Focus on Student Wellbeing When Schools Reopen

by Ms. Apoorva Deshpande

With the vaccine being approved for children, it is expected that schools for lower grades will reopen soon. While some of the students from private school have had online classes in the interim, most government school going children have missed opportunities of academic learning and school experience. Students in general have experienced lack of socializing with peers, reduced physical activity, dip in motivation levels, increased screen time, reduced structure or routine during the pandemic and emotional- behavioral challenges. With the onset of schools, the school authorities need to have a game plan ready to help them engage better and improve quality of learning in their schools.

Creating Positive School Environment During Covid-19

When schools reopen, teachers can expect children to have adjustment issues, attention difficulties, behavioral changes and emotional imbalances. It will not be advisable to focus on academics right away. The key lies in creating a positive school environment for the children to unlearn all the negative behaviors and skills for the first two months and then focus on curriculum. An environment which will teach and practice age and grade appropriate social skills, increase motivation and attention levels gradually and have a nurturing approach is best suited to handle the students in the first few months and preferably continue with same approach all through the year.

Allowing children to share and express their feelings in circle times or group projects can be a good place to start. Helping children re-bond with their peers is going to be key for a sense of discipline to be back in classrooms. It will also help in increasing motivation, build resilience and create a happy environment in the classroom. Every teacher’s care and effort to engage with each child will go a long way in helping them feel important and improve their self esteem. Students from higher grades can be encouraged to have a growth mind-set, maintain a feelings journal and practice self care routines.

Methodologies to Improve Student Wellbeing

Now would be a great time to introduce tools to build focus, attention and concentration among students. There are plenty of methodologies backed by research that a school can choose from, depending on their philosophy and approach to education. Some schools do follow yoga and meditation, some follow structured sports other than physical training classes. Keeping students informed about new changes being introduced and the rationale behind those changes will lead to enhanced cooperation, trust and commitment from the student community. Providing constructive feedback to students about their emotions, behaviours will help them with their wellbeing.

Identifying Mental Issues in Students

It will be critical for teachers to identify any child who could be at risk for developing emotional and behavioral issues that could fall into the clinical category. Excess withdrawal, reduced socializing, low grades despite being smart, emotional over-reactivity, prolonged sad mood, sudden loss or gain in appetite, aggression, sudden mood changes etc  are all signs that can be caught in a classroom. School authorities must take measures to educate their teachers to look for red signs of common childhood mental health issues such as anxiety, depression etc. Making the right referral to the in-house school counselor or to a mental health clinic in Bangalore will be crucial.

Final Note

Focus on student wellbeing along with academics is the way ahead for schools. Maintaining a positive environment where students are taught to be resilient, practice gratitude and have a healthy attitude is of importance when schools reopen. The school leadership along with teachers, administration and parents can come together and create a great impact for students and their wellbeing. Providing students a dedicated time to reflect on one’s strength and weaknesses and improve self awareness skills will boost their self confidence and social skills. Helping them build their listening and empathy skills will enhance their social skills. These skills teamed with students excelling in academic subjects which they have an aptitude for, sets them up nicely to have meaningful and purpose driven lives.

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