Adjustment and resilience

Principal's news Wednesday, 18 May 2022

It is wonderful to plan for the year ahead with relative certainty that we will not be back in lockdown and remote learning. Whilst cases are still prevalent in our community, high rates of vaccination and access to medical care, appear to be mitigating many issues related to COVID-19.

In addition to a return to school, students are also taking up extra activities, both at Shelford and in their local community. We have Energy Hub, Cross Country, Athletics and weekly sport training, in addition to the gym being open for students to use before and after school. Music lessons, ensembles, competitions and festival and other performances, the Shelford Dance Company, the Junior School Musical and Senior Play, are all occurring and many students are involved. In addition, there are more clubs available for students, like Chinese, Chess, Coding, Philosophy, Cooking, Dungeons and Dragons and activities like Debating and Public Speaking. We are able to have guest speakers, excursions, House and School assemblies and camps. Our students are very busy!

Going back to school after a break is always a challenge and getting back in to a routine a little jarring for all. This year, students, families and staff, have had to adjust from two years of interrupted schooling, online learning, lockdowns and disruption. This may mean some students, families and educators, are feeling a little overwhelmed. COVID-19 is still with us, as are other events in the world that cause concern for young people, images of war in the Ukraine and environmental catastrophes like floods. 

We have all had to call on our strength to bounce back from myriad situations and disappointments in the last two years, which have certainly tested our resilience. The changes have been unprecedented; disconnection from school, friends, families, lockdowns, remote learning, pressure to be vaccinated, fear of illness. Children and young people have experienced the change and seen the impact of the last two years on their families. The consequences of the last two years are still reverberating and mental health statistics for young people point to the negative affect of the pandemic. There is increased anxiety, problems with sleep, disconnection from friends and feelings of loneliness. Our tanks are running on empty, and we have not had time to 'fill up' yet as we re-enter 'normal life'.

Young people’s wellbeing has never been more important. We aim for our students to feel connected, to enjoy being with each other and to be free of tension. When they are in this state, they are much more able to learn, rather than feeling anxious and unable to cope. We have invested in staffing in wellbeing this year and have structures, people and programs in place to support students and families.

At the same time, teachers have been living for the last two years with huge additional pressures. They had to work online at a moment’s notice and learn new skills in order to adapt to this model of learning. To engage students, keep assessing and giving feedback, many extra hours of work were done. Often, they would work feverishly during weekends, holidays and on weeknights, to deliver remote learning of a high standard or to prepare for a return to class. 

Teachers are also now adjusting to being back onsite full time and all that this requires of them; the resumption of extra curricula activities and duties, meetings with parents, interaction with colleagues, commute times, their own families’ increased schedules and the realisation that teaching does not afford the same flexibility that many other professions do, in terms of working from home. They are also managing students who have gaps in learning, difficulty concentrating, test anxiety, trouble completing homework, difficulty socially and emotionally and with less physical stamina.

We will all take some time to readjust. Our wonderful teachers are busy reassuring our students, working to ensure gaps in learning are covered and trying to have students retain the sense of independence that they had during the last 2 years and direct their own learning where possible. They are also working hard to support their social/emotional health and provide opportunities for collaboration and fun. 

Our students’ relationships with teachers are important and can link to self-confidence and resilience.

We need to support our teachers by having parents focus on the positives in the return to school. Students need to feel from the adults in their lives a reassurance that all is safe and well. Encourage them to be involved in activities, to reconnect with friends, and to foster relationships with teachers. Younger students need to learn again how to take turns, share, work in a group and be together. Older students may feel overwhelmed in being with each other again and require some more 'down' time at home to reenergise and recharge. 

Parents can ensure routines are maintained or put back in place. These should include clear strategies to ensure adequate and consistent sleep, including 'no device' time prior to an agreed bedtime and lights out time. An emphasis on outdoor play/fitness and an encouragement to be involved in school sport is a good idea. Parameters around technology use should be agreed to, in terms of time on a device, public charging of devices, technology free times and no devices in bedrooms at night. Helping with homework may mean providing a quiet space which differs from the area which students associate with COVID-19 lockdowns or help with schedules, by using whiteboards/notice boards and having family meetings to discuss commitments, to help students with organisation. 

Please support your daughter’s teachers by being confident about their abilities. Trust them to support your daughters at school and address their learning needs. Positive, respectful relationships are important and we are working hard to transition our students back to school and all that this means. A strong and respectful partnership between families and teachers lies at the heart of Shelford and will help your daughters thrive.

Katrina Brennan

This article was originally published in our Shelly Newsletter.