Elaine Paul - Creative Solutions Transitions Coach
"The secret of SUCCESSFUL change is to focus all of your energy,
not on fighting the old, but on building the new"
Socrates knew a thing or two about the challenges of embracing change in 5thBCE Greece. For those of us facing momentous challenges in the current landscape of education brought about by Covid-19, adapting to the ‘new normal’ as the school gates open in September might seem to be an almost insurmountable task. The encouraging news is that those of us involved in the educative process can be instrumental in encouraging our school communities to develop new and better ways of delivering education: building greater confidence in our students and fostering well-being in the process. Of course there are many barriers to be overcome but better ways of working really can be found.
As someone who has worked in schools as a teacher for over 30 years and then more recently as a confidence and performance coach, I have found that a common thread has run through this period for a lot of teenagers and younger children. Simply stated, it’s loss.
1. Loss of routine
All children need a certain amount of routine, expectations and boundaries to keep them feeling emotionally safe. Those who work with children will know that one of the biggest contributory factors resulting in misbehaviour is inconsistency.
2. Loss of structure
We know how important routine and structure are for all young people, but for some, it will have had even more impact. There are many students for whom school might have provided the only safe routine and structure they could rely on in their lives.
3. Loss of friendship
The loss of friendship and social interaction will have been hard for some (for others not so much, they may have relished the quieter insular time). Anyone familiar with the DISA Personality ‘colour coded’ Profiling model will instantly recognise this as another beneficial coaching tool to be used in schools.
Teaching is a relationship-based profession. It’s important to take on board that teachers will have missed the interaction with colleagues and pupils as well as feeling overwhelmed by the delivery of on-line lessons and the responsibility of providing exam assessments for GCSEs and 'A' levels [largely ignored by OFQUAL which was demeaning to the professional standards the great majority of teachers set for themselves.]
4. Loss of opportunity
The opportunity – to develop, learn, grow and explore their full potential has been 'lost' to some extent.
Students taking their GCSE’s and ‘A’ Levels have had to deal with the loss of the external exam process: the fruit of their hard work and effort has been judged by an algorithm instead resulting in a great deal of anger and confusion on results day.
5. Loss of freedom
Let’s face it being stuck at home 24/7 with the family will have been tough for some young people (and their parents too). What teenager wants to be locked down with their family every day for 4 months?!
How can schools help those in their communities to recoup these ‘losses’? Investing more time, effort and funding on supporting well-being for both teaching staff and their students will be a strong contender. The truth is that improving well-being has a direct link not only to feeling better, but also functioning better. It helps with physical health, and also improves performance at school as well as quality of life generally. Coaching methods & techniques provide tried and tested tools for achieving this.
What can we do until then?
Vicky Ford, the Secretary of State for Children and Families said in a recent webinar for the Department of Education that this has been an incredibly stressful time for young people. We have an opportunity to support children and help them understand their feelings of loss and make sense of them.
So what can we do as parents/teachers/coaches? Here are my top 3 tips:
Keep The Conversations Going…
Talking helps young people make sense of their experiences and process them. Here are some conversation starters that can help share around the table the following;
· A challenge I overcame during lockdown was...
· A new skill I learned is...
· A hope for the future I have is...
· Something I enjoyed which was a surprise was...
Feelings need to be acknowledge!
All feelings are ok – young people need to know that there are no right or wrong or good or bad feelings. Our feelings help us make sense of the world; it’s what we do with our feelings that matters.
We can help children understand their feelings by validating them using empathy “It looks as though you’re feeling angry right now!” or “Wow! ... seems as if you are really feeling fearful at the moment!” or “It’s ok to feel a bit worried about going back to school, let’s talk about what we can do that might help you feel more confident!”
Explosive negative feelings can 'highjack' young people resulting in a melt-down which can be damaging to mental well-being - the emotional brain [amygdala] is in charge triggering the fight, flight, and freeze response. Knowing this helps to create more control.
Teaching young people calming ‘square breathing’ techniques can be an important tool that they can use anytime to help them self-regulate and reclaim control of their cognitive processes. This then calms the survival part of the brain, re-balances their emotions and lowers their stress response. It’s a useful technique for teachers to adopt too!
As a coach within Education, it’s incredibly empowering to know that I can have a role to play in supporting young people to be the best they can be both now and in the future.