How has distance learning impacted our school communities? Maria Satirova, Psychologist at CIS International School‘s Skolkovo Campus explores the psychological impacts of lockdown for students, teachers and parents.
Ease, confidence, peace of mind, freedom, joy, happiness, and love – they’re good and magical words, aren’t they? While we all are looking for them, our life of course comprises other words too. But now we hear those other words more frequently. We must remember that distress, crisis and change are always productive – but what does that actually mean?
Times like these inevitably lead to changes that can be both positive and negative for us. As we all know there are age crises that we meet at the age of three, seven, and so on; they are mandatory developmental stages so facing those crises is inherent of development and life itself. When someone has faced challenges or difficulties and found the strength to get through them, this eventually brings them more strength and provides valuable experience. In this way, any situation can be deemed positive.
During the first week of distance learning, it was hard to accept and recognise what was happening and we were uncertain how long it would take. We could observe the situation in other countries and talk to our relatives and friends abroad to receive first-hand information. The situation remained uncertain until it became our reality.
At times like this, psychologists are dealing with anxiety, time management, taking care of children and our resources. We have been working remotely for a month now and we are facing new requests and concerns. We are accumulating fatigue, irritation, and lack of options to normally replenish our emotional resources. Anxiety comes and goes in waves, this applies both to parents and children, as well as to teachers.
While online counselling for adults has already become a common practice, how we follow this up in education is something new. What does it take today? Here are some suggestions for psychological follow-ups whilst distance learning:
- Support and follow-up for children – this includes regular sessions with those who have already been receiving emotional support to allow them to talk about their state and find ways to improve it, as well as stimulating sessions. Some concerns and issues have disappeared thanks to distance learning, such as fights like ‘he hit me, he won’t lend me an eraser, she doesn’t want to be friends with me, it was him who started it…’ and so on. But there are newly emerging issues such as a lack of socialising; now children can only enjoy the companionship of their existing friends as starting up new friendships in lockdown can be difficult. Children would normally make friends in class or during breaks or on a walk, communicating, sharing with others, or telling stories to create common ground for a new friendships.
- Support for teachers – this includes individual conversations or counselling on how to manage the educational process, and recommendations concerning individual children. In our school, we have a lot of international staff: teachers who work far away from their relatives in a foreign country, in a limited community, need care and social contacts. We have been holding an online game for teachers called ‘The Mafia’ via a video conference at the end of each week. Everyone is invited to join, play and make jokes; this is a space free of problems and bad news. This Friday hour provides much more than just a chance to switch the laptop off with a sigh of relief and look forward to a rest; instead, it ensures a pleasant brain stimulation, peace of mind, and a burst of energy at the end of a hard working week.
- Support for parents – every parent has different conditions and different resources, knowledge and skills. Some can manage children’s activities calmly, giving more autonomy to children, while other parents can not. Glimpsing children through a little window in a video call gives a snapshot of their world, living conditions, and family relationships. The family has now an impact as never before and families need assistance. We talk to parents, answer their questions and try to create together the best family setting for all members.
Each of us will come out of this situation with new experiences and skills. Teachers have had to update themselves on the best ways to teach online, to keep children’s attention within a small window of a video call, and how to explain, understand, and stimulate. Children have accustomed themselves to new learning spaces (and have even learned how to misbehave online!) and they keep learning to choose, to communicate in a new way, to be more flexible. And I am not worried about the children as long as they are properly assisted.
Parents are having a hard time, they have been forced to do a lot of things that are completely new to them – all the things that they were not willing or able to handle or just don’t know how to handle them properly. It’s complicated, so there is a lot of pressure here.
Let us remember to enjoy good times with children, the joy of completing a task, to enjoy holidays – this is what’s important and what we need. Be assured that our children will get the knowledge and will be successful, happy – the most important thing is that they and all of us are safe!