Re-opening schools – What story are we telling our children?…

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Storytelling has always been an integral part of childhood.  We all remember the “Once upon a time” tales that delighted our childhood interests and imaginations.  In fact, storytelling plays a daily role in everybody’s life, young and old.  In Ireland we sometimes even greet one another with “What’s the story?” On social media, across the world, people are constantly sharing stories.  Stories impact, inform and inspire.

So, as we plan to re-open schools, what story are we telling our students?  Over the last few months, I’ve heard a narrative that deeply concerns me, as a mother, teacher and school principal.  I’ve heard and read that our young people are “behind” in their education, that they’ve “missed out” and “will be struggling” when they return to school.  Sssshhhhhh!  Our young people are listening and reading these stories too and guess what, young people believe the stories we tell them.

If our students, all of our students, every student in the world is behind because of the pandemic, who exactly are they behind?  What are they behind in?  Let’s be very clear on this.  Did they freeze during lockdown?  Perhaps on technology, like me, some students may have frozen too due to poor broadband but isn’t there the possibility that our students learned amazing, life-changing, unplanned but ultimately invaluable lessons during lockdown that should be valued and celebrated as we return to school.  Stories of resilience, responsibility, personal responsibility, courage,  community, creative communication and connection, nature renewal, family, alternative ways of learning and the professions that matter most when push comes to shove and a pandemic comes to visit.

Some of what has been glossed over in many commentaries on the ‘Roadmap for the full return to school’-27th of July 2020 is what’s mentioned on pg. 7 under the titles ‘‘A Balanced Approach’ and ‘Apply Common-Sense’:  “One of the key challenges for schools during this pandemic is to balance the need for a practical and sensible level of caution with the need to provide a supportive environment for pupils / students and where teachers feel able to engage with pupils in a way that supports their learning”.  It is noted clearly that “an atmosphere of fear and an overwhelming preoccupation with infection and hygiene can be harmful to teachers and pupils and to the quality of the educational experience without materially reducing the risk of infection beyond what can be achieved with a common-sense approach”.

Focusing on what was within our control during lockdown helped us get through that period: handwashing, hygiene, sneezing and coughing etiquette, physical distancing, staying at home and home entertainment.  Telling endless stories about what’s outside our control renders people helpless.  We have the power to choose what stories we tell. Where our focus goes, energy flows.

So, which stories do we choose?

“This is a scary time”  or “we are living through a significant event in history We can play your part, a very important part in preventing the spread of the coronavirus by washing your hands, practicing hygienic sneezing and coughing etiquette”

“Lockdown was a disaster” or “Lockdown was a challenging time for us all.  New ways of learning and teaching were discovered and explored during lockdown and many lessons, planned and unplanned were learned “.

“There is nothing that you can do”  or “We will do everything in our power to prevent a second wave”.  

“We’ll tell our children the way things are and tell them not to be afraid” or “We’ll allow our students to speak, express their views, understanding, feelings, concerns”,

“So much to learn, I’m way behind”,  or  “Nobody is behind, nobody is in front. We are at different starting points”.

“Schools were closed and students fell behind during lockdown”  or “We learned many different lessons during lockdown and now, we are all starting at a new starting point.  We will continue to learn something new every day “. 

“We are waiting for a second wave”   or “We will do everything in our power to prevent a second wave”  

“So many people have died” or “Let’s remember those who have died and their families and give thanks for the lives that have been saved”.

“A story of despair”  or “a story of hope, of our ability to live with uncertainty”.

The story we will tell our students in our school begins with “Once upon a time, during the Covid 19 pandemic, when schools reopened, brave, responsible, resilient young people stepped proudly into the History books and this is how they did it…….. Stepping into History.  Now that’s an amazing adventure!”  Every child is where they are at with their education and their learning journey will meet them there.

Negativity shuts us down, positivity opens us up to a world of possibilities, a new world.

Pg. 35. of the Reopening schools Roadmap points to the importance of creating  “a sense of safety,  a sense of calm, a sense of belonging and connectedness to school, a sense of self-efficacy and school-community efficacy, a sense of hope” all vitally important for wellbeing.

Be careful which story you choose to tell your children and students because the chances are, whatever that story is, our young people will believe us.  Please, please choose wisely.