Deans of Pastoral Care

The importance of connection in the time of COVID-19

If someone asked us to look into the mirror four months ago and for the mirrored reflection to be one that would be characterised by social distancing, online learning and not seeing everybody on campus each day, we would have said, ‘you must be joking’! However, the reflection has been that and so much more. It has been a challenge to adapt quickly to a changing world and to what the new normal is when faced with living with a pandemic, but, whilst we have learned to adapt, we have not forgotten the essence of what truly matters most and that is the value and significance of remaining connected to one another.

Teachers play a significant role in helping students manage their anxiety whilst they learn and live in pandemic times. Seemingly overnight, their world changed and along with this came a heightened anxiety and uncertainty. In these unprecedented times, teachers were able to rise to the occasion creatively when called upon to shift their teaching to the FACE Online platform. Even in a traditional classroom, it can be a challenge to support students with anxiety. With distance learning, this difficulty is magnified. However, there is much teachers can do to reduce anxiety in students even while teaching remotely. During this pandemic, we need to prioritise students’ mental health over academics. The impact of trauma can be lifelong, so what students learn during this time ultimately won’t be as important as to whether they feel safe.

In a time of change, when students were separated from their teachers, it was paramount to help them continue to feel safe, cared for, and connected. Strong relationships with teachers can insulate anxious students from escalating. Connecting hasn’t had to be time-consuming to be effective. Providing a Zoom video of yourself explaining a concept or posing a provocative question, was a wonderful way to help students feel connected to their teachers and the class in general.

Our responses to uncertainty have been heightened at this time, and we have been educating the students about the strategies they need to meet new challenges. Schools have made many plans to help mitigate risks and concerns during this pandemic, but we also have been working with students to educate them about their planning in response to uncertainty. Recognising the emotions, they feel are normal, and are different to our thoughts, is an early key concept of the COVID-19 Chilled and Considerate program. Students have been introduced to ‘what if’ and ‘what do I know?’ thoughts as those that can be responded to healthily, with strategies such as asking, ‘when will I know?’ and a step by step problem solving guide.

Using our strengths for good and finding ways to positively distract ourselves with activities that self-soothe or give us a sense of achievement (or even better – both!) allow us to recognise, sit with and self-regulate our emotions. Whilst emotional ‘inbursts’ or ‘outbursts’ are very human; they can lead to damaged relationships and further emotional distress for ourselves. Educating young people to recognise these peaking emotions and empowering them with strategies to self-regulate and plan through problems with clear thinking, are goals of the holistic approach to our pastoral program and social and emotional learning across the FACE curriculum. In classes too, teachers can draw on this holistic approach to gently challenge and encourage students to take responsibility for their own actions as they face uncertainty or worry.

Whilst we look forward to our world returning to ‘normal’, we also can reflect on what we have learned and how we have responded to these new challenges.

 

Mrs Marysa Boland and Mr Justin Madigan

Deans of Pastoral Care