How Well-Prepared Are You To Face School Reopening?
In the pre-Covid era, you probably would have answered this question with your enthusiasm and energy at full throttle. However, with the entire world in disarray, it is typical to harbor doubts and uncertainties as schools tentatively reopen after months of closure.
The pandemic has affected all student, teacher, and parent communities globally. With their education disrupted and thrown into chaos, students, in particular, are struggling with untold mental health problems. According to recent surveys, over 80% of students say that Covid-19 has made their lives lonely and stressful.
How Students Are Weathering The Impacts Of The Pandemic
Prolonged lockdowns and self-distancing protocols may have done their part to curb the spread of the virus. Unfortunately, they have negatively impacted the lives of school and college students. Educators from several schools in Chennai like the Babaji Vidhyashram School list the Covid-19 repercussions as follows:
- Social isolation
- Psychological anguish and distress
- Abrupt disconnection with friends
- Abrupt transition from physical to online classes
- Increased anxiety and apathy
- Lack of participation in a virtual environment
- Lack of motivation to study
As the pandemic raged on in 2020, teachers collaborated with school admins to motivate students to stay engaged despite the distance. They created routines and learning methods to encourage long-distance learning.
After multiple pandemic waves, schools across the globe are in various stages of reopening. School heads and teachers must prepare themselves for the mega shift to welcome students who have faced challenges like isolation, loss, and personal trauma. So, here’s the big question: How can you help children heal? What can you do to improve their mental health and wellbeing? Let’s find the solutions to these challenges.
Strategies To Support Student Wellbeing When Schools Reopen
1. Listen to your students
One of the foremost ways to demonstrate empathy, care, and concern is to lend an ear to your students’ concerns. Provide opportunities to have one-on-one conversations to encourage student communication. Be open to discussing any concerns that they may have. Treat every concern with priority and report anything that deserves more attention.
2. Keep them well-informed
Keep children updated about the latest information concerning Covid-19. Use child-friendly and age-appropriate resources to share information concerning:
- Signs and symptoms
- Hygiene protocols
- Social-distancing protocols
Arming students with the right information is a sensible way of eliminating anxiety and panic that is often fueled by rumours and misinformation.
3. Watch out for behavioural changes
Be extra attentive to changes in students’ behaviour. If you notice significant and persistent changes, you can gently approach the student and encourage them to talk. Questions like, “Is there something going on? Would you like to discuss it?” may encourage students to open up and seek help.
However, you should also follow school protocol and seek additional support from mental care professionals if necessary. You should also notify the parents and watch for any further changes.
4. Schedule regular check-ins
Connect with student families via email or video calls and discuss any concerning issues directly with the parents. Never assume that no response to a check-in means you are not needed. Make it known to parents that you are always available to open discussions about issues related to their wards’ mental and physical wellbeing.
5. Encourage sports and play activities
Many schools have strictly restricted children from using the playgrounds to enforce physical distancing measures. However, schools like International Village School, an international school in Chennai encourage their students to continue their sports activities because it:
- Allows children to be physically active
- Provides opportunities for socialising
- Promotes long-missed interaction with peers
It is also crucial to ensure they adhere to all safety protocols while indulging in sports activities and games.
6. Promote empowerment measures
Schools can consider taking a proactive approach to guide students in returning to school. Consistent support will help students manage struggles, work through them, and bounce back stronger. To promote efficacy and empowerment amongst students, you can:
- Create opportunities to discuss how they feel about reopening
- Teach emotional management techniques such as deep breathing and meditation.
- Teach mindfulness and positive self-talk
- Encourage self-care initiatives
- Ask for student feedback and include their ideas in important decisions.
7. Build a social connection
Encouraging social connection in a fragile, vulnerable, subject-to-change kind of environment is easier said than done. However, it is not impossible. Schools can:
- Encourage one-on-one discussions with teachers, counsellors, or mentors.
- Pair students to support each other and connect over what they are learning.
- Create opportunities for active connections over passive ones.
- Encourage students to cultivate real social connections whenever possible
- Create routines like morning meetings to promote emotional sharing.
- Schools should ensure to continue these practices even if virtual learning is back.
What Schools Should Avoid Doing To Promote Mental Health
In promoting mental health, some schools and teachers may go overboard with their efforts. Knowing when and where to draw the line is key to making your effort a success. Here’s what you can avoid doing while helping students:
- Do not push for information or ask awkward questions.
- Do not tell children that everything will be fine.
- Avoid recounting harrowing details of traumatic events.
- Avoid dominating the conversation.
- Do not ignore concerns, however small they are.
- Avoid giving surprise tests, assignments, and last minute schedule changes.
With Covid-19, the circumstances are changing rapidly, and we need to stay updated to understand how these changes affect the student community. We need more than just measures and practices to keep our children safe and sound. It requires the collective effort of the entire community to ensure solid support for student wellbeing.
Support from home and society is equal to the support rendered within the school campus. Teachers can introduce various modes of communication to connect parents and students with counsellors mental health professionals.