Reflecting and reacting positively in the pandemic
As we desperately strived to believe we were steadily progressing into the ‘post-pandemic’ phase, an entirely new wave emerged in the form of the Omicron variant. Concerned educators continue to be at crisis-point, sceptical of the protective mitigations in place to make our teaching environments ‘Covid safe’.
Upon returning to the metaphorical knife-edge, perpetual uncertainty has continued as a recurring theme of our recent times.
How can we consciously pause and reflect to fight back with positivity through our teaching? Furthermore, how can we counteract what feels like constant adjustments to re-tune and restore our working lives as educators?
Listening to our learners
In the wake of the stop-start periods of instability and lockdowns, our learners like the rest of us must be feeling like they don’t know whether they are coming or going!
They seemingly respond most attentively when their views and actions are acknowledged more readily by us, making them feel valued. With this independence, they must feel like they have a purpose in education. This can often be the high point in their day or week and provides a reason for them to look forward in anticipation to their learning.
In a pre-pandemic Nexus Education blog (2019), I coined the ‘A.S.K.’ approach which invited learners to provide feedback to improve their individual perceptions of lessons. It aimed to work towards eradicating a common dilemma that a fast-paced, results driven system often neglects to allow educators sufficient time for systematic reflection.
Targeting improvements in teaching delivery should never be prioritised lower down in our duties. Nevertheless, our dominant daily reality is that administrative expectations commonly take over our time. To ‘A.S.K.’ for learner-feedback, I encouraged educators to take 3 steps when addressing them:
A – Assess activity
S – Seek suggestions
K – Kick-start the ideas raised
The blog can be read on the link below:
Should we Take More Notice of Learners’ Feedback of our Lessons? (nexus-education.com)
Speaking from living in the pandemic, the need for us to listen to our learners is important, now more than ever before. For many learners, being purposefully listened to is the first stage towards sound wellbeing.
Our efforts to give them a voice engenders more confidence that can extend beyond the classroom when they leave each day. How we instill this, can permanently shape learners’ positive perceptions of education and of us as educators who care about their end-goals and the individuals they become.
Gearing towards gratitude
Learners and educators alike, may have endured the unthinkable fate of having friends or family that have succumbed to Covid-19. Many have had to “Keep calm and carry on” with whatever daily existence is to them, whilst balancing an array of obstacles involving complex home lives. We cannot ignore that learners may have also been entrenched in navigating their way through such turmoil.
There is no doubt that the pandemic has unsettled our routines to a negative level we didn’t conceive was possible. Conversely, has the pandemic positively pushed us into becoming more openly grateful and appreciative in how we lead as educators?
Countless numbers will attest to now being more appreciative of the smaller things in life. We arguably smile and laugh more and then show more concern to others. The after-effects of the lockdowns have transformed many into a more expressive way of existence.
I for one, can attest to being more intentional in saying and doing considerate things more often when opportune moments arise. How we are inside and outside the workplace is likely to have undergone some kind of shift due to how we have dealt with the pandemic in our own ways.
The frequency at which many learners give thanks for lessons on their way out, suggests they also did their fair share of post-lockdown reflecting. They know when educators are doing their utmost to teach effectively.
We shouldn’t be surprised but are still often taken aback when they verbally indicate or show signs that they value our input! It all helps to piece together their learning!
Whether this refreshing attitude to how we conduct ourselves is a permanent fixture or a fleeting fix, remains to be seen!
Collecting the list of ‘missed learning’?
When our learners have been positioned behind a computer screen as in remote learning, the downside was that we lost opportunities to spontaneously interact and comment at will. This detracted from the beauty of what lessons with our young people are all about.
Mindfulness and ‘being in the moment’ is a recognised sign of healthy wellbeing and the lack of opportunities to do just this, meant we all missed out.
In any return to remote learning, we must seek to find ways we can still reach out to learners as individuals. ‘Missed learning’ also equates to life skills and interactions, which can be just as essential in the development of our young people.
If our time as educators does not permit the necessary time required to deliver non-subject-specific developmental ‘missed learning’, maybe it is time to ensure that topic specialists are brought to the forefront to deliver it? Workshops led by specialists on motivation, anti-gang involvement, relationships and wellbeing, could increase awareness in attuning them to additional topics that could help to keep them mentally balanced and socially prepared.
Not all educators will feel naturally able or inclined to deliver these topics with the level of knowledge, experience or sensitivity required. If institutions invest in the right people to make the desired impact, it could get our learners back on track? They will then be better prepared to cope with the demands of life itself.
Driving new initiatives such as these, that refocus on what has been ‘missed’ is a way to restore the missing links.
‘N.I.C.H.E.’ is necessary for new navigation!
I have created the ‘N.I.C.H.E.’ approach targeted at educators like myself, who might be at a transition point in reconsidering teaching tactics. The overarching aim is to create a clear system of restoring order where we feel we have been desperately hanging-on, regarding our teaching toolkits. Our marking, tracking of grades and summative targets since the post-lockdown return, forms the basis of where many of us feel physically overworked and mentally overwhelmed.
A focus driven towards learner-wellbeing and gaining employment will strengthen the capacity to capture a consistent constructive classroom culture.
We can use these 5 steps to focus on the ‘N.I.C.H.E.’ for each class we teach:
N – new ideas
I – intrigue
C – careers
H – health
E – engagement & extended learning
I will delve into these aspects in more detail:
N – New ideas nourish…
The pandemic has tested our resolve and has undoubtedly caused many teachers to lose the love of continuous learning. This drive is a necessity for us to thrive in our roles.
The holiday period can be a perfect time to construct ideas, after plenty of well-earned rest! It is the perfect time to re-gather our thoughts and act on dormant ideas in our imagination that we didn’t have the energy to unleash sooner!
