Helping students overcome the challenges brought forth by the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic is as important as academia. King Edward’s Witley School in the UK shares its strategies with IB World Magazine.
COVID-19 (Coronavirus) has significantly impacted everyone. It’s helped us realize that schools play a crucial role in helping students overcome some of life’s difficult challenges. Now, more than ever, it’s important for schools to support students’ needs as psychologists are concerned about the long-term impact the pandemic will have on children.
Many factors may contribute to a student’s ability to deal with the pandemic. These include reduced interaction with peers, the dramatic change to the normal daily routine, fear of family and loved ones being infected by the virus, their future and, of course, the uncertainty of how long the lockdown and social distancing restrictions are going to last. Not all students have regular online access, which can also cause considerable stress.
Maintaining a routine
For some children, the changes can be a lot to handle. It’s helpful to ensure a routine is put in place.
Since lockdown, King Edward’s Witley, a boarding school in the UK which offers the Diploma Programme (DP), has begun the virtual school day with either a house meeting or a tutor group meeting; lessons take place at the normal times (although many lessons are available online and/or recorded so that students in different time zones can follow at a convenient time) and students can still access a varied co-curricular programme. A primary focus for the tutors is to ensure that positive, motivational contact is being made.
Keeping students motivated
To maintain the momentum and stimulate motivation, the school developed an individualized ‘Skills for Sixth Form’ programme, which prepares students for future DP studies. It included a research project, guidance on CV development and interview techniques.
For its school leavers, King Edward’s Witley created a ‘Skills for Future Success’ course to prepare them for the workforce and university. It offered academic, careers and life-skills guidance as well as advice on budgeting, conflict-resolution, cooking and household maintenance.
“The impact of this time will persist well beyond any return to (new) normality”.
“Our belief is that action is sometimes the best reliever of stress so, by offering an appealing and valuable distraction that requires their input, we hope to shift the focus away from what is not happening, towards new initiatives that demand their engagement in the here-and-now. We have also ensured all students are aware that they can talk to the school counsellor, pastoral staff and members of the well-being team to help them work through their anxieties”, says David Corran, deputy head at King Edward’s Witley.
Encouraging good habits
There is a danger that children will become over-reliant on the internet during the lockdown period. “The vast majority of the younger generation make far more use of social media than we do. It is important to moderate this without stopping young people from connecting with friends, often only manageable online under lockdown. The pressure of an ever-present digital connection is a source of stress, which can interfere with sleep quality and quantity”, says Corran.
Anxiety can also lead to interrupted sleep and bedtime routines can help. Teenagers need 8-10 hours of sleep each night to function well, yet a study by the Sleep Foundation found that only 15% reported sleeping 8.5 hours on school nights.
“Just as parents need to ensure that their child is getting sufficient sleep on a regular school day, the same applies to the new virtual school day”, says Corran.
Reducing feelings of isolation
The adjustment to the new distance learning world can be extremely hard. There is also a risk of isolation and a deeper feeling of loneliness for some students.
The school has issued clear guidelines to both staff and students to make the virtual classroom a place of calm and order and to encourage engagement from all. The principles of consideration and inclusion are just as important as they are in a classroom: e.g. teachers acknowledging the virtual raised hand to recognize contributions from all students, not just the most vocal; using the chat function to enable otherwise timid children to contribute their thoughts.
Benefits of lockdown
There have, however, been some tangible benefits during this time. Richard Davies, head of sixth form at King Edward’s Witley, says: “Apart from the new-found resilience that many students will have acquired, the most significant learning will have taken place in self-management and organization.
“Moving from an environment in which students sit down in a lesson and listen to the teacher for instruction, to one in which they have to navigate online learning platforms such as Zoom, Google Docs and WhatsApp project groups, across multiple time zones, while competing for time on the laptop/ bandwidth at home requires careful planning and effective prioritization in order to adhere to deadlines”, he adds.
Davies says that for many of their students, paradoxically, the transition to complete lockdown and a 100% blended distance learning environment may have helped them realize the importance of community.
“This is not only in terms of face-to-face contact and laughter in a classroom but also, more broadly, from an altruistic perspective that resonates with the school’s original mission―recognizing who else is in my physical community and questioning what might I be able to do to support those less fortunate”?
At this point, nobody can predict the future learning landscape but Corran believes there will be a lasting impact following recent events: “The impact of this time will persist well beyond any return to (new) normality. We intend to expand our counselling provision, and through an audit of the school’s well-being provision, we will be prepared to meet what will no doubt be an unprecedented set of demands on pastoral staff when school returns”.
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