All around Australia, school students and their families are getting back into school routines of lunches, uniforms, searching for lost hats and homework. In most states, the situation feels vastly different to how the school year ended in 2021. After extended lockdowns and learning from home periods to largely prevent viral spread, we now have a situation where the virus is much more pervasive and will more directly begin to impact everyday school life. It is quite possible that many families have dropped their kids off to school for the first day, either having had the coronavirus themselves or having friends and family members with it. Some of our children may even know someone who has become seriously ill; needing hospitalisation or even passing away.
The impact that these last few months have had on our youngest members of society is still to be determined. As Professor Jim Watterston, Dean of the Melbourne Graduate School of Education recently stated, teachers are the “eyes and ears of society”. With children and teens having been at home on summer holidays for the past 6-8 weeks, it is difficult to have a sense of how their wellbeing is truly faring prior to them returning to face-to-face learning this year.
Whilst many students will be excited to start school, some for the first time ever, it is not too much of stretch to consider that many will hold quite high levels of worry induced by this new stage of pandemic life. Prior to 2022, children were largely kept from the centre of the viral storm being considered minor players in the governments’ responses to COVID-19. But as the government has introduced and promoted vaccines for the 5–11-year-old age group, this situation has notably changed. Children now bear the burden of ‘doing their part’ by queueing in vaccination clinics and wearing masks at school. It’d be a stretch to think that COVID-19 is no longer at the forefront of our kids’ minds.
With imminent staff and student absences and the postponement of school start dates, it is likely to be a comparatively disjointed start to the academic year. This will be unsettling to many likely adding a further challenge to classroom learning. Now will be the time to really invest in some intentional strategies to lay the foundations for student wellbeing in your classroom. Research continually tells us that positive, supportive teacher-student relationships are a crucial factor in the quest to support engagement through the establishment of a safe, caring environment. This is particularly true for our students who have a background of trauma for whom a sense of safety at school is critical. While establishing classroom rules are important to behaviour management, this will always be best done in the context of a warm, supportive learning environment.
Here are some reminders for establishing a safe, supportive classroom from the outset:
If you are a school that teaches Second Step® you already have a wonderful resource that you can instantly action to support your students. Second Step is a social-emotional learning program that teaches all the five core competencies identified by CASEL: Self-awareness, Self-management, Relationship Skills, Social Awareness, and Responsible Decision-making. Each of these competencies are fundamental to developing pro-social skills and resilience in people. The Second Step program offers a major and ongoing contribution to your efforts to help your students cope with the challenges life and especially a pandemic brings by explicitly teaching these lifelong skills. Start teaching it from week one. The kids will love the opportunities provided to get to know themselves and their peers through the lessons.
Plan for regular opportunities throughout the school day to build authentic social connectivity in your classroom through the use of short bursts of fun activities. Again, if you have access to the Second Step program the Brain Builder activities embedded throughout the program are offered not only to support the development of SEL skills but also to provide an opportunity for fun social breaks throughout the day for your students. Even adults are not designed to sit and focus for hours without regular breaks which are actually shown to improve productivity. In Norway, schools timetable regular breaks from structured learning each day to support student engagement and learning.
Over the past ten years, the evidence for mindfulness has expanded to include schools and student wellbeing. Studies have shown that mindfulness practices help support mental focus and enhance the wellbeing of both teachers and students. Did you know that the creators of Second Step have developed a series of mindfulness sessions called Mind Yeti? These are available for free to everyone on You Tube, Spotify and other platforms even if you don’t have the Second Step program. Furthermore, the emotion management unit of Second Step supports the use of mindfulness in explicitly teaching children how to cope with stress.
Visit our Covid-19 Support page for other strategies and supports.
If you would like to learn more about how the Second Step program can support your students’ wellbeing and work as a teacher, please contact us at Positive Pieces Education.