It was Mother’s Day just over a week ago and it was, like so many other days, markedly different to ‘normal’. However, it was also still very much the same. My children still woke me much earlier than I would have liked, I was given handmade bookmarks and cards, and my husband was helped in making my morning coffee and eggs on toast. I might not have seen my own mother, we might not have had an extended family gathering with my in-laws, and we certainly did not go to a café for brunch; however, we found alternatives for these things, so that we could still feel as though life is as close to familiar as possible.
I read an article recently that said that what makes things so challenging during this time is the absence of ‘micro lifts’ – those small pleasures that we may have previously taken for granted, such as coffee with a friend or a belly-laugh with a colleague in the staff room. These are moments that give us a small dose of happiness without us even necessarily realising it and, living under the current COVID–19 restrictions, these opportunities can be much harder to both experience and to recognise. It is important, therefore, to ensure that we plan things that allow us to feel a small sense of accomplishment or pleasure. Whether it is going outside for some exercise or phoning a friend, or feeling the sun on our faces, we need to be much more mindful of creating these moments, as they are not necessarily happening incidentally.
We are all impacted in our own ways, and our young people have felt the shift in our world very deeply. This is because a feeling of connection to others is central to a young person’s wellbeing and sense of self. Not being able to see their friends in person has been a huge adjustment for them; however, experts say that catching up with them online is a close second and can still be helpful in ensuring that they maintain a sense of wellbeing. It might not be the same, but a HouseParty catch up with friends, or a Zoom training session with their Basketball team, still provides a nexus between old and new realities for our young people. Connecting online allows for social relationships to continue and, in some cases, thrive. The usual mantra of trying to keep our young people off screens is somewhat redundant now, as it is these screens that are giving our young people what they most need. The Middle School Heads of House and Mentors have reported that catching up with students through Microsoft Teams Meetings or Canvas Conferences has made the relationships amongst their Houses and Mentor Groups stronger. Everyone enjoys their online time together and the opportunity to get to know one another better. Perhaps this is because the time spent provides a small lift in each person’s day and reassures them that whilst it might be different to normal, it is not that different. We can still see and hear each other, laugh together and share those small moments.
In the Middle School, we have done our best to create a sense of connectedness even whilst educating our students remotely. There are regular online conferences either as a class, or in small groups, as well as Morning Movement sessions hosted by the PE Department. We are still enjoying Middle School Assemblies and Chapel Services, which provide weekly opportunities to come together as a community, even though we are mostly in our own homes. We had a day of innovation during the Festival of Connected Learning in April, and last week we enjoyed our rebranded Literature Festival, Write Now, which saw students enjoying livestreams of various authors and people who work in the media, then working in small groups to make a their own video about their experiences during the pandemic. Coming up later in the term we have days focussing on wellbeing and enterprise. These events have been designed to give students a break from their online learning, the chance to connect with their peers in a more informal context and, importantly, to maintain some sense of normality.
We know that it is not ‘the same’. However, in the coming weeks we will begin the process of coming back on campus together, exploring and enjoying the new Middle School buildings and surrounds. For some students, this may pose a new set of challenges to be overcome and, as always, we will work together with families to ensure that this next period of transition is as smooth as possible.
Personally, I cannot wait to hear the cacophony of voices and laughter echoing across the campuses and see everyone’s faces in real life! Please encourage your young person to acknowledge and appreciate the small moments, to be open with you when they are struggling, to seek out those ‘micro lifts’ and to understand that they do not have to work through obstacles that may present themselves alone.
Deputy Head of Middle School – Student Wellbeing