The 2019/2020 school year is one that will go down in the annals of history. Little did we suspect in January that schools would abruptly close in March. Certainly, there was a growing sense of unease across the country by mid-February. However, school staff contained their own anxieties and prioritised the needs of the children. The contents of the yellow HSE guidance materials were quickly absorbed and handwashing routines were taught in fun, engaging, and child-friendly ways. When the closures were announced school staff valiantly supported the children in their care and parents and guardians, swiftly preparing resource packs while also maintaining routines to help the children to feel psychologically safe.
School websites were speedily updated with useful information to support all members of the school community. HSCLs worked Trojan hours to support vulnerable children and their families. Teachers rapidly up-skilled in the area of digital teaching and learning, creating meaningful resources and lesson content to enable children to access the curriculum through a range of online learning platforms.
During the closures, teachers were not immune to the demands facing society as a whole. We too were concerned about those with underlying health conditions, assisted those who were cocooning and had to process the new restrictions, often while caring for our own children and families. We grieved for the children and families who missed out on milestones such as Confirmations, Communions, Sports Days, School Tours, Graduations, rites of passage that previously were a given.
We were deeply saddened when we heard about how members of the school community were impacted by the pandemic – financial uncertainty, bereavements, and the loss of contact with significant people in their lives. We worried about vulnerable children who rely on school as a respite from adverse conditions. We were particularly concerned about how children with Special Educational Needs would adapt to their new circumstances and how their families would cope.
The return to school is bittersweet. As a collective, school staff have a new appreciation for the sense of belonging embedded in our school communities. However the return also highlights what has changed and we must not discount how this impacts the school community. With this in mind, let’s explore self-support techniques for school staff.
It is vital to prioritise our personal mental and emotional well-being. Supporting children and families to integrate their varying experiences over the past six months is no mean feat. It can be hugely rewarding but also demanding to journey with others as they process the impact of recent times. By adopting self support techniques and registering how we are feeling we can foster our own resilience.
As we attend to the needs of others we may at times feel overwhelmed by the urge to “fix” the situation for them. However what they really need is validation and to be heard. If you find yourself feeling distressed when listening to what others have gone through, remind yourself that you are separate from them, that this is not your story. Use your body to help you to ground. Feel your feet on the floor and wiggle your toes.
Debrief and access support
Remind yourself that you have support – from colleagues, management, and the Care Team. If a disclosure is made that concerns you flag it to the DLP. Remember too that as well as internal support, there are also a range of external agencies who can advise you, depending on the nature of the concern.
If a child struggles with the return to school, exhibiting anxiety or sadness about the new procedures, it’s okay to be real and express that you find the changes difficult too. You are modelling being congruent for the children and giving them permission to articulate how they are feeling. You can also help the children to problem solve and think about coping strategies they could use to manage their emotions.
Breathing techniques and mindfulness
Breathing techniques and mindfulness practices can help you to self-soothe. These can be as simple as exhaling deeply or touching a texture such as the fringe of a scarf or the arm of your chair. Alternatively, you may decide to lead a quick session to help everyone to self-regulate and release tension.
Marie O’Sullivan, Anokha Learning