Supporting student wellbeing during school shutdowns

When we stepped into our classrooms in early 2020, no one could have predicted we were on the cusp of a global pandemic.

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When we stepped into our classrooms in early 2020, no one could have predicted we were on the cusp of a global pandemic. This year has squashed normality and thrown our lives into chaos. We’ve all struggled in some way over the past 5 months, and for many of us that worry has extended to the wellbeing of our students.

In a recent survey of Australian teachers by Maths Pathway 60% of respondents rated ‘overall student wellbeing’ as a big challenge for Term 3. For all the uncertainty, frustration and sadness we’ve felt, we know our students have been feeling it too. 

According to a UNICEF survey of Australians aged 13 to 17, many young people are struggling to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic. The survey showed that their ability to cope well with life had almost halved from 81% to 45%.

Approximately 40% of respondents also viewed many of the pandemic-related discussions about young people — like school closures — as focused on the impact on parents, carers and the economy rather than on the young people themselves.

These young people were also concerned about school during the pandemic, with 67% stating that they were worried about their education being disrupted or held back.

While Term 3 looks different depending on the state you’re in, there are strategies that you can implement to support the wellbeing of your students.

How to address overall student wellbeing

Before we can support our students, we need to acknowledge that every one of them will be in a different situation. Some will enjoy their time in lockdown, benefiting from the learning from home environment and time with family. Others will have been exposed to the stressful situations their parents are dealing with, putting strain on their relationships. Many will miss their friends and the structure of their normal life and routines.

By understanding each student’s unique situation as best as we can, we’ve taken the first step to support them now. It will also help us to understand how each student will be feeling as they head back into the classroom. Or in the case of Victoria, back into remote learning.

It’s important to know that if young people have been at home with struggling parents and strained relationships, their ability to learn will have been compromised during lockdowns. So some students, and you’ll probably know which ones, will have fallen behind.

This is one of the reasons why it’s so important for us to focus on relationships in Term 3. Students need to feel socially and emotionally secure before they can engage in their learning, so we need to take a gentle approach with students who may have struggled during lockdown. And remember that those who thrived will enjoy remote learning 2.0.

Positive relationships are built on constructive interactions that foster support and connectedness. You may feel like you’re building your relationships with students all over again this term, but know that it is so worth it and so important to their learning. 

Take time to have some fun with your students as well. It’s a great way to strengthen relationships, but it also increases positive emotions and therefore wellbeing. Try implementing more activities you know your class will enjoy, like maths games or energisers, and embrace the fun that they can bring. You can find some great online activities here.

Another great way to support student wellbeing is through choice. Choice is key to student engagement in the classroom. It increases motivation, interest and commitment to learning and supports self-regulation, self-discipline and achievement. And it’s also something that’s been taken away from all of us during COVID. We’ve been stripped of a lot of our autonomy and our choices have been severely limited. The frustration is something we can all very much resonate with. 

By ensuring our students have some choice in the classroom, they’ll become more engaged in class. They will appreciate, consciously or not, the opportunity to have some control over their learning, increasing their interest and motivation.

For more great resources to support student wellbeing, check out the links below.

COVID resources

If you are looking for more resources to talk to and support students during the pandemic, check out these great websites.

Raising children
This article discusses how to talk to children about disasters.

Emerging minds
This collection of videos and other resources explores how children are feeling and how you can talk to them.

Department of Education, Queensland
This booklet includes lots of classroom activities designed to support the wellbeing of students.

Reach out
Articles and guides to help young people during the pandemic.

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