“Stress is something that's created in mind. It's how we look at things. So our greatest defence against stress is the ability to change our minds; to change our thinking" - Goldie Hawn.
The student-teacher relationship is more than academics and education. To reach the student's heads, teachers first strive to reach their hearts and build trust. Once that trust is made, it’s normal for students to come up to their teachers and share their issues and problems.
It’s not unusual to have students in the class dealing with stress, anxiety, and other mental health issues. Pandemic has only made it worse. Students who have been in a bad mental space had a hard hit as schools were shut down suddenly. Unfortunately, home isn’t a safe place for all. Students with an unhealthy home environment are struggling with the current crisis. On the other hand, it is possible that any student or their loved ones got affected by the disease and faced the consequences.
Educators have the power to sense students’ well-being. They know their students well enough to understand their behaviour and activity levels and the issues they are facing. A lot of students look up to their educators for support and guidance. Also, educators can show them the right path to deal with the stress and issues or guide them to counsellors who can help them keep a check on their mental health and well-being.
Below are some strategies for teachers to help students manage stress and take care of their mental well-being during these tough times:
1. Create a sense of stability along with flexibility
In these uncertain situations, flexibility is important. You can consider setting appointments with students for one-to-one communication during evening hours. Work on a schedule that fits you and your students and spare some time for clear communication. This can allow students to share their issues, and you can manage students accordingly.
2. Listen and validate honestly
Often, adults want to fix every problem, but sometimes people want to be heard and supported. Acknowledging your students’ feelings might be the best thing at times. Listen to them carefully. You don’t have to save them every time. Sometimes they need you to listen and be understanding without having to help them solve problems. Of course, you need to take action when you feel things can get ugly if you see their emotions overpowering them.
Considering the situation, do what you think would be the best fit for your student.
3. Encourage students to ask for help
Many times you would think you’re helping the students, but in reality, you’re not. Some situations need to be addressed by mental health professionals. A crisis may require involvement and collaboration with child/adult protective services, a mental health response team, law enforcement, or community mental health agencies. Let students know that you will support them throughout the process, and then follow through.
Be there when they reach out for support but keep a check and do the needful to refer the student to another professional.
4. Expect appropriately
Since you’d be aware of your students’ struggles, it’d be better to have expectations that they’d be able to meet in their current circumstances. Recognize each student’s abilities and barriers before setting expectations. Be clear about what you expect and your confidence in the student’s ability to rise to the occasion. Notice and celebrate each success, no matter how small.
5. Remind them they are not alone
Reassure your students that they are not alone in their struggles even though they may sometimes feel they are. When adversity feels like a shared experience, we cope better — not only emotionally, but neurologically. Creating opportunities for peer support allows students to help each other, sharing their strengths and giving them a sense of purpose.
6. Keep a personalized approach
Just like all students don’t learn the same way, they don’t deal with trauma the same way. There could be situations when you come across students with past trauma and unresolved, unacknowledged issues. They may have never received counselling to deal with stress and grief. Acknowledge their problems and guide them to seek professional help. This could interfere with their education needs as well. For instance, you could have a student in 8th grade with a 5th grader's reading ability. It is important to develop a program for students who deal with their social-emotional concerns while tailoring the curriculum to their instructional needs.
7. Encourage to have a set routine
No matter how difficult the situation is, emphasize on having a routine. A set routine helps one have a better life. Educate children about the importance of having a routine and plan the day. When you have a list of things to do and something to look forward to, you divert your mind from thoughts that may make you anxious.
Please encourage students to do what they like, indulge in art, or create anything. Journaling helps in reflecting upon thoughts and expressing thoughts. You can start an activity where you ask students to maintain a journal for a week, and at the end, they have to summarize their week based on their daily inputs.
Some Quick tips for In-Class Activities
- Provide information in digestible amounts. Moving to remote learning can make assignments feel more overwhelming and daunting. Present directions in smaller bites when necessary and encourage students to ask clarifying questions.
- Encourage students to lead the way in sharing what they do and do not understand their current situation. You can do this by asking open-ended questions, such as, “How are you feeling about not being in school?” Such problems can lead to insight without letting assumptions guide the conversation.
- Approach students’ experiences with curiosity. Aim to clarify misinformation and connect students with other important adults (such as family members) who help them feel safe.
- Create, and utilize, relational rituals before checking on distance learning assignments with students. For example, students and educators can share one tough moment, one hopeful moment, or one new lesson they learned about themselves during the day. Participating in these rituals can help educators build and maintain connections despite their physical distance from their students.
- Recommend quick mindfulness or self-soothing exercises such as smelling a flower (to practice taking big, deep breaths) or completing four-corner breathing before completing the lesson. Four-corner breathing involves inhaling deeply and exhaling deeply four times. Students can complete this breathing exercise by standing up and taking one inhalation and one exhalation while facing each of the four corners in a room.
To address the issue and concerns relating to students' mental health and well-being, the Ministry of Education, Government of India has come up with Manodarpan as a part of the Atma Nirbhar Bharat Abhiyan. It was launched on July 21, 2020. Manodarpan is a service that aims to provide psychological support to students for their mental health and well-being. It has onboard experts from the field of education and mental health who will address students’ mental health concerns during and after the pandemic through counselling services, online resources and an active helpline.
Salient features of the platform are
- Advisory pointers for students, teachers and faculty of school systems and universities along with families
- Internet web page of Manodarpan contains various resources, including podcasts, videos, informative documents, practical tips, do’s and don’ts, FAQs, and more to address various issues relating to mental well-being.
- Nationwide degree database and listing of counsellors at school and university level. Their expertise can be availed of through the tele-counselling service on the national helpline.
- The nationwide toll-free helpline number (8448440632) to seek help if needed. This will be managed by experienced counsellors, psychologists and other mental health professionals. This helpline will continue to exist after the pandemic as well.
- Interactive online chat availability to contact and seek guidance from the experts. Students, teachers, as well as families, can use this facility.
- Another crucial addition to the resources will be the Handbook on Psychological Support: Enriching Life Skills and Well-Being of Students. This free handbook will be published online for easy access to all. Apart from FAQs, facts and myths. The handbook promises to cover ways and means to manage stress-related issues, emotional and behavioural concerns in young children and college-going youth during and beyond the COVID-19 pandemic. The date for publication has not been announced yet.
As of now, the platform can be accessed in Hindi and English
At last, even to ensure that your students are not under the stress rock, it is prime to be in a healthy state of mind to address your students' issues and concerns. While the world is dealing with pandemic issues, educators have a huge responsibility to keep education going. They are breaking all the barriers to impart knowledge while making sure that education isn’t compromised. To keep your well-being in check The National Child Traumatic Stress Network recommends the following strategies during this time, to help reduce the impact of these stressors for educators and school staff can consider:
- Practice self-compassion: remember that it is best to take care of yourself before you try to take care of others.
- Take time to check in with yourself to gain insight into any areas where you may be struggling. Once you identify the issues, create a plan to address the problems you can control and work on letting go of the ones you cannot.
- Utilize social supports as needed. Consider planning a virtual coffee break or lunch hour with colleagues or other educators. During these sessions, you might share strategies that are or are not working, talk about what you’re cooking or watching on Netflix, and experience a much-needed sense of community.
- Create a routine that includes getting up at a regular time, then getting ready and dressed for the day, and following a work schedule. Incorporate into your day some physical movement, as well as some breaks to connect with others.
- Remember that, as adults, we can be the best guides for how our students and children will do. They are watching and listening to us, so when we take care of ourselves, we’re modelling how they can take care of themselves, too.
- Be safe and follow the latest public health recommendations related to hygiene and protective equipment if you must go to the school or into the community for teaching supplies.
How have you been dealing with the stress during the pandemic? Share your tips in the comment section below.