It is almost impossible to read about the pandemic in the UK news without coming across some reference to concern regarding pupils’ mental health as a result of lockdown. Whether or not you believe the accuracy of the scale of the reported issue there is no doubt that, as with adults, young people have found lockdown difficult. In the same way that we all have varying levels of resilience our students have faced lockdown differently. From September there has been uncertainty and disruption to education, and from January an extreme increase in screen time and expectations around remote learning for students as much as for staff. And once students return to school in March there is still like to be some disruption to learning as bubbles inevitably have to isolate. So; once we’ve put on our own life jacket how can we support our students’ wellbeing?
Here are some of the things that we’ve tried as a school – it is not an exhaustive list so any additions and ideas would be greatly welcomed!
Remind students, in your online lessons, that our current situation is not normal – we can’t work at 100% right now but we can try our best. Define what that looks like for you, in your remote classroom, for example: trying work, asking for help, answering a question in the chat etc. Praise and reward students with a shout out in the lesson or if you have time an email or phone call home.
Keep it in the lesson
The number one stress our students cited in their student voice on remote learning was when tasks were set for homework if not completed in the lesson. The students felt they didn’t have time to return to tasks – or the energy – after a full 7 lessons of online learning from 8.45am-3.00pm, so make sure you remind students they don’t need to do work after the lesson. If something isn’t complete then return to it the following lesson just as you would do if we were in school.
Build in admin time
Support the students by giving over 15 minutes of your lesson once a week to admin. This could be time for clearing their inbox or just making sure they’ve submitted work or answered their register questions for that day. In the same way that you feel like you can’t get through emails fast enough so do the students – so help them out by giving them the time to do it. This might need modelling – we’re expecting students to be as organised as we are as adults throughout this process – so help them out by giving them tips or showing them how to set up an email folder etc.
If you’re worried about engagement; at the end of the lesson ask them to write into the chat one thing they’ve done that they feel better for having sorted.
Share what you’re struggling with and show them it is tough. Ask them how they are, listen to their responses and normalise their feelings and concerns. If something worrying comes up then safeguard it in the usual way. It helps everyone to hear that they’re not the only one finding x or y difficult.
Build in the breaks
Our psychology teacher swears by a brain break. He uses them religiously in his in school lessons and likewise in his remote. 5 minutes – get away from the screen – grab a drink – whatever- he promises it works wonders.
If you’re worried about losing their engagement in this tactic, try something controlled like an off topic conversation or video.
Are you ready to…meditate?
Meditation is like eating fruit and veg – we all know we should be doing it consistently but we don’t (please say it’s not just me!). However, I’m surprised by how many of the students at my school do meditate regularly and it is far less foreign to them than it is to me. One of our staff members starts off her post lunch lessons with a class meditation played through YouTube. I happened to be supporting the key worker students in the classroom on the day this took place and one particular student (who I expected to find this challenging) did it in full and absolutely loved it! So why not share a moment of calm?
What’s the opposite of homework?
Instead of setting students a task related to learning, why not create some wellbeing bingo and suggest a non-screen related activity for them to complete between now and the next lesson and feedback to the class. From going on a scavenger hunt in the local park, to reading a book or magazine, trying a YouTube yoga or dance class, baking a cake or writing a letter to a relative; there are lots of things we can encourage the students to do to take their mind off the challenges they’re facing that remind them to be children again.
Sarah Eggleton is Assistant Headteacher and Head of English at Stretford High School.