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COVID-19 in Schools

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COVID-19 in Schools

by Melissa Powell | Principal of Swan Valley Anglican Community School

In early 2020, when we first became aware of the COVID-19 pandemic in Australia, little did we know the dramatic impact that it would have on schools around the world. Around 80% of the world’s student population was affected by school closures by the end of the year. UNESCO reports that close to half the world’s students are still affected by partial or full school closures and that over 100 million additional children will fall below minimum proficiency levels in reading as a result.

Our COVID-19 experiences in Western Australian schools, whilst challenging, have paled in comparison to those of educational institutions internationally – indeed, even on the east coast of our own country. Nevertheless, our local schools have had to readily adapt and respond to the changing needs of our communities in order to effectively support our students, staff and families during an unparalleled period of disruption.

Online/remote learning required schools to use new and innovative approaches to support student learning. Many of our students excelled during this period, however, it was clear that for others the changed nature of interpersonal interactions was extremely difficult. This highlighted the enormously significant role that teachers and educational assistants play each day in enhancing our students’ mental health and wellbeing by being physically present. Additionally, the importance of our school communities in helping our students feel connected due to a real sense of belonging was reinforced.

Unsurprisingly, researchers in Australia identified early in the pandemic that student wellbeing and mental health would be one of our most significant challenges. Fortunately, schools were well-prepared. In recent years, there has been an increased focus on building student resilience. It is essential that our children (who, in turn, will be our future leaders) know how to cope and thrive when faced with adversity and difficult circumstances. They need to be able to handle failure and disappointment, cope with loss, and then bounce back.

Whole-school approaches to student wellbeing include the development of problem-solving skills and the need to be flexible. When students are asked to face problems either alone or in a group, they learn to tackle challenges. As such, they understand how to approach problems, calculate risks and think logically. This helps them to become even more resilient.

Throughout 2021, our communities in Perth have continued to be affected by COVID-19 lockdowns. In addition, schools in the north-eastern region (including my own) also began the school year confronted by the Wooroloo bushfire. Our students, with the support of their school community, learned that they are indeed resilient and that everything will be OK. They learned that even though sometimes our ‘normal’ might change from one week to the next, embracing flexibility can make us stronger. ‘Different’ can even be better!

Practising gratitude, another essential skill for our 21st century learners, is another key wellbeing focus for schools. Students are taught that gratitude is more than just saying ‘thank you’. It is a technique that helps to remind us of what is positive in our lives. Be it friends, family or good health, there is always something to be thankful for. Consciously remembering what we are grateful for helps to generate optimism and remove negativity.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, whilst facing and acknowledging challenging circumstances, our schools have consciously focused on how we, as strong communities, can help and support others. We have met our challenges head-on and become stronger as a result. We have witnessed increased collegiality, collaboration, adaptability and creativity. We do not know how long this current pandemic will last, however, our schools are resilient and flexible communities, and we are incredibly grateful for the opportunity of belonging and contributing to them.

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