How teachers can cope with anxiety during lockdown
By Chris Pearse
30 Apr

For the thousands of teachers who are at home in lockdown this must be a strange, unparalleled, time to live in. In his latest article, Chris Pearse shares his thoughts and advice on how teachers can cope with anxiety during lockdown.

As a former primary school teacher, I vividly remember the incredibly vibrant, emotive environment of the classroom. Every day was different, but each always had moments of joy. Inquisitive pupils eager to learn, assistants ready to support and guide, and colleagues to encourage, inspire confidence and share ideas. Teachers working innovatively were constantly trying new strategies to inspire and motivate their pupils to achieve and learn, whilst ensuring that everyone felt assured, safe and cared for. We shared a buoyant staffroom where anecdotes were shared, gripes were brought, birthday cake consumed! Bustling playgrounds were full of laughter and we watched friendships being built. Staff shared good practice with colleagues and moaned, listened, marked, prepared – until the caretaker shook their keys! We had a mission and we were indefatigable in pursuit of it.

Let us pause though for a while and consider what all these events have in common. Surely, the main link is the social interaction – one of the main things we are missing in lockdown!

I am sure teachers are pining to be back in their classrooms, mourning the loss of a feeling of control over their students’ progress and development. They must not fret: at some stage that norm will resume and teachers will continue to educate, probably better than ever before due to this unique experience. In many ways for the first few months back our teachers will need to be ‘supercharged’ as the health workers have been during this pandemic.

Meanwhile teachers are working hard to provide the best support and guidance that they can, from their remote locations. They understand that their class sizes have doubled. They are now required to use their skills to support parents and guardians too as they strive to educate their children at home. Added to their usual long list of jobs teachers are now wondering what advice they can give to these fledgling educators.

Children and adults thrive on praise. However difficult a child is finding their learning teachers remember to focus on the positive and find something to praise however small. ‘I like the way you asked/answered my question’ or, ‘your handwriting is great’, will elicit a willingness to try even harder. If in doubt ‘You are trying so hard’ never fails. At this time teachers must remember to apply this strategy to their own learning. They must remember that this situation is a learning experience for them and they must acknowledge that their best is often amazing. We are not good at patting ourselves on the back but now we must give ourselves permission to do so.

Listed below are a few ways that teachers can cope with this unique time:

  • Keep in touch with colleagues, parents, guardians and students. Our strength is in our communicating skills and we can still use them via social media. A call or a face time to colleagues, parents, guardians or a struggling pupil may be just the motivation they need.
  • Ensure that community feeling is not lost. Encourage your pupils to share pictures of their work with each other and to praise each other fulsomely.
  • Don’t worry about pupils falling behind. Focus on what pupils will have learnt and look forward to seeing how they have developed in so many different ways.
  • Prepare for the eventual return – remaining positive about the impact it will have on students.
  • Encourage your students to keep a diary so that they can share their experiences from when they were off school.
  • Be old-fashioned. Send each child a handwritten note telling them about something that might interest them. Give them a small personal challenge, or something to find out about so that they are motivated to reply to you at school. Tell them what you have been up to. Send them a weekly motivational message.

Most schools have taken to learning online and are trying to give a student-centred approach. Yet, that wonderful face to face contact is lost. So, will classroom learning always be the winning formula for pupils and teachers? Will this pandemic alter the way we educate our pupils? Is it possible to give the same experiences through a computer? Can we achieve friendships, debates, social interaction through an online world? I would argue - no. Nothing can replace a direct smile of approval or a comforting, reassuring touch on the shoulder.

Coronavirus has forced people around the world to change how they live and interact with other people. Staggeringly, school closures have affected over 1.5 billion students. A whole new language has been introduced: break the chain of transmission, flatten the curve and social distancing to name just a few are key phrases that this virus has added to our vocabulary. However, we should all understand this is for the ‘common good’. To protect our communities, friends and loved ones. These sacrifices are for one another. By distancing yourself, you are contributing to a societal act – a collective act. Nevertheless, we will never lose sight of each of our children as wonderful, individual and gloriously different personalities with amazingly different things to teach us. Neither will we fail to preserve our absolute confidence in our ability to let each and every one of our pupils understand that we know them and see them through our personal face to face interaction with them. This is at the core of what we do.

Teachers and educators are currently working incredibly hard to be creative online. Videos, worksheets, and curriculum relevant resources are being created daily, to make the best connection possible with their students. They are achieving miracles in the most challenging circumstances. I do believe a word of caution should be given here. Students must be kept engaged (not overloaded with worksheets). Now is an opportunity to look at and encourage parents and guardians to seek wider ways and areas of learning. Below are a few ideas on how to ‘think outside the box’ which you can recommend, certainly for younger kids at home.

  • Create your own story. Ask parents or guardians to join in. They can write a sentence; the pupil adds their own and so on! Encourage them to try to make the story comical.
  • Learn a new skill. Maybe juggling, learning an instrument, singing, learning a new language, knitting, skipping, baking and gardening (indoor plants as well).
  • Do some experiments. Set up an aeroplane designing competition. Which design goes the furthest?
  • Having an opportunity to ‘play’. If fortunate enough to have a garden – making dens, playing sports, or just developing an imagination. Encourage children to make up their own activities using pebbles, cardboard boxes, or balls of wool.
  • Play family board games. Use those traditional games to encourage family time together.
  • Learn to meditate together.
  • Keep a family gratitude list. Children will surprise you with their contributions.

Teachers must focus on reaching out to colleagues, parents, guardians and children during this time. Despite isolation we can continue to lead and inspire children and parents to experience learning as fun. We can be the links which preserve the social contact which we all so desperately crave and the guidance and encouragement that children and parents look to us for. I am sure there will be many embraces on those first days back at school. Together we will get through!

At Galore Park, we have compiled a range of resources to help support teachers during school closures. These include digital resources, practical tips and advice on our blog, and information for parents and guardians home schooling. Find out more here.

PLUS, we are offering 20% off all 11+ and 13+ revision and practice resources until 14th July 2020. Find out more and order online here.

Chris Pearse is Managing Director and Tutor at Teachitright. He is also author of Galore Park’s Verbal Reasoning 11+ and Pre-Test resources. Learn more about Chris here.

Tags: 11+, 13+, 13+ Common Entrance, 13+ Revision, Common Entrance, Entrance exams, home schooling, learning, pre-tests, revision, revision prep, Revision Tips, school entrance exams, schools, Study, Study Skills

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