Keeping schools safe is crucial. Some of the measures we have heard the government and media announce are: checking student temperatures as they arrive at school, ensuring regular hand washing, practicing social distancing, wearing face masks and spacing desks. However, my questions are: “Are schools really prepared for what they will be facing once they open up for their students? Do parents and students really understand how the Boards and schools will be operating? Are we missing something, which is central in preventing the spreading of this disastrous virus even further?” In view of these questions, I would like to focus on how clear and effective communication between Boards, schools, teachers, students and parents can, not only enhance the learning experience, but also alleviate some of the fear and anxiety felt by many. Building trust is essential!

Let us take a moment and imagine teachers/schools on one side of the bridge and students/parents on the other side. As you see this bridge, visualize a gap between the two sides, thus preventing clear passage from one side to the other. Now, let us think from the school/teacher position. What are they thinking, feeling, doing and what is their physiology telling them? Teachers are concerned about safety for themselves, for the students, and everyone involved in the school community. They are preparing strategies focused on class size, desk separation, and safety, with masks and face shields as priority. Perhaps, having a nurse check temperatures as students arrive at school is also pressing on their minds. This is not to mention the planning and logistics involved in how to service the whole population of the school utilizing new methods and tools: half the students in school one day, the other half at home watching via online video, and then vice versa. Furthermore, teachers need to be conscientious on how students will navigate through the halls, how they will be dismissed, and how lunch hours and recesses will be organized. The focus is to keep everyone safe, no question here, while maintaining the highest level of learning environment that is expected from our schools. This is scary stuff even for an experienced teacher and with that come all kinds of emotional and physiological symptoms that need to be managed.

Next, let us consider for a moment the other side of the bridge, where the students/parents are standing and what this platform looks like. What is their position? What are they thinking and feeling? What is their physiology telling them and what are they doing?

For starters, parents and students are asked to make a decision on their education prior to starting the school year, whether to remain home or attend class in person. This seems a bit unfair since some schools and Boards are still trying to finalize how it will all work out. To add to the uncertainty, students who choose to attend school must also be prepared to stay home and attend classes online, in the event of another Covid breakout. To consider is also the fact that those who will be attending classes at home will be learning from a virtual teacher who may be from an entirely different school or area. Making such a decision may be quite disturbing and scary for a parent and their child. This fear and uncertainty may often bring anxiety and/or depressing symptoms.

Turning now to that gap I mentioned earlier, we have schools/teachers on one side of that bridge and parents/students on the other side. I believe that this will be where real education will be applied. How this gap is managed will determine what we all will learn about this challenging experience. It will take both sides to arrive at a clear understanding of what each is facing.

It is fair to say that schools/teachers and students/parents have similar worries and fears; they are all trying to navigate the start of the school year as best as they can.

Beyond the physical safety parameters, teachers would be prudent to be prepared with a plan to manage and deal with students’ fears and worries. If you put content ahead of any student, you are risking losing a student and perhaps adding to more emotional distress. Teachers might want to consider that students today will face more pressure not to fall behind. High school students have the added stress of securing their future. Their grades directly impact which program of study and university they will be accepted to and, with competitive programs; this can carry a lot of weight on those students. You cannot help but feel for students in that position, their education will impact their precious future and this cannot be taken lightly! Elementary students will be faced with the most unnatural thing a child could ever be asked to do, to be socially distant from his/her friends. Parents will worry about how they will manage half days at school and half days at home. Some financially challenged families will be making unprecedented sacrifices to assure their child or children receive a good education, never mind a ‘great’ one, under these circumstances.

Parents, on the other hand, would be prudent to understand that teachers will be doing their best. They too are going through an entirely new experience and support under such circumstances would go a long way to minimize an already stressful situation. No one has ever encountered such a pandemic in our lifetime. Know that teachers are not out to discourage your children, nor are teachers looking for the path of least resistance. Teachers are working tirelessly to try and determine how to be as present to your children as they possibly can. They are preparing for more than just one scenario and working diligently to assure that your child receives the best possible education.

How do we close this gap? Remember that image, schools/teachers on one side of the bridge, parents/students on the other side? I believe it is through an understanding and willingness to start on the opposite side of the bridge that will make all the difference. Effective communication happens when both parties can appreciate what the other is going through. Obviously in this case, if schools/teachers and parents/students can see where each is coming from, then they can better appreciate all challenges before them. In other words they are in this together. In communication, language and tone are essential! When the finger pointing stops and we eliminate the seven disconnecting habits Dr. William Glasser refers to as: blaming, criticising, complaining, nagging, threatening, punishing and bribing, and replace them with the seven connecting habits that build caring relationships by: supporting, encouraging, listening, accepting, trusting, respecting and negotiating differences (Glasser, W 2013 Take Charge of Your Life), then I think synergy take place.

Let us consider that most students stop being engaged in school due to three classical reasons: school is not relevant, school is not fun, and teachers just do not seem to care or take the time to really help. With Covid19, during the first few classes, teachers could host class meetings to allow students to voice their concerns and ask questions. It would provide a platform for teachers to observe, understand, and really be able to read where the students are, to plan for situations A, B and C. Being upfront and allowing students to process the reality of the situation might go a long way to managing students’ emotions. Teachers have a great opportunity to provide feedback, assure students how much they do care about them, and how they will manage their fears. They might not have all the answers, but they can create a need-satisfying environment. This environment promotes a ‘feel’ that now both teacher and students will be part of the solution, that they will work together to find the best answer. Teachers need to explain that they all fear the same things and that they will fight them together. They should also be present to parents to ensure that their child will be supported. Parents, in turn, can exercise some patience and support of their childrens’ teachers, and continue to be part of the solution.

One thing I am certain of is that there are no ‘perfect conditions’; therefore, we can all practice an open mindset. I know that most of us have a rather fixed mindset related to school, such as when schools should start, break, and the environment the curriculum should be taught in. This, however, may only force us into situations that may not be conducive to helping the students. Under these circumstances, there is no need to push forward, but instead focus on everyone’s needs and how they can all best be supported under such difficult times. We often hear that change is the only constant. This is the time when our schools can shine and demonstrate their flexibility and creativity, while continuing to foster the uppermost relationships with their students and working towards excellence in education. I applaud all the brave teachers and students as they prepare for the opening of the school year.

(FILE PHOTO: Pupils sitting behind partition boards made of plexiglass attend a class at a primary school, during the COVID-19 outbreak, in Den Bosch, Netherlands, May 8, 2020. PHOTO BY PIROSCHKA VAN DE WOUW /REUTERS)

  1. Tarek Dario BenMiled 11 months ago

    @frenchie Good Job!

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