I participated in a second online seminar organised and hosted by Professor Judy Robertson and Tommy Lawson from the Centre for Research in Digital Education at Moray House.
This session addressed “Inclusion & Supporting Learners’ Mental Health During Lockdown” and included speakers Frances Griffin of the children’s mental health charity Place2Be, and Paul Nisbet, from CALL Scotland, who started the session by describing what CALL Scotland is and its role in helping learners and professionals in providing access to learning. Examples of their resources include books adapted for learners with barriers, and computer voices with Scottish accents.
The range of support offered by organisations like CALL and Place2Be was discussed, particularly in relation to the current situation and how it brings the digital divide into sharp contrast as those families who have the resources are better placed in the main to sustain learning and development of their children. Independent schools are reported to be offering much greater contact time online than their state funded colleagues. Judy linked a report that highlighted the difference under the lockdown. Paul has blogged recently about the experiences of teachers during lockdown.
One delegate asked in the chat if the current situation is revealing a need for support for some learners not being so focussed on what they have access to in schools compared to how much more should families/ homes be involved? A particularly interesting observation related to this was made about the “learned helplessness” of some young people which relates to the quality of support they have experienced so far on their educational journey. This seems to be a factor in the kind of experience such young people have during lockdown where much greater self-reliance and resilience are required.
Frances described her secondment to Moray House and the facility she has provided to student teachers in supporting their own mental health and raising awareness and skill levels in supporting the mental wellbeing of the pupils they work with. In context of the current situation, Frances emphasised the importance of the adult role in modelling appropriate responses and offering assurance and guidance. She identified the loss of key functioning as a significant impact of the isolation, and the consequences this has on the ability of young people to engage in learning. The loss of relations with peers and school staff was another factor that Frances suggests we ought, as practitioners, take into account when planning and conducting remote learning, and also during the transition back to more “normal” structures.
Questions from the delegates related to what people at home can do to support children emotionally during this time. There is the chance that young people will return with a genuine fear of surfaces and other people. Frances urged us to be good listeners to colleagues: to ask them how they are feeling and to resist the temptation to leap in with solutions or advice before taking the time to listen.
Taking time to think is decisive action.
Frances pointed us to a nice little mental health app for kids called Think Ninja, which has been updated for COVID-19 to help children deal with worries about it. One cracking idea is to have an online video service running in the background during normal activity - playing with LEGO, reading, having tea, whatever, but with the virtual presence adding to the sense of belonging.
Great seminar. We are likely to emerge from COVID-19 measures with a new sensibility towards each other, including to our young people, and I wonder if this isn’t a good thing.