Smoothing the return to on-campus schooling

EducationWorld February 2022 | Magazine Teacher-2-teacher

Allan Andersen

Allan Andersen

When students return to school following the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown, the focus of institutional managements shouldn’t just be on academics. They will also need to help children with the transition back to in-person classes while supporting their mental health and well-being. According to several authoritative studies, anxiety and unhappiness rose among youngsters throughout the pandemic. Hence, it’s vital for school managements to devise well-defined procedures to protect their students’ social and emotional wellness when they return to normative schooling. This is especially important during the transition period when students migrate from online learning to in-class schooling.

Students have differing emotional responses. Learning loss apart, your students will have endured a range of losses during the prolonged period when schools were under lockdown. Therefore, back on campus children and teenagers will react to difficult situations in differing ways. It’s critical to address every student’s emotional needs in a personal way after she returns to school.

Create a safe environment for students. As children return to on-campus schooling, the institution must provide a secure environment within which to communicate their anxieties and experiences. This is critical for their emotional well-being and personal development. In our school, we have launched a Mentoring Initiative which recognises that children returning after a lengthy absence from classrooms will bring a baggage of problems.

A mentor is a grown-up ‘buddy’ for youngsters, forming a link between teachers and pupils that extends beyond classrooms. Students can express any problem they are encountering with the mentor/facilitator. Not only will the child be able to express herself in a non-judgemental space, she will also be reassured that she has a friend she can rely on. In this programme, the role of teachers and facilitators must not be confused. The teacher still remains an authoritative figure — one who instructs and guides. But the teacher who assumes the role of a facilitator/mentor must be an individual who doesn’t give direct instruction to the child. For instance, senior school teachers could mentor students of junior classes.

This programme is the outcome of the school’s objective to nurture leaders who are emotionally stable and capable of dealing with the problems that life throws at them. Several professional development workshops were held prior to the programme’s commencement to train facilitators for this position. Facilitators received extensive training on how to become enabling listeners to diagnose students’ problems and create a meaningful environment for every child. Despite the fact that the connection is informal, it has a serious goal.

Completion of lessons can be secondary. After return to in-person classes, students may exhibit disruptive behaviour if they don’t acclimatise quickly. Children and teens who have suffered grief such as the death or prolonged illness of a loved one will have focus difficulties. Teachers need to make allowance for this, giving them time to manage their experiences before they get back on the academic track. Moreover, it’s also vital for teachers to acknowledge that certain students, particularly those approaching school-leaving exams, may be impatient to get back into the classroom and make up for missed time. While it’s expected that students will initially find les[1]sons stressful as they have to focus on learning while the epidemic continues, it is equally essential to note that free time during school hours (lunch breaks and time before and after school) may be challenging for certain students.

School managements must realise that the past 18 months have been difficult for all students and that this will impact their academic performance. All students across grades will initially experience adjustment problems while shifting from online to offline study. We must be prepared for these problems, even though students are excited about returning to school. Academic stress could be compounded by accelerated teaching-learning. We must first determine where each child is right now, and then establish a good and reasonable pace for academic advancement.

Modelling coping behaviour. Teachers can — and should — provide good modelling behaviour for students. Children will observe you and replicate the coping behaviour you employ to deal with difficult circumstances. Maintain a positive attitude for children by remaining calm, honest, and compassionate.

Lastly, it’s important to accept that the transition from home and online instruction to on-campus in-class learning will be difficult for children. It can feel like a new experience. At this point, it’s critical to establish a support system for students. The next several weeks will be critical for parents and teachers to monitor children and identify changes in their behaviour when schools reopen around the country. The measures listed above will help to make the change less stressful. Smoothing the return to on-campus schooling It’s vital for school managements to devise well-defined procedures to protect their students’ social and emotional wellness when they return to normative schooling

(Allan Andersen is director, Chaman Bhartiya School, Bengaluru)

Also read: School reopening happiness

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