Teachers have already seen the challenges pupils have faced returning to school after the pandemic, and the varying ways they have been dealing with their different experiences. Creating a safe, positive environment helps students feel supported and improves pupil engagement, confidence and wellbeing.
There are many factors impacting the mental health of pupils, post Covid 19, and they respond to these in different ways. The absence of contact with friends and wider family members during the lockdown has caused a feeling of loneliness and isolation for some pupils, affecting social interactions and classroom learning. For other pupils, learning gaps have led to low self-esteem and this can impact on their behaviour.
Teachers can be positive role models, drawing on a wide range of skills and experience to support pupils returning to in-person schooling, helping them to rebuild peer and teacher relationships and take care of their mental health and wellbeing. A mix of practical tools and activities could also help to provide pupils with a healthy, positive outlook.
Here are five suggestions that can help build pupils’ confidence:
It’s good to talk and listen
Giving pupils the opportunity to talk about how they feel will reveal some of the concerns that they may have been keeping to themselves. Realising they are not alone in having these fears will give them the confidence to move forward. Posters in the classroom or around the school with health check-in reminders could be a way of getting the conversation started and putting mental health and wellbeing at the heart of the school. Listening to pupils in a group setting or one-to-one, in a defined safe space, is a chance to identify any potential mental health issues early.
Create welcoming, safe and comfortable classrooms
Encouraging pupils to suggest ways to make their classroom or common area a safe and supportive haven will give a sense of ownership and belonging. Ideas could include decorating the walls with positive messages and creating cosy break-out areas for use at a designated time. A group mindfulness session could change the tempo of the day and help pupils focus on their senses and the surrounding environment.
Recognising acts of kindness
Pupils showing compassion and empathy to each other creates a positive and supportive atmosphere. Praising those pupils who help others also fosters a feel-good atmosphere and improves confidence to handle and identify potentially tricky situations.
Opportunities for socialising
Allowing a regular break for pupils to interact with others and reconnect with their peers away from the curriculum will break down any barriers formed during the pandemic. This encourages the pupils to chat about the day, complete a task together or perhaps discuss the benefits of healthy eating and exercise and any issues that are worrying them.
Whole class activities
Involving the whole class in a group activity such as creating a large artwork can allow pupils of all abilities to contribute and gives a collective satisfaction of working together to produce something tangible. Physical activity including singing, drama and sport has the potential to reduce stress and anxiety and offers a chance to bond and make contacts outside of existing friendship groups.
- According to NHS research, the rate of probable mental disorders among children aged 5-16 has risen from 1 in 9 in 2017 to 1 in 6 in July 2020
- Research by Sheffield Hallam University shows 92% of staff believe being physically active helps with schoolwork, and 91% of students report feeling that physical activity can improve their mental and physical health
- Research by Sheffield Hallam University revealed young people report that being physically active improves their mood (71%), behaviour (55%) and schoolwork (49%)