With the March Break only “steps” away, students and teachers across the land are looking forward to some time away to rest and relax before the busy spring term begins. It will be the closest thing to normal that the March Break has been for a few years and I, for one, welcome it. We hope you and your children are feeling centered and optimistic these days. Like in so many schools, more than a few people have had some challenges adjusting to learning lags, a lack of social “practice”, and anxieties about the future. A break at the dawn of spring is just what the doctor ordered.
If you are like me, you may have observed a peculiar thing in our culture over the last number of years. Perhaps it’s a direct result of the anxiety and stress people in general are feeling, but have you noticed it, too – when did everyone get so angry? I mean I am hearing outbursts in grocery stores, along walking paths, and sometimes in my own neighbourhood. What is the cause? What is the treatment?
Experts tell us that stress and anxiety have skyrocketed since the pandemic began. Combined with rising costs of living, general uncertainties about the future, and personal struggles that accompany any person’s life, the experiences of the last few years have impacted parents as well as children and the result is often a sense of fear and anxiety. Left unchecked, the results of such worries can be problematic for kids and grown-ups.
Children and adults bring their feelings of anxiety to school and work every day, where they are compounded by the stress of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. How can a child or adult who is already worried about things in their life meet the school day with optimism? How can they begin to handle “ordinary” stress? It can be tempting to retreat to an angry corner and snarl at the world (or at our neighbour, or at our child’s teacher, or at our spouse), just like some people do on Twitter. As teachers and parents, we have a responsibility to break the grip of today’s toxic forces in order to lift our children’s eyes to the future.
To my mind, it’s all about helping one another become more resilient and patient. For those of us working in schools with children (…that’s all of us), we must also set the stage by modelling a capacity to withstand and recover from difficulties in healthy ways.
How can we do this? To begin with, we must make school a safety zone and one which allows for mistakes, fosters good communication, and generally makes kids and trusted adults feel safe about belonging. Like physical safety, psychological safety is an important dimension to teaching and learning. That does not mean that there will not be issues or concerns. It means that such issues or concerns are recognized and dealt with in a way that leaves people feeling safe, respected, and whole.
Experts also say that we need to interrupt toxic, impulsive chain reactions with emotional intelligence, putting the “toxic chain” on-hold and creating time for well-considered solutions and communication. This is a crucial skill for our children to learn by observing the adults in their lives. Words matter—and it’s not just what we say, but how we say it.
Our students need to learn words and body language skills that allow them to remain curious and probing in moments of stress and confusion, but also accountable.
It’s been a bit of a long haul for our kids in schools over the past few years and the impacts continue to be felt.
As teachers and parents, we play an essential role in helping our children or teens manage anxiety, anger, and fear. When coping skills, courageous behaviour, empathy, and “word guarding” are modelled and practiced at school and at home, they can ultimately gain confidence, self-understanding, and hold space for others in their lives. And so can we.
If our whole society could make this a priority, then maybe we’d all see a little less outrage – even in the checkout line!
As the March Break gallops toward us, let’s all remember to hold hands and stick together!
Ric Anderson, Head of School