I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. – Henry David Thoreau
If we learnt, or experienced nothing else positive during the COVID-19 isolation and school closure period, I’m sure we could all agree that it forced us all to take some time to stop, and reflect. Many of us, children and adults alike spent the first part of the online learning time being abruptly confronted by how uncomfortable and lost we felt, when we did not have the distractions of the busyness of life. Then came the second wave, where in the comfort of our homes, we discovered or re-evaluated the important things in life. While COVID-19 restrictions meant a physical isolation and disconnect from friends and various activities, it created an opportunity for families, particularly with teenaged children to re-connect again. It has been an awakening and uplifting experience talking with so many of our boys about how much they ‘learnt’ during this time at home. ’I missed my friends, but it was nice for a while to just be, to have the time to really talk to my family, and enjoy doing the simple, meaningful things in life together’ – Year 10 Treacy House student.
If you are still reading, somewhat in disbelief, because you and your children had a COVID-19 experience that sounded nothing like the one above, never fear. We have just as many families report that their households have never been so dysfunctional or chaotic. One mother (lovingly) told me that ‘after trying to teach my own child for two weeks, I believe all teachers are crazy people, who deserve a pay rise’. We have heard stories from kids who laughed (in hindsight) about having to lock themselves in bathrooms, just to get some peace and quiet to join a zoom meeting and one student reported ‘My brother and sister are nice, but geez they annoyed me at least a thousand times a day, and I know mum wanted to sell all of us to the first bidder’- Year 7 student
While we will all be enjoying the return to school, the gradual lifting of restrictions on group gatherings and the reopening of the mall and movies, for various reasons, I think there are a few key factors teachers and parents need to take heed of. Firstly, it is most important to realise that there was no right or wrong way to ‘experience’ the isolation and online learning period. As teachers, we need to be mindful that every student who returns to our classroom has had a uniquely individual experience. It is our job is to identify how well they thrived, or how much they disengaged socially and academically. We need to help them process this in a meaningful way, where life lessons can be learnt, yet wellbeing kept intact. We need to understand that as each child experienced the online learning differently, so too will be their way of reintegrating or re adjusting socially and academically with face to face teaching. Teachers and parents need an increased dose of patience, a big spoonful of empathy and a heap of encouragement. Furthermore, I hope we do not revert back too quickly to just filling the gaps. I hope we all remember the importance of spending quality time with our family and the long term, meaningful rewards that this brings. I think despite our individual family’s experiences of online learning, we have all realised that quality relationships are something we all need to work harder at cultivating.
One way we have tried to foster this realisation in our students since returning to the classrooms have been to run effective communication lessons as part of the Personal Formation periods. Students have been learning about strategies and theories for active constructive listening, and active constructive responding. By building their capacity to engage meaningfully in conversations with others, they are building their capacity to establish and maintain meaningful relationships with family members, teachers and peers. This has been coupled with scientific theories about how feeling and showing gratitude releases ‘feel good chemicals’ in the brain and makes people more likely to want to be around them, in turn making relationships more significant and positive for them.
For resources on how you can engage in meaningful conversation and activities with your child and family during a COVID-19 context, please click on the following links.
Remember, the rich conversations we cultivate now, build stronger, more resilient students and connections with our children that will better prepare them for life on the other side.
Head of Treacy House