There’s a myriad of pedagogical or motivational resources for our self-help! Adjusting what, and how we deliver in our lessons, can have a profound effect on our ability to engage our learners into having productive ways to learn.
We must keep sight that fun does not always signify effective learning. The counter-argument is that if we are asked specifically to ‘do something fun’ it could symbolise an underlying need to want to laugh and ‘enjoy’ their learning, following the return to education, post-lockdowns.
Looking out for the newest Edtech innovations keeps us in touch with the needs of our learners. Showcasing any new ideas on our return to work, shows our willingness to stay relevant to their ways of engagement.
I – Intrigue is impactful…
Ensuring that learners have an interest in what we are trying to teach them, is the difference between lessons being perceived as irrelevant or inspirational! They must be able to intuitively feel there is value in what they are learning and crucially, how it links to their own goals to achieve in education and beyond!
I have stumbled across some inspirational teaching ideas, browsing through #EduTwitter for the latest lesson ideas that have been tried and tested by others.
Adopting the fixed mindset style and blindly ignoring any subtle or more pronounced signs of learner-dissatisfaction, can cause catastrophic consequences for our classroom culture. Little by little, we must bring life to what they love about their learning!
There are few more satisfying feelings than knowing a class we are responsible for, is working productively in an environment that is enjoyable for them!
C – Careers are central to constructive classroom conditions!
There is an undying responsibility for educators to meet syllabus and specification criteria. This exists within a structure of strict time constraints. There’s no escaping that we are measured by these targets on the ‘successful educator’ barometer. Meaningful end-goals must link lessons with how learners can secure their best positive route into the workplace.
If we as educators neglect to pave a way that shows a clear route or roadmap of what they are doing and how they will get there, we are failing them. If they cannot see where their learning journey is going, then they are more likely to veer off the tracks.
If we construct clear and creative ways to show this learning journey in simple terms, they will be able to count their remaining steps to the finish line, making for a more comfortable ride!
Paving positive and purposeful pathways to learners’ employment may also be the key to maintaining their wellbeing. If they can envision their route, this is sure to reduce anxieties and enhance focus towards a goal they see as meaningful.
H – Helping health is holistically handy!
The pandemic has shifted the priorities of many educators as we reflect on how fragile life itself is. Our health and that of others should be the lynchpin to all that we do. Rightly so, more notice is being taken by many educators, to consider learner and staff wellbeing alongside progress rates.
Whilst tangible summative progress remains a feature of how education is judged; resilience, mental strength and a more stable wellbeing are slowly being accepted as major contributing factors for learner progress. Once these factors are in play, they can make progress more obtainable and sustainable.
E – Engagement equals efficacy and extended effort!
It takes a self-assured educator to accept that a method has not worked or gone stale. Seeking to enhance engagement lets our learners know that we value our role and their learning experiences. Ultimately, it symbolises that we value them. EdTech specialist Stacey Roshan, author of the highly acclaimed ‘Tech with Heart’ book (2019), suggests we must recognise the need to engage and appeal to all types of learners. We must include those more silent who may be fearful of being put on the spot to answer questions, just as she once was.
Many are now re-wiring our mindset, grasping how to better engage in satisfying the ever-growing mental and emotional needs of our learners. Extending their learning and providing additional challenges, is also a valuable component towards engagement for all levels of learners.
‘Stretch and challenge’ is an important step to stimulate those that need additional work. Through sharing good practice, we can discover ways to refresh our delivery, whilst satisfying the need to maintain learner-interest.
Our odyssey to overcome the obligatory outcomes!
Ensuring learners meet their expected grades is the overarching crux of our roles. However, recognising our moral responsibility to position wellbeing as a more tangible facet has become a pressing need. It should be obvious, but has often been omitted in our ‘to do’ lists. Due to the pandemic, we are now grappling more so with how to incorporate this into our daily teaching routines to stabilise the mental health of ourselves and our learners?
Learners’ mental wellbeing has a strong correlation with our perceptions of them in the classroom. One missing piece in the jigsaw of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs (1943) can be enough to make any of us feel unbalanced, unsupported and unable to cope. We must be mindful to recognise more signs of this, particularly during these times in the pandemic. Self-harm continues to increase, teenage suicide is on the rise and educators leaving the profession continues to headline educational news.
Ensuring we use continual reflection to inform and improve our teaching, means we are serious as educators to make changes that matter to our learners. We can hold our heads high, knowing that we are genuinely doing what we can, to positively navigate a route towards learner-progress and the wider developmental and social skills aspects.
The uncertainty of the pandemic may have forced us to reconsider what we structure within our lessons. The findings may not be through empirical research-led evidence but the themes are commonplace amongst educators communicating at the workplace and through education-based social media platforms.
Continuing to consistently communicate to clear the confusion, through forming constructive connections is the challenge we face.
In evaluating this, a system that points to the inclusion of learner-wellbeing alongside potential careers, is a critical and constant combination required. Our learners are looking to us to inspire and guide them, particularly as a horrendous pandemic period continues for many.
Through the N.I.C.H.E. formula, we have a fixed format to follow when we are exhausted and need a system to fall back on. If we tactically use frameworks such as this to position our planning, we can take on board our post-reflection tips for:
N– new ideas
I – intrigue
C – careers
H – health
E – engagement and extended learning
We can then take a deep breath to recommence our teaching with renewed resilience. The pandemic has destabilised the majority of us in some way. ‘Reacting positively’ will not create perfection in our teaching, which is unequivocally unrealistic. However, it can help us to be proactive in edging towards reaching whatever our peak performance is, during the pandemic!
I wish everyone well in the quest to reflect and positively conquer our term-time and home life battles.