Learning, but learning what?

Sponsored: David Hodgkinson, secondary teacher and educational consultant, explores the changing priority of wellbeing and character in schools during the pandemic

As the current situation evolves, there remain challenges for everyone involved with the care of young people. At home, those charged with looking after them are often juggling multiple responsibilities, whilst schools are facing difficult decisions about how to welcome back some year groups, and how to ensure that other pupils continue to make the progress.

Such circumstances call for a steady hand, with a clear sense of priorities. If we can remember that the wellbeing of the child in the long term is our real goal, we may see things in a different light. Yes, mathematics, English and other studies are important, but only important in the context of a child whose mind, emotions and body are healthy.

Adapting to this new landscape

The stresses and strains affecting our whole society mean that children have been seeing normally calm adults pushed to their limits, be it through excessive work, the slowness of things which would normally take hardly any time at all, or, worst of all, due to illness or bereavement.

Add to this the fact that many children are not getting to see their friends as they used to, and life at school, when they return, will be very different. Children’s mental health is suffering and must be a priority.

What does this mean for educators?

In the first instance it requires emotional intelligence and vigilance. When we address our pupils, to whom are we writing or speaking – a child in the situation outlined above, or just someone who, for whatever reason, can’t be bothered to do their work?

We need to watch our tone and language, speaking in terms which are supportive, and caring about the whole child as a person. These are all part of good teaching, but there is far less room for error now: every word matters as never before.

Secondly, we can reflect on what we are really trying to achieve. Schemes of work and learning objectives make it easy to fall into the trap of thinking such aims are a be all and end all, particularly when we are not in the classroom together.

We plan and develop resources to meet relevant criteria, and then care for the children as we meet them, and see their reactions, both academic and otherwise. Remote teaching, in particular, challenges us to think about this again, as we cannot rely our tried and tested ways of approaching wellbeing. Likewise, the new regime in schools is leading us to work in different ways.

What is our aim?

We need to ask some basic questions to reshape our approach. Is our aim to foster emotionally healthy, independent, lively young people, or simply to get the job done by ensuring academic progress? If we focus on character in all our interactions, the current situation can be seen very differently.

We can ensure that our words and expectations do not damage character by forcing situations, but rather foster the sense of resilience and energy so needed to face this crisis both in the short and long term.

Inspiration from Amazing People who knew adversity

One message from the characters on the Amazing People Schools website is that success in adult life often needs strength of character, especially in times of adversity. There may be flashes of insight, but they are often the product of years of application and reflection.

One such character is Isaac Newton who found his studies at Cambridge interrupted by the Bubonic Plague, and yet went on to formulate the laws of motion which have been at the foundation of this area of physics ever since.

The younger generation will continue to experience a range of emotions in the ongoing circumstances, which may well lead them to question the point of learning. A gentle reminder of how others have worked and succeeded can be very helpful. Equally, as teachers, we need to remember that our charges may be struggling to come to terms with this new landscape, and want things fixed now.

We can offer support to help them face whatever comes their way in a tolerant, kind and calm manner inspired by the examples of others who have succeeded in the face of adversity. We can only do this if we ourselves care for them in this manner, encouraging them to develop resilience through our words and actions.

Longer term success, academic or otherwise, will come, if pupils are inspired to be resilient, determined and aware of others. These challenging times offer an opportunity to develop such character strengths and prepare young people for future success.

Amazing People Schools supports the building of important character strengths such as resilience, creativity and kindness drawing inspiration from amazing people from around the world including Albert Einstein, Madame CJ Walker, Jesse Owens, Marie Curie and Shakespeare.

Free access is being offered to all schools. The website contains everything prep and secondary schools need to build their own programme. Sign your school up for free access.

Website: www.amazingpeopleschools.com

Twitter: @Amazing_Schs 

Facebook: AmazingPeopleSchools

Instagram: @amazingpeopleschools

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