Getting Connected after Isolation–3 words to reconnect kids to the joy of school
Every day I work with young people who are out of school – sometimes temporarily at home because of illness but often out of school because they are permanently excluded from one school and waiting for a place at a new one. So I spend a lot of time reconnecting kids with school, through a complex rebuilding project that involves re-building self-belief and self-confidence as well as changing mindsets and behaviour This is all in the hope that the young person will re-connect with learning, re-connect with themselves and ultimately connect with a new school. For all young people the last few weeks have been a period of isolation but their experience of that isolation will be varied; for some it will be simply isolation from friends, familiar routines and boredom, for others the experience will have been traumatic, possibly with the loss of loved ones. Although there may be a range of lockdown experiences it is still an experience we have all shared and as teachers we can look ahead to a return to school and anticipate the needs of the young people we work with and consider what they will need from us.
MEET THE KIDS WHERE THEY ARE.
The young people we will be working with have experienced trauma, they have lived through an emergency and however well they may appear to have coped, this trauma needs to be recognised. What type of teacher would you need if you had experienced a catastrophic emergency? Our challenge is to be THAT teacher for the young people we work with. We can start by listening to our young people, give them the time and space to talk of their experience so we can accept, begin to understand and acknowledge their experience. Then we can talk honestly about the universality of the incredible challenge we have experienced but equally talk of resilience, coping and overcoming the challenge. Shared community stories of overcoming adversity, community action that helped the vulnerable and action that bought people together (albeit virtually!) will help to talk with optimism and hope about a shared, collaborative and compassionate future. Framing this catastrophe as any sort of opportunity is difficult and needs skill and sensitivity but if it is done there may then be the opportunity for post traumatic growth. Still, there will be as many different experiences of the emergency as there are people in your school community but we all have resilience and although our stores may be seriously depleted they can be re-built. Young people especially are incredibly resilient and you know your kids well enough to remind them that they are strong enough – remind them of past successes from history or from the school and wider community, talk of how they have overcome obstacles and difficulties before and how they can do it again.
THROW A WIDE CIRCLE.
We will be inviting our young people back to a place they haven’t been to for maybe months…a place they may have previously loved being present at has become a strange place and one that might hold significant fears. The physical space of school may have all sorts of new and alien rules and restrictions so if we are to re-connect with kids we can make the learning space something that is attractive. In the very first instance it may be that the ‘learning space’ is first a ‘nurture space’ and this will help young people to readjust so they can feel reassured and step confidently into the learning space and reconnect with school. Throw a wide circle means avoiding deficit talk of ‘catching up…being behind…or missing work’ – it might not be enough anymore to say that school work is important because you need it to pass exams. We have set virtual work for weeks so it is our chance as teachers use our expertise to throw a wide circle and set engaging, exciting and challenging work that connects with young people’s meaning, purpose and passion. Set work that connects and see it from their point of view; if necessary, break it down, scaffold it, offer it up in small chunks and then celebrate when even small pieces of work are completed.
And here are the three words that hold so much potential for us to connect with our young people – I SEE YOU. Too often in school kids are only seen as a field in a data set, as a label in SIMS or as a score on a spreadsheet. Take the opportunity presented by this ‘New Non-Normal’ to really see them by connecting with them as a fellow human beings, with all the hopes, dreams and fears that being a young human entails…remind them of their ‘why?’. The skilled teacher builds relationships that understands young people’s deeper motivations and allows them to connect with them and really be a champion for them. Talking honestly and humanely about their why will help to connect them back to school and school work and show them what is in it for them without cheapening the work. It comes back to meaning and purpose and passion…the kids ‘why’ or even a school community ‘why’ (with reference to school values and the character expectations of the young people) will build a deeper connection with kids and create a space where you can then deliver any number of hows, whens ,wheres and whats.
SEE THE BEST PART
Even if we consider young people’s emergency experience on a sliding scale of trauma (from the tragedy of losing a loved one to the catastrophe of months of isolation) the whole school community will still have had a different experience and maybe even several different experiences along the scale during their time away. It is going to take a long time and hundreds of small maybe hesitant and faltering steps to rebuild connections, so notice those small steps, celebrate the wins, however small. Take the opportunity to build a store of successes to help the young people and the whole school community to see that relationships are being rebuilt and connections made that are bringing the school back together as a community. Now is not the time for the language of coercion, control and power so talk about hope and optimism and relationships, responsibility and potential. Be generous with fresh starts and second chances. If you have looked after yourself as the professional and adult human in the room you can remind young people of the procedures and the school structure and reinstate behavioural norms by talking about choice and consequences with grace, understanding and dare I say it love, protecting the dignity of both of you.
You too have experienced this catastrophe so have you looked after your own well being? We may have taught from home but we have also worked through an emergency so it is more essential than ever that we take self care. Do the inside work necessary (Connect, breathe, pause, rest, move, notice, prioritise, organise, keep perspective and boundaries etc) to take care of your well being so that we can connect and talk confidently to our young people of possibility growth and improvement. We must get our well being to a place that we can respond rather than react; control the controllables; and see the best part so that we can create the time and space for the kids to be able to do the same.
You get through a crisis by holding onto and being guided by core values –compassion, solutions, generosity, kindness and collaboration amongst others. Everything might change because of this emergency and yet nothing that really matters ever changes. Everything I have detailed above is a reminder of values and strategies from teaching wisdom of old – nothing particularly new but it is what has worked for me to build relationships in the past and possibly what we need to really see our young people and help them to connect with learning, school and ultimately themselves.