International High School Singapore
In my role as an Emotional Health Practitioner, I recently delivered an online teacher training day about working with students post-lockdown, and on staff wellbeing. Over the course of the training, it became apparent that far too few teachers feel equipped to cope with students’ emotional wellbeing. Several commented that they do not feel qualified to deal with learners’ poor mental health.
With many students around the world returning to their classrooms this September, after months at home in lockdown, it is more important than ever that teachers feel able to support students to cope – not only with a very different transition back to school, but also with the wider events and circumstances affecting them.
The return to the classroom makes it clear that school life has changed. With 2020 shining a light on students’ emotional wellbeing as never before, how can we do more to help our learners understand and manage their emotions?
Firstly, it’s important for us to acknowledge that students will have experienced lockdown very differently. Some will have welcomed the temporary relief from school pressures. Certain children will have naturally enjoyed time spent at home. It may even have improved some relationships between parents and children.
However, sadly, not all children enjoy loving, caring and supportive home environments. For many of these children, the additional time at home, and the inability to go out to school, may have brought them significant emotional distress.
Then, we must also be mindful of other vulnerable students as they return to school, for instance those who have experienced loss or bereavement; those who have been shielding as a result of health conditions (their own or a family member’s); those who already have existing social, emotional or mental health needs; and those who have special educational needs or disabilities.
Although each student’s experience of lockdown will have been different, all have faced the same challenges: missing school; missing their friends and teachers; and missing their extended families. Each will have needed to tap into their own resilience, and each will have had a different level of coping skills.
The rules and consistency of school life will allow students to feel safe and protected, and being back to the classroom will be an instant comfort to many. Students may turn to their teachers to ask for help to deal with their experiences. Although it may not always be easy to know how to react to a young person who is distressed, crying, experiencing a panic attack or expressing an anger outburst, I believe that ALL teachers are equipped with the ability to support students.