If there ever were a time when “stress” was commonplace across all sectors of society, it would appear that we’ve arrived at that time. The past several months have been filled with uncertainty, contradictions, numbers, statistics, tracking apps (!), and scary-looking graphs. If you are like me, the unending commentary and competing expert opinions on a variety of fronts are wearying. If our children weren’t stressed out before, they surely are showing the signs now, as many schools, teachers, and parents continue to report increased incidence of sustained and creeping levels of stress. It is something we should all be watching carefully.
While we monitor the creeping stress levels associated with pandemic response measures, the young people in our lives also need to know that, together as families and schools, “we’ve got this” and that we will continue to find ways around and through the current moment. Part of this pathway is maintaining normal school functions and expectations to the greatest degree possible.
In the life of a kid, the school day is often a great equalizer and stabilizer of childhood. The routines and expectations applied to each student are a comfort for children, even if, from time to time, the “great equalizer” metes out consequences for misbehaviour, uniform infractions, or a failure to play by the rules! Doing one’s best work, finishing homework, and handing things in on time are also part of the “rubric of stability” during school years. It’s a great boot camp for the world of work and future responsibility. It is essential learning. And it comes with some stress.
The topic of stress in teaching and learning is not new. Can some stress – the right kind of stress – be good? Should we be interested in eliminating stress altogether? Coping with manageable levels of stress in a supportive environment is an important part of developing a healthy stress-response system to deal with future challenges. Without supportive relationships, or if stressors are too frequent or too strong, it can lead to unhealthy anxiety in children.
The first part of the stress equation is fundamental to the very heart of an independent school education at a school like ours: a supportive environment where you are known and appreciated as an individual. Matthews Hall knows that relationships matter and we work hard to create and maintain strong connections between our teachers and students.
The second part of the equation – the length, intensity, and duration of stress – is harder to gauge and manage because every student has a different tolerance and capacity for stress in learning. We are currently living in a culture that tends to equate academic rigor with the quantity of time spent studying rather than the quality of thinking and the emotional connection students make to the curriculum. Again, finding the “sweet spot” that works for everyone’s child, lifestyle, family schedule, and expectations can be an elusive quest!
To help control and manage stress in our school, we work hard to look through a “Goldilocks Stress Lens” (i.e., the “just right” principle!) and weigh the tasks we assign, the degree of choice allowed by our students, how much homework is set, and the flexibility allowed. We, as teachers, understand that we are in the “stress management business” when it comes to our students and we care about getting it right.
As we move through the year, the cornerstone of our partnership will be proactive communication; if your child is stressed, let us know and, together, we will find a solution that is “just right”!
Ric Anderson, Head of School