If there’s anything we have learned from the past year’s events, it’s that well-being is now more important than ever. In truth, we can’t ask students to do great in any circumstances. Schools must create those circumstances, whether offering the right edtech tools or the resources to help them succeed.
Unfortunately, many young people struggle with isolation, which can have lasting negative effects, even after going back to a semblance of normality. Their families are also struggling in many different ways, so they may need help coping with the uncertainty that’s become a considerable part of their lives.
That’s why in addition to the regular curriculum, schools should put more emphasis on emotional literacy.
Emotional literacy can be defined as:
The ability to recognize, understand, handle, and appropriately express emotions.
Emotional literacy includes being able to understand ourselves but also those around us. An emotionally literate person is self-aware, self-motivated, more empathetic, and can better relate to others. These are abilities that schools can nurture, inside and outside of the classroom. I believe that a focus on wellbeing will become necessary, as we already know that schools help students flourish in all areas of life, not just academically.
Using the school LMS to provide emotional support in remote learning
Schools can make a difference, both for preventing mental health issues and intervening whenever students need it. Here are some ideas that have helped other schools succeed in offering emotional support:
Offer emotional support resources
Aside from counseling sessions, there are many other ways in which school counselors can be there for students. A good idea is to create a wellness blog or a course that anyone can find via the school LMS.
This accomplishes at least two things. First, students who don’t know how to access help benefit from free resources that promote mental health. Second, it normalizes talking about sensitive issues that are still taboo in many places, maybe even at home.
The school counselor can pick the most relevant topics, including loneliness, having self-compassion, building a healthy daily routine, dealing with anxiety during final exams, etc. Basically, it's anything that students deal with daily.
The best part is that anyone can access it, even if they don’t feel comfortable with reaching out for help just yet.
Keep communication lines open
Even if schools are now reopening with some precautions, communication is still just as important. Lockdowns have demonstrated that parent-school communication is crucial for supporting students. Why not take this opportunity to strengthen it further?
Keeping communication lines open is easier than ever because we have seen that you don’t need to be in the same room to relay important information. Posting regular announcements, allowing parents to see their children’s classes and progress, message teachers, etc. these are all valuable resources that schools can take advantage of even when it’s 100% safe to hold regular meetings.
Plus, it takes at least some of the pressure away from parents who have been mostly at home with their children, juggling many responsibilities at once.
Have a dedicated event for raising awareness
Schools have traditionally played a vital role in their communities, and they still do! Any school initiative is bound to impact the community, even if it takes some time to see an effect.
That’s why many institutions have adopted events such as Wellbeing Week to raise awareness. Such an event has a holistic approach, with activities centered around being physically active, healthy eating habits, building better relationships, and mental health.
A wellness or wellbeing week doesn’t have to be expensive, and you can hold it completely online. Ideally, this event would include interactive live sessions and involves all stakeholders. For example, students can write articles, parents can share their tips and tricks, the school can send out a dedicated newsletter every two months, etc.
Embed mindfulness activities in lessons
Now more than ever, being connected all the time has its downsides. Schools can consider the importance of doing more with less screen time whenever possible to minimize the risk of digital fatigue.
Especially during these stressful times, students also benefit from activities that encourage them to be present. Mindfulness techniques can be applied in face-to-face, hybrid, blended, or even distance learning to help students relax and focus on learning.
I’ve previously talked about mindfulness activities for the virtual classroom, including belly breathing and the finger tracing exercise, two very easy and quick ways to introduce a sense of calm and focus. What’s better, anyone can use these exercises as teachers don’t need extensive training for basic mindfulness breaks.
Have a sharing space
Sending newsletters and announcements is a great way to communicate important news, but a two-way conversation will really make people feel supported.
Does your school have a forum/group for parents? Does your school have a system for students to voice their concerns? Can they talk to someone if they need to? Is the school counselor using the LMS?
These are all questions to consider since a lack of a sharing space can discourage people from genuinely engaging with the school community. Moreover, you can think outside the box and organize other activities such as online support meetings for students organized by students. Other schools have found success with game evenings in which teachers and students socialize outside of regular school hours — all with the help of the school LMS.
Get feedback from all stakeholders
Any initiative isn’t complete without feedback. To help students, teachers, and parents, schools should understand what they’re dealing with in the first place. Plus, it’s good to know that what you’re doing is right and that you’re reaching out to as many people as possible.
Instead of assuming, ask them directly. The easiest way is to create surveys in your LMS. Surveys should include questions about their general well-being and their ability to cope with the many changes that have taken place over the past year. They can be sent to specific groups and tailored to their needs. All stakeholders can also offer valuable suggestions for improvement.
Schools can also initiate focus groups where they can go more in-depth to find potential solutions.
Building a resilient school culture ensures that the whole school will be more prepared to deal with changes, big and small. While we don’t know yet when we will return to “normal,” we do know that showing emotional support goes a long way.
Moreover, schools already have a familiar medium to communicate their wellbeing initiatives and encourage all stakeholders to join the conversation, ask for help, and know that they’re not alone.