Supporting Health and Wellbeing; Students, Parents, Teachers

How would you treat a pupil who came to you and said they were feeling overwhelmed? We teachers are experts at listening compassionately and supporting others through hard times. So why is it that we struggle to do the same for ourselves? This evening I attended a webinar lead by Clinical Psychologist Dr Natalie Flynn and Dr Nina Hood of The Education Hub.

Teacher Wellbeing

At the moment, teachers are really struggling to allow themselves to feel stressed or low. We are going through a global pandemic. We are being asked to teach in a totally different way and it is hard. We must acknowledge that it is hard. And then we must stop beating ourselves up for not meeting high expectations.

A good first step for teachers, as suggested by Dr Flynn, is to comprise a list of all of the things that you are expected to do. Then negotiate, prioritise, work out what can feasibly be done and set a time to do it. You wont be able to do everything and that has to be okay. 

We absolutely cannot compromise our mental health by overdoing things and burning ourselves out. If we do this, our students will miss out anyway. Now is the time for self compassion as opposed to self esteem. It is the time to acknowledge that we all have flaws, that we are human and cannot do everything. We must be kind to ourselves.


  
Student Wellbeing

Many students are feeling huge anxiety for a range of reasons. The change itself -of not being allowed out, is anxiety inducing. No matter the cause of the anxiety, Dr Flynn stresses that one of the best things parents and teachers can do is to validate children's feelings.

Anxiety about learning. Many students may feel anxious about their grades, particularly those in years 12 and 13 who will be taking NCEA exams. It is important that we listen to them, validate their feelings - yes this really does suck and then reassure them that things will be okay. Remind them that how they do this year isn't a reflection of what their entire lives will be like. It is also important to remind them of their good qualities outside of school - their whole self-esteem should not rest upon their latest test score. To try and reduce this feeling in my students, I have been giving them small bite sized pieces of learning that they can complete and share everyday.

Lack of socialisation. Some children will struggle more than others with lack of socialisation. Parents, this may be time to relax the rules a little - children may need more time online to talk to friends than they did before. Again, it is important to validate the child's feelings - it is easy to brush them off with phrases such as 'its okay, you'll see your friends again soon'. But this fails to acknowledge their feelings and can increase their anxiety. Instead, agree that it is really hard and acknowledge what they are telling you.

Disengaged students. If you notice a child is disengaged, and not completing tasks, ask them how they are feeling. Check in and see how they are finding the work. It could be that the child is feeling stressed or overwhelmed, so before you launch in to scold them, talk to them, see if you can find ways to help.

Parent wellbeing

This is a really stressful time for parents. It is extremely difficult to balance work and family/ domestic commitments during a lockdown. We have to acknowledge the stress that parents are under and be realistic about our expectations as teachers. They do not have hours to sit with children and teach them, go easy on them! See my top tips for online teaching for more ideas about how we can simplify this.

Parents, we know you have a lot on your plates. Perhaps we've given you a huge stack of Pinterest worthy activities in an attempt to be helpful. We have the best intentions, but we understand if some of these tasks are left uncompleted. We've got to work together, as we are all doing our best and want the same thing; happy children. 

Going back to school

Teachers need to be realistic about their expectations. We cannot expect to go back to school and get straight back into full on learning. Instead, we need to focus on keeping our learners calm and address their mental health. We need to place emphasis on self compassion - we are going through a hard time right now, we might not feel great. Only once we have reset our class norms and regained a sense of calm, can be begin to teach.

Some students will have struggled in lockdown. They will display this in different ways depending on their age. Very young children may regress a little and become clingy, while older children may display low mood through irritability.  Early studies are showing that teengagers in particular are struggling with mental health at this time. Some previous mental health issues may reemerge due to this time in isolation. Focus on these students in particular. We cannot give our all to every single child. But we can place a more watchful eye on students who are presenting with mental health issues or have struggled in the past, those with challenging backgrounds and those who are particularly driven by their marks. These, Dr Flynn advises, are the students who are most at risk.

it is likely that more students, parents and teachers will be feeling stressed and overwhelmed. We can anticipate this, but we cannot normalise it. It is vital that we acknowledge these feelings and get support. Particularly if we recognise them in ourselves. 

Comments

  1. Wow Danni, my students and I were just talking about what it might be like when we return back to school. Some of them are feeling anxious about it. Thank you for this blog post, it certainly has has given me some things to reflect on to prepare myself and my classroom practice for returning to school. 'Teachers need to be realistic about their expectations' this is a powerful and realistic statement. I agree with looking after the mental health of our students and also ourselves before settling back into the norm but then again what is the norm after the Covid-19 pandemic? I will surely share this blog post with my colleagues. Thank you again.

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    Replies
    1. Hi Amy,

      Thanks so much for the comment. It is going to be interesting to re-establish a norm after this, particularly if we start out with social distancing etc. in play!

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