Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Dealing with difficult times

I've been designing a series of learning experiences for the Toddle Community and these have included sets of PSPE experiences for students around how best to deal with difficult emotions and feelings during the time of COVID-19.  With schools around the world closed, students have had to get used to a completely different daily routine, and to deal with the stress, fear and sadness of lockdown.  For all students, schools provide safe places where they can socialise and build relationships, which we know are important aspects of a child's development.  For many, being in social isolation and not being able to connect with their friends face to face has led to all sorts of physical manifestations of stress such as problems with sleeping and concentration.  Students need to know that these feelings are normal at times like these, that it's fine to express them, and that there are strategies that they can learn that will help them to cope.

For our Early Years students, it may be that the only clues that parents have to what they are feeling is in their behaviour, since they will find it difficult to articulate what they are thinking and feeling.  For older students they may react in various ways, from wanting to be online much more and interacting with friends virtually through to becoming more isolated as they feel angry, upset and defensive.  It's important to have conversations about how they are feeling - and for them to know that it's OK not to feel OK.  Older students may need more information and strategies they can do to keep themselves safe and in control, such as more frequent handwashing.  They may also enjoy keeping a diary or journal at this time to record their lockdown experiences, or to get involved in other creative activities such as art or music as a way of challenging their emotions in a positive way.  Mindfulness and meditation can be fantastic ways of coping with stress at this time - for parents and teachers as well as students!

With this in mind I developed 3 sets of learning experiences: one for Early Years, one for Lower Primary and one for Upper Primary.  With the older two age groups I wanted students to come to a better understanding of the virus and how to keep themselves safe through activities such as handwashing, and I included many practical engagements that students could do at home and that would help them to deal with stress, such as meditation, mindful eating, keeping fit at home and getting enough sleep.  I also included experiences to help them focus, such as mindful colouring and origami, which relax the part of your brain that deals with fear and reduces the thoughts of a restless mind.  At times like this, it's also important for students to recognise gratitude and thankfulness as these improve our mood and they are especially important in difficult times, so I included activities about these too.

Equally important to consider is how things might need to change once schools reopen and students start to return.  Looking through the Toddle Learning Library, I came across this webinar by Ali Ezzeddine.   Ali writes about his own experiences as a young teacher during the 2006 Lebanese war and how, once schools returned, the focus was on ensuring students could express their feelings and emotions.  At his school, the decision was made to focus on the needs of the students such as their mental health and wellbeing, before implementing the educational plans already drawn up the previous year, and so teachers rewrote their first unit of inquiry to take account of the students' emotions and feelings (something I have heard described as Maslow before Blooms). 

Right now, whether we are trying to support learning at home, or whether we are now dealing with students coming back into school again, we need to ensure that what we are teaching is relevant and significant and that it acknowledges where the students are right now, so perhaps some of the designated content can be put on hold for a while.  As Ali writes, "your virtual learning is not the same as your in-school learning", and no matter where we are right now we need to ensure that we have realistic expectations of what learning can take place.  Perhaps our focus now needs to be more on the learner profile and the approaches to learning, or perhaps we need to all be focused on the key concepts of causation, responsibility and change.  Ali also questions how we can help our students to connect with others around the world to share our experiences - which is a great way to consider human commonalities.

At this time, many teachers are asking the question: what can we take away from this remote learning at home?  What do we want to hang onto when we move back into school?  What have we been doing that we now want to change?  This is a perfect time for teachers to be doing their own inquiries.  The learner profile attributes of being thinkers, inquirers and risk-takers can help us to re-envision learning as we move forward.

Photo Credit: glendon27 Flickr via Compfight cc

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