Updated: Mar 1, 2021
As a parent, I really am grateful for the efforts of schools to keep my childrens' education going (I have two children at primary school) - I appreciate the work that goes into this, having been a class teacher myself, and now working remotely delivering interactive training, and running my own business. Teachers, kids, parents, support staff...we are all working in a whirlwind right now, and mental health issues continue to rise. Mind conducted a coronavirus survey of approx. 16,000 people in December 2020 and reported that ‘over half of adults and two thirds of young people said their mental health got worse during the pandemic, with many developing problems for the first time.’ What I have been disappointed with, therefore, is the tone and pressurising nature of some of the messages I’ve been witness to as both a parent and professional from some schools to parents/carers about engaging with home learning. There seems to be a real difference between settings as to how communications are being managed. The very worst ones have been incredibly formal, matter-of-fact and basically told parents what would be imposed on them, how learning is NOT optional (yes, I’ve seen this capitalised) and that the school needs to give figures back to the DfE so they’ll be tracking engagement, with no acknowledgement of the challenges everyone is facing right now, with no hint of compassion. It’s clear that pressure from the DfE is not helping anyone, nor the news that Ofsted will still be finding a way to ‘inspect’ teaching rather than be focused on providing support to professionals in a stretched education sector right now, but it’s equally not helpful to spread that felt pressure further into the wider school community. I did home learning with my children during the last main lockdown and it was a very different experience to when I taught a class in a school setting, away from home (with so many distractions!), away from my business, and of course my kids see me as ‘Mum’ and not as ‘Miss’ - that emotional bond and dynamic changes everything! So many (including myself) beat themselves up over not being able to manage everything the last time round and for many it feels harder this time as we’re still dealing with the ongoing impact of the virus so many months down the line, and we’re all weary from the lack of (essential - see polyvagal theory) social engagement/connection, or right now, any feeling that we’ll be back to how things were particularly soon. Since I wrote this piece, I have seen a wonderful example of a compassionate letter from a headteacher and this seems like the perfect place to share it, for those of you who haven’t already had sight of it:
Above all, we all need to pull together here and respond to the situation as it is, not put pressure where it really is not welcome nor indeed needed right now – I’d love to see all school leaders push back against the status quo and embrace this opportunity to connect with their communities in a truly compassionate way, free from unrealistic constraints imposed from above, and as a parent and professional would happily back them all the way. I have been checking in to my business networking groups and have lost track of the amount of times I have read about parents being reduced to tears and stressed about how they were going to keep their businesses going while keeping up with the school work, imposed timetables and the dysregulation it was causing all round. The pressure is huge. I want to shout from the rooftops 'STOP!' Please, let's prioritise EVERYBODY'S emotional wellbeing right now (children, teachers, support staff, parent/carers) and rise up against this constant pressure to provide figures and fit children into neat academic levelled boxes to the detriment of everyone's mental health and wellbeing. Let’s find a more flexible, compassionate way forward.’
Our children cannot learn when stressed, and need calm, connected adults around them to support their wellbeing through co-regulation – we know this – the research is clear so it's a no-brainer, surely. And children benefit so much from having all the key adults around them on the same page, not divided. This is honestly not meant to take away from everything good that's being done in schools right now. Education staff have been amazing, and continue to operate in incredibly challenging circumstances, indeed many are also doing the same homeschooling juggle alongside providing online learning for their classes. This is purely about some of the messaging around it - the potential long-term impact of the stress response and trauma on anyone and everyone is real and we need to mitigate against this in any way we can. I am aware that this works both ways, and there are teachers out there struggling with receiving unhelpful messages from stressed parents. There is such a huge opportunity for deepening connection and for a truly supportive community to emerge right now - with partnership working and wellbeing at the heart of it, despite the challenges. But we all need to find a way to operate from a place of compassion rather than fear. Not necessarily an easy thing to do while anxiety is naturally especially high, but awareness of this being a factor in play, acknowledgement that everyone is doing their best to manage their circumstances, and prioritising the mental health and wellbeing of our children and ourselves above all else is a good place to start.
Emma Spillane is an education trainer and consultant who specialises in attachment and trauma. She is currently taking bookings from primary school settings for 'trauma-informed approach to wider school reopening' training sessions (co-delivered with Bristol Lead Practitioner (Theraplay South West) Catherine Eveness).
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