Back without a moment’s hesitation

Jane is a longstanding arts and crafts tutor with WEA Derbyshire. Her calm, holistic and supportive approach has naturally attracted several students with mental health needs and physical disabilities. When it was possible to return to face to face classes, Jane did not hesitate. The joy on the students’ faces when they first returned made all the preparations worthwhile.

When I look back, I’m just really glad that we managed to carry on. I know how important it is to all my students.

I've run arts and craft courses with the WEA for many years and, for some reason, I’ve become a magnet for people with mental health and disability needs. I don’t do anything particularly different or special, but my style of teaching seems to appeal. 

I tend to let everybody do their own thing. We've accumulated quite a lot of materials, so I think they just feel free to express themselves. I'm very encouraging, but the students are always very encouraging of each other too. Everybody looks at everybody else's work. Nobody is ever precious. They pinch each other's ideas. As a group, they push themselves forward. 

When COVID struck, the WEA responded incredibly quickly. I’d never heard of Canvas, as a virtual learning platform, or Zoom for that matter, but we got up to speed rapidly. It wasn’t fun, if I’m honest. We’re not a very digital lot in our office, so the experience was exhausting. But we persevered. My daughter even taught me how to embed YouTube videos in my presentations, which is something I never knew existed last year.
We couldn’t get all of our students online, but on the other hand we gained students from elsewhere in the country. That added a different element to the group, which was hugely rewarding. 

Going back to face-to-face was an easy decision. The majority of the group feel socially and digitally excluded, and have high need for social interaction and weekly routine, so it was very important for their mental wellbeing to return as soon as possible. We did all the risk assessments and adapted our teaching resources to make sure that the teaching and learning was as 'normal' as possible. We were full up again in no time. Due to the mental health consideration, we were able to stay open across the next lockdown too. Their artwork has been exceptional since their return.

By piloting face-to-face delivery in a 'Covid world', we’ve provided lots of learnings for other tutors and courses to return to class. That’s good to know.

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