As we welcome all of our students back on campus, we are buoyed with a sense of optimism. We hope to meet any future challenges based upon the experience & evidence of what has gone before, our collective abilities to be adaptive & resilient.

Over this year, forced to take on many new challenges, live with uncertainty, and gently recover & restore our sense of connection and belonging to the community. To do this, we can reflect upon our achievements and those of our peers & colleagues. Our responses provide evidence of strengths in courage, creativity, social intelligence, and so much more. Proof we are not fixed in our thinking or actions; instead, we have grown despite these challenges.

It is no more evident to me than that within our year 12 cohort. I had the privilege of attending the year 12 reflection service on Thursday morning. I was heartened and inspired by the compelling evidence they shared how, as a cohort, they have navigated the challenges thrown at them.

Their “reflections” were honest and provided poignant moments that simultaneously acknowledged the loss, gratitude, and personal strengths, with grace, humour, and insight. Brilliant! This kind of growth mindset will serve them well as they take the next step forward, to navigate their way through exams, and into the next chapter of their lives beyond the Woodleigh School.   

For our junior students, “challenge” may present in different ways. The following excerpt from a recent article by Maggie Dent offers valuable wisdom in our current context:

“Many students returning to the classroom after isolation will have depleted energy as their amygdala keeps being on guard. There will be a more vital need for proximity to where they feel safest until they find or restore their previous sense of security.

This disruption has been going for over two months, and the neural pathways that were once present around school familiarity will have weakened. Not lost entirely, but as the brain theory goes, “what fires together, wires together.” Neuroplasticity can create new pathways in the time students have been away – some helpful and some not

“This means children can struggle to learn at the same level as before the trauma, and weakening their capacity for cognitive attention in the classroom….. It may be unfair for children who are just returning to mainstream classrooms after a time that has been incredibly scary for them. Our streets were empty, numbers of predicted deaths skyrocketed, jobs lost, shops were closed, people panicked about toilet paper, rice, and pasta – to expect them to learn as before. 

The sooner students feel safe, in a predictable environment, with positive relationships with their teachers and staff, their brains can begin to function more calmly so they can learn more effectively.

We cannot leave to chance the high levels of stress students are experiencing, in a world that is still uncertain and continually changing.”

To support this transitional phase back to the classroom, the need to foster connection & belonging is paramount. It is not a new message but needs to be held at the forefront of our minds. As Maggie Dent suggests,

“Schools are a form of system and, when viewed more as a community than just a place where children go to learn, the protective nature can be appreciated. The words “we are all in this together” could not be more accurate than in a school community….there is a fundamental need to feel that one belongs.”

As wellbeing practitioners and educators, we know that when there is a strong sense of belonging and safety in an environment, opportunities to learn well will be enhanced. Dr. Helen Street, who was our first presenter in our Parent Education series this year, describes social cohesion as a form of glue and, let’s face it, we need to stick together. The social connections in a cohesive school community can provide everyone with emotional support, material help, and information.

Even with the lifting of restrictions, we all continue to operate in the shadow of a global pandemic, and it is unsettling, disorienting, and continually changing. It is not in our control but how we continue to respond, as individuals and as a community, to the ongoing challenges that will define us as we take the next steps into this “new normal” landscape. As we have come to understand and appreciate, every child, parent, and teacher is navigating this journey differently. Some have thrived learning in isolation, while others found it challenging. However, I genuinely believe that everyone has been doing the best they can and will continue to deal with each challenge as it presents, with a growth mindset that benefits everyone.

Tips for the transition to a “new normal.”

  1. Be patient with yourself and your children. Remember to recognise and acknowledge all efforts, big & small, even if outcomes don’t yet live up to your expectations.
  2. Lead by example. Continue to practice self-care, acknowledge challenges as they arise & ask for help if needed. We can’t be what they can’t see!
  3. Send the right signals – check your anxiety. Both what you say and how you act send critical messages to others, especially to our children. To model what a growth mindset looks like in action, you might share not just your final triumphant plan but also the setbacks and potholes along the way.
  4. Reset expectations (your & theirs