Promoting the wellbeing of school communities is a fundamental element of the Department of Education's overall plan to ensure a successful return to school as everyone continues to manage the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
In these exceptional times, the impacts on the wellbeing of everyone will be felt in different ways, at different times.
People have been naturally worried about the risk to their physical health and that of their loved ones and have been challenged to varying degrees by the public health measures that were put in place in Ireland to control the spread of the virus, such as staying at home and school closures.
However people have an inbuilt capacity to adapt, including children. Most are weathering this storm and will emerge stronger and with new skills.
Most respond really well to information and practical advice on new ways of managing and staying active and connected.
Some will, for a variety of reasons, struggle a little to adapt and will need greater levels of practical and social support to make the adjustments needed to stay well.
A very small number may find the changes brought about by Covid-19 very challenging, and may need higher levels of practical and mental health supports.
As schools reopen, most students, and indeed their families and school staff will be looking forward to going back, reconnecting with school, reconnecting with staff and friends and settling back into school work.
This will be a time of change, with new rules and routines to learn, in order to keep everyone safe. Some students may feel anxious about the return to school. In times of change some worry or anxiety is a normal response. Most will settle and re-engage with little difficulty after an initial settling in period.
It is important that children and young people are supported to experience a successful transition back to school, recognising that transition is a process over time rather than a once-off event. The following guidance will help schools support their students on this transition journey acknowledging that each school community has its own unique characteristics and will therefore use this guidance to develop their own plan to support the wellbeing of their own school community.
Supporting the wellbeing of school communities at this time of transition is helped by fostering resilience using five key principles:
* promoting a sense of safety – so that people feel that they are safe, and that those around them are safe
* promoting a sense of calm – so that people feel relaxed, composed and grounded (regulated)
* promoting a sense of belonging and connectedness – so that people experience having meaningful relationships with others who understand and support them
* promoting a sense of self-efficacy and community-efficacy – so that people believe that they can manage and do what is needed, and so can their school community
promoting a sense of hope – so that people believe that things will work out well
Supporting a successful transition back to what will be our new normal is best achieved when those within the school community feel safe, calm and hopeful, when they feel a sense of belonging and connectedness to their school community and feel that they can manage with the support of their community.
Settling In - Slow Down to Catch Up
It will take time for staff and students to adjust to being back in the school environment and be ready and available to fully engage with teaching and learning.
A sense of urgency about returning to the curriculum is natural but time spent on settling the students and getting the students ready for learning will yield positive outcomes in the longer term and will likely reduce stress.
So it is important that teachers and school staff do not rush into a focus on formal teaching and learning before first considering readiness, and focusing on wellbeing.
Routines create a sense of psychological safety by providing predictability.
Re-establishing routines or creating new ones will contribute to a safe and calm learning environment and give students a sense of security
* we will see a variety of responses amongst our students as schools reopen ranging from excitement and happiness to worry and anxiety, which are normal responses to unprecedented events. Normalising feelings by communicating that we have all struggled with aspects of school closure, the pandemic and school reopening, will help to create a safe environment for students. (It’s normal to feel anxious when things are changed)
* remember that adults in the school are important role models for students. Modelling calm responses and coping strategies will help students learn helpful ways of managing their fears and anxieties
* some students may find it more difficult to sit, focus and concentrate for the lengths of time they may have been able to manage prior to school closure, because they have not practised these skills for a number of months.
* plan for managing those transitions that were impacted by school closures in a way that the school can manage. For example, for some students in primary school who will have a new teacher, having an opportunity to meet with the teacher they had as schools closed at short notice, may be helpful
* different cohorts of students may require a different wellbeing focus
* students transitioning into a school for the first time may need particular attention to be focused on establishing relationships
* students taking State Examinations in 2021 may need particular attention to be focused on calm and hope.