Many students of all ages are returning to education over the next few weeks across the UK.
Talking to both school-age children and university students in the course of writing this blog, as a mother of a thirteen-year-old who is going into year two of High School as well as being an adult student myself returning to do my fourth year at university, I was intrigued to see that students across all ages have the same question: “What is going to happen this next academic year?”. The answer is that no one really knows. COVID-19 has changed the face of our education.
The Government and NHS continue to manage the danger of serious sickness from the virus by now shifting away from imposing harsh limits on everyone’s daily life and instead focusing on advising people on how to protect themselves and others, as well as targeted initiatives to lower risk. COVID-19 is becoming a virus that we must learn to live with. The disruptions of COVID-19 on our education system have been well documented throughout the media over the last year with views from teachers, students and parents, all of whom have been working extremely hard to try and achieve some sort of normality in challenging times.
At Digital Bricks this month we have put together a seven-step resilience guidance to help anyone going back into education, or supporting someone who is, to maintain their resilience over the next few months despite the many uncertainties about what lies ahead.
1. Expect the unexpected
The more fixed we are on certainties the harder it is to adapt to change. Something that the last year has taught us all is that we need to be able to embrace change. However, this is easier said than done. Especially so for parents with school-age kids planning around childcare or work, or for older children and university students planning around assignments and workload. Some students with specific needs may find the constant changes particularly challenging. We are all individuals, and one solution doesn’t fit everyone. Look for individual support plans from lecturers or teachers if you or your child is struggling and think creatively about what is possible rather than focusing on what isn’t possible. Learning to be adaptable is a skill. In this guide from the Autism Awareness Centre about teaching kids with autism to be flexible, there are some great tips for all of us to use. For example, comparing our attitudes to rock and clay – in which aspects of our life do we stay fixed and rigid and how does that serve us? Learning to be more pliable and open to change can be less painful. It’s not easy, but it’s sometimes necessary. As true now as it has always been, when we cast around for solid certainty, we often get disappointed. So, learning to expect the unexpected can help us to be resilient in the face of change, particularly when it is out of our control.
2. Know what support is out there
Part of an individual support plan is knowing what help is available. Most educational establishments have wellbeing officers, or similar, who can discuss individual needs and offer strategies for support. Universities offer counselling and other forms of support, usually via a wellbeing hub, that students can access. Don’t forget to also reach out to your GP if you are dealing with any anxiety or difficult feelings that go on for longer than a few days. For me, once I realised that I could get support for certain skills at university, it made my working day easier. Now, if I am unsure about writing an essay for instance, I can book a tutorial with a lecturer. Similarly, if my daughter is struggling with a school task, we can speak to her teacher about finding a different approach to getting that task done. Asking for help is a strength, not a weakness, and accessing support when we need it can help us develop strategies for building resilience.
3. Help your teachers to help you
According to a report into COVID-19 and its impact on teachers, 49% of teachers stated that pupils not completing work was one of the most challenging aspects of working remotely. This statistic may reflect a few factors – for example, students might have been unsure of how to access and complete the work set, or the work set maybe wasn’t completed because of other factors going on at home. If you or your child is struggling to complete assigned work, get in touch with the person that assigned it and explain why. There may be other options, so do say something. It can be easy to let things slide and then problems become magnified. Remember that education staff aren’t immune to getting stressed out too and they would rather you talk to them and work together to find solutions, than say nothing.
4. If you are having issues, say something
Which leads us to this important point – any issues you are facing should be talked about and not kept hidden. It’s easy to think that we must ‘keep calm and carry on’, but for many of us this can be interpreted as keeping silent when we are struggling, thinking that other people don’t have time for us. Reach out to friends, family, colleagues or other students to affirm connections. Talk about your feelings and let them know when you need support, even if it’s just a pep talk and a bit of cheerleading. Sometimes just having someone say “you can do this” makes a huge difference to your day.
5. Spending some time off screens is vitally important
This is especially important for kids but applies to all of us. So, while we want the connection with others that social media gives us, try to make sure that you aren’t online constantly. Living online isn’t great for our mental health and it can make us engage in catastrophic thinking if we are constantly reading scary news stories. Be selective about your social media and online engagement, and encourage that in those around you or that you care for. We all need to conserve energy for learning, so limiting the websites we look at to ones that enrich our lives and support our study rather than ones that leave us feeling helpless and defeated, can be helpful.
6. Keep healthy
Look after your body by building in some healthy habits on long study days. Have food in the fridge that you can snack on that you know supports your immune system and energy levels rather than relying on sweet treats and caffeine. Look for ways to simplify your meals by planning them out a week ahead – this is a great way to take the effort out of cooking when you know you have a lot to do. I use the slow cooker a lot now and my daughter has become an expert home baker. We try to limit junk food and instead look for recipes that are packed with natural, energy giving ingredients.
Build in rest time and proper breaks. For university students, evenings may be full of study but there still needs to be some downtime to recharge. Find a couple of stress relieving activities that you can do at home when you feel overwhelmed. My daughter and I play Mario Kart together or catch up on a Netflix series or two as a way of unwinding from our studying.
While none of us know what the next year holds for us, there is also an unexpected side to the year. We have already shown an ability to be adaptable and have developed skills to thrive as independent learners. Rather than seeing the last year as a hindrance, I like to reframe it as a growth opportunity. We can pass this growth mindset on to younger learners too, because we should all be very proud of what we have been able to achieve so far. Let’s build on that together and try and retain a sense of positivity about the next academic year.
At Digital Bricks Learning we’ve been working with Mental Health Foundation, Children’s Health Scotland and Scottish Government to create an online resource for school staff to help children and young people’s mental health as they return to the classroom. We’ve also been working with housing associations and local authorities to provide resilience training in the workplace. Get in touch with us on our contact page here to have a chat about building resilience in your team.
Susie – Digital Bricks Trainer
More information on COVID-19 and education:
UK Government Guidance https://www.gov.uk/coronavirus/education-and-childcare
Scottish Government Guidance https://www.gov.scot/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-guidance-on-reducing-the-risks-in-schools/