The world is in turmoil. Many countries have implemented lockdown measures to mitigate the spread of the new coronavirus and protect the most vulnerable members of their communities. These measures include shutting down most schools in Australia.
So, just like millions of people worldwide, students are experiencing radical and unprecedented changes in their lives. They suddenly have to stay away from their grandparents and other family members. They see less of their friends, and most of their favourite places are closed.
Children lack the emotional tools to handle stressful situations like this. Some might have an even harder time adapting to the new reality, as they might be facing additional challenges, like living with parents who have lost their jobs or have reason to be worried about falling seriously ill.
Under these challenging circumstances, we must be there for them. We must find ways to stay connected with our students so that together we achieve some level of normalcy, consistency, and stability. Except that we have to build a new normal for them, with a focus on safeguarding their emotional well-being.
1. Protect students from stress
The sudden disruption of our daily routine and the underlying uncertainty about the future is overwhelming for everyone. Your students and children need all the reassurance they can get. So above all else, speak with honesty and explain the situation to them. Emphasise that these measures are preventive, temporary, and apply to one-third of the world’s population. Realising that they’re not alone in this will provide some comfort.
Also, keep your eyes open for students that seem more anxious than others. Children with family issues, learning difficulties or a tendency to worry are likely to experience more stress than other students. If you deem it necessary, contact their parents and express your concerns. Remember, education is about three things, relationships, relationships and relationships.
You should additionally guide all students towards activities that will help them channel their energy before stress starts to bottle up. Some physical activities that are fun, cheap, and easy to do at home are hula hoop or jumping rope. Expressing their feelings through art, like painting or practising an instrument, is also very helpful.
2. Shift from attendance to check-ins
As I previously said, it’s important to maintain some level of normalcy among these changes. Education must not be set aside, as this would communicate that we’re in a state of panic and complete disorganisation.
That said, expecting to conduct online classes seamlessly and in real-time is far from realistic. Unless your school can provide each student with a laptop, chances are your students are sharing their devices with at least one more family member, who are probably using it for work.
Instead of trying in vain to come up with a schedule that works for everyone, send out short recorded videos and other online educational resources. Allow students to study at their own pace and focus on frequent communication. Prompt students to check in daily with you, however they prefer and for whatever reason.
3. Give your students fun assignments
This is not the best time to obsess over sticking to the school curriculum. If anything, students don’t need the stress of demanding home assignments. What they need most is a distraction. Apart from that, parents might not be able to help them out, as they’ll be facing changes in their work routine and possibly schedule.
But now is the best time to put a different spin on your assignments. Preferably, a creative one! Always taking into consideration their talents and personal interests, ask them to craft something. Hands-on projects are more effective in reducing stress while keeping them creatively occupied. Students can do a lot with LEGO and cardboard and you can create some amazing lessons with everyday materials. Don’t forget, teaching is the most creative job in the world so let your imagination soar!
Another idea is collaborative assignments. For the sake of social distancing, collaborative assignments can be about exploring topics (like literary or historical) and collaborating online. Check out www.tinkercad.com for digital design where the students can collaborate live in real time using the invite feature.
4. Share your news daily
Remember that “checking in” we talked about before? Checking in should be a two-way street, and, being the responsible adult, make sure to lead by example. If you can, send your students a short video or an email every day talking about your day. If you can do so at a specific time, that’s even better because they’ll have something to look forward to.
Don’t stress over what you’re going to communicate—just be real. Tell your students how you’re feeling today and how you spent your day. Maybe let them know what your next lesson will be about. You can even send a funny meme, recommend a good book or a movie, or share an interesting news story you’ve read. Many teachers also read aloud extracts from their favourite books, and students seem to love it! I’d also recommend a show and tell with pets, it’s so much fun! The principle of reciprocity applies here, the more you share, they more they will share and consequently the more connected you will all be.
5. Create a “good deed of the day” challenge
Last but not least, help your students see how each and every one of us can contribute meaningfully. And how even small, but thoughtful, gestures can brighten someone’s day. The “good deed of the day” challenge doesn’t mean they should go to great lengths or feel pressured about it. On the contrary, even staying at home is an active way of contributing to this fight by protecting those around us.
And what could these good deeds be about? It can be something as simple as calling their grandparents on the phone or helping with house chores. They can also write a positive message or draw a happy picture and hang it on their window for their neighbours to see. They’ll let you know during your daily check-in!
Maintaining a positive outlook and safeguarding our mental, in addition to our physical health, is essential. As teachers, we can contribute to making this challenging time easier for our students by actively being there for them and providing guidance, knowledge, and opportunities for fun.
Working Together We Can Build Better Brains!