World Mental Health Day: A Time of Reflection
David Leggett, Deputy Headmaster of Skippers Hill Manor Preparatory School, reflects on teaching, learning and resilience in honour of World Mental Health Day.
World Mental Health Day takes place on 10th October 2020, and is probably the most important one yet. This year has been a difficult one for us all: the months of lockdown and uncertainty have had a massive impact on the mental health of us as a nation. Despite the challenging circumstances that Covid-19 and lockdown have presented, students and staff at Skippers Hill Prep School have remained resilient and adaptable throughout.
Lessons moved seamlessly into our remote learning environment after the lockdown announcement, with positive responses from both parents and students. The sense of community that prevailed during our online learning programme has continued to be important now we are back in school within our bubbles.
As well as academic resilience, our teachers ensured that the wellbeing of our students has always been supported: plenty of assignments were set that have taken students away from their screens and encouraged creativity and innovation in their work. This includes recreating famous pieces of art with props (and even pets) from home, reenacting scenes from well-known Shakespeare plays and even producing artwork to celebrate the 75th anniversary of VE day!
Our teachers organised numerous activities for both students and staff that focused on kindness and wellbeing. From a weekly ‘wake and shake’ dance-aerobics session led by Miss Beazleigh, to Bake Off challenges and time to reflect on the importance of being away from screens and embracing nature and our surroundings.
What we quickly found out upon our return was that:
One size will not fit all: different pupils within the same class have had very different experiences of the lockdown period. They also have varying levels of coping skills and resilience in dealing with those experiences. Having an open mind about what pupils may be going through and how they will be coping with it has been important.
We are part of a team. Some of the challenges facing you as a teacher may feel overwhelming, but other teachers in your school, community and around the world are facing the same issues. Observing appropriate limits around pupil confidentiality, and drawing on the experience of other teachers and school leaders for support and guidance is so important. Share what you are learning with them.
Children have experienced different emotional responses: given that there are many kinds of loss that pupils may have experienced over their time away from school, you may see different kinds of emotional reactions. Children and young people will all respond in different ways to challenging experiences.
As a staff team we are conscious every day that we need more than ever to help students manage these feelings and build resilience. The way we speak to students about Coronavirus and wider issues in society has an impact. Our tutor team pays close attention to the ways in which we can build an ongoing dialogue that goes beyond updates on their schoolwork. Creating an open channel of communication with pupils has been key to establishing trust and fundamental for building resilience. Form tutors have dedicated at least two form periods a week to check-in on the mental health of their tutees and provide a variety of wellbeing, team-building and mindfulness tasks. The youngest members of our community have created Kandinsky-style art work to help become in-tune with their emotions, whilst older students have created wellbeing and gratitude trees celebrating what makes them happy.
One benefit that we have noticed is the positive impact on students’ independence. Pupils now need to plan and manage their time, organise themselves, solve problems and find strategies to deal with issues. Upon returning to school we have focused on it being vital to support and encourage this self-directed learning. This will give them the confidence to know that they can do this on their own.
Of course, throughout all of this we haven’t forgotten that they are still children! Some of the little things we do every day to motivate and encourage are important in building positivity, independence and resilience. Our weekly Celebration Assembly featuring Star of the Week nominations and house points are now more important than ever.
We are proud of the way our school community adapted to this difficult and unpredictable situation, with resilience and true Skippers spirit.