. 24/7 with no break, no babysitter. This is great for family dynamics in healthy homes, but it will make for a “rude awakening” when we first get back to school. Let’s face it- habits have been made, both good and bad ones, and children love being with their parents, so day 1 will be tough. 

On the flip side, maybe children are excited to come back to school, but when they pull up to get checked in, they have a strange person wearing a mask coming toward them with a thermometer that looks like a gun. Woah. That’s scary. To ease kids in on the first day and in the beginning, treat it just like that – the first day of school ever. Do all of the activities you would do as if it were the very first day.

Depending on how you are doing “check-ins” at your center, try to approach the child without a mask from far away or on the other side of a glass door. Then when you get within 10 feet, wave to the child and say, “Hi (name), I am going to put this mask on now and will take your temperature with this tool. Consider “dressing” up the thermometer to look like a character or animal with ears so it isn’t as scary looking.

thermometer butterfly for children

The week prior to opening, send a video to each child in your class welcoming them back to your class through HiMama. Be sure to do a portion of the video with a mask on so they can be familiar with what you look like with and without one. You could also consider having a FaceTime or Zoom call with individual students if the child is old enough. This would be a good time to ease parents’ minds. Do yourself a favor and keep the call to a 15-minute maximum. Keep it light and friendly. Maybe sing a quick song or read a quick story. 

Children May Be Afraid

This whole time at home, children have been overhearing news reports, conversations between family members on phone calls, and have not been around people very much. Expect their behavior to be a little “off” and treat them as if you are meeting them for the first time. You’ll need to get to know them all over again, so be sure to take lots of time for that. Don’t just dive into the curriculum that you normally would. Consider talking about fears and what to do when we feel afraid. Incorporate yoga stretches and yoga breathing for the older kids to show coping mechanisms. And most of all, show grace. This is a lot for a tiny human (and for us!) to endure. Expect meltdowns. Expect tears. Just be their constant during this time and show empathy. This is a lot to take in, and words don’t always form at this age. 

Children Will Be Completely Off Schedule

Let’s face it – parents have just been trying to keep the tiny humans alive. It’s been a free for all, and they need boot camp 😉 Expect to re-learn EVERYTHING. Routines, rules, behavior, etc. Treat it like the very first day of school. To help parents feel successful, send a sample schedule to parents in the weeks leading up to opening so they can implement some important routines like naps and mealtimes. Plan to spend the first week or two simply getting to know one another and going over the routines and schedule.

Here’s a sample daily schedule you can send them:

You Will Be Tired At First

It’s been a while since you’ve had to teach or work a full day. Remember your first week of student teaching? Yep, that’s what it’ll feel like. You will be exhausted. Do not plan any extra evening activities if you can help it. Go to bed early. Eat healthy. It’s been a while since you’ve worn real pants and been on your feet like this! Don’t be too hard on yourself. If you start to feel weary or want to give up, remember that this is temporary, and you will be back to your energetic self! Drink tons of water and wear comfy shoes during the day. You’ve got this!

You Will Need to Learn How to Pivot Into New Structure and Patterns

Even though you may have the same students back in your care, things will be different. You will need to change your mindset and be willing to be flexible and open to a new normal. Change is never easy, and if you’re anything like me, I avoid change at all costs. Everyone will pivot at different paces in different ways. Be ready to encourage your coworkers. Pay attention if you see a fellow teacher struggling. Catch yourself if you’re complaining and try to spin those thoughts into positives before it leaves your mouth. It is so easy to whine and wish things were the way they used to be. Don’t waste your energy doing that. It’s ALL about attitude, so look for things to have joy about and spread that!

It’s a good idea to do some research and see what is working well for other childcare centers that have already opened and are having success. (Feel free to reach out to me personally for a pep talk or a good cry!)

Please do not try to act like you have it all together. Of course we all need to walk around with our heads held high and be professional, but if you are faking it most of the time, that is not healthy for you. Meet with your director, and have open and honest conversations about how you’re feeling. It’s okay to be sad and disappointed that circumstances look so different. Just do yourself a favor – don’t set up camp in that headspace. Allow yourself to mourn, but then move on to what is the new experience.

Remember, you are a pioneer. NO ONE has ever had to do this before. You get to set the bar. Go into this with hope and realistic expectations. Will it be difficult? Oh, you bet. Will you want to give up at first? Most likely. Will you miss binging Netflix and wearing sweatpants all day? Probably. But, teacher – you are needed. You are essential. And because of you, we can start to get back into some kind of normal. Keep your head up and a stash of chocolate in your top drawer. 😉 

Missy Knechel

Missy is a professor in the early childhood department at Eastern University and director of Victory Early Learning Academy, a childcare center that she started ten years ago. Prior to that, she taught Kindergarten and second grade for a total of 10 years. She has been married to her best friend, Jason, for 18 years, and together they have four beautiful children ages 8, 9, 12 and 13 in the suburbs of Philadelphia, PA. In her spare time, Missy loves to bake, read historical fiction, sing karaoke and travel to Central America on short term missions.


  • Anganetta Salery says:

    Yes I have a question group activities I think would be better than children just playing and Gathering Together group activities you can spread the kids apart. 6 ft due to this Coronavirus situation instead of having the children run around and play with each other I’m still trying to figure out how to keep them separated and a part

    • A very valid concern. Something we are doing at my center (and this is what works for us, so I am not saying it will work everywhere) is that we are having each classroom be a “family unit.” Each “family unit” will social distance from other “family units.” We are keeping our class sizes smaller than normal, and we will stay 6 feet apart when it is easy to manage (nap time, meal time, whole group time), but we are not going to enforce social distancing within each “family unit.” Small groups are what we thrive on anyway, so we will continue to do more things in small groups. I hope that makes sense for you. 🙂


    Good morning,
    This information on preparing for the return of children to the center is Excellent. For children and families as well as teachers. Thank for this. This experience has been very traumatic for me, and I did not think it through for the return to the center.
    It will be scary for the children, and the social distancing will be hard because it has been the policy of children running up to their teachers and greeting them.
    Thanks for the suggested lesson plan. Children might has questions, about COVID 19, they might have had a family member to die from COVID 19, ten there are the protest and riots- WOW! what a mess.
    There are so many issue that can come up. Thanks again for preparing us. Lamonte’ Blades, Milwaukee WI

  • Linda Jeter says:

    They hit on everything that can and we’ll come up very Educational

  • Yes, so many variables and so much to process for these tiny humans. I love your passion for wanting to be ahead of it and prepared for it. I’m glad it was helpful for you. We can only do our best and take it one day at a time. Much love!

  • Emelda says:

    Just keeping in mind that its going to be a learning process for the teachers and for the children as well. Expect meltdowns, tears and separation anxiety. be ready to show empathy and be more nurturing and caring. Have an over-comer’s mind set.

  • Sheri says:

    Thank you sooo much Missy for all your helpful suggestions!!!
    I work with Toddlers, and I’m not sure how this is going to work. We have a couple 18 months in our class that needs lots of hugs during the day.
    And also not sure if they will keep masks on all day!!! Any suggestions?

    • Hi Sheri! I’m so glad you liked this post. I am happy to tell you about what we are doing at my center in PA, but I can’t speak for all centers. So as I give my suggestions, please know that it is just my take on it as director. 🙂

      Toddlers and babies should never ever wear masks, and that isn’t a suggestion. That’s a CDC guideline. Only kiddos over the age of 2 are suggested to wear them. For my center, we are considering each classroom group a “Family unit.” Each family unit will social distance from other family units, but we will not be social distancing within our family unit. We WILL be limiting kisses and extended hugging, but we will not deprive our babies and toddlers of the comfort and snuggles they need. Parents have been made aware of this. Our children in our center who are over 2 years old will be encouraged to wear masks when they leave their “home.” (classroom) So, when they are in the hallway on the way to somewhere, they will wear masks. When they reach their destination (bathroom, playground, etc.) they will remove their masks. So the masks are only for transitions, and children who refuse to wear them will not be disciplined.

      Hope this helps you, Sheri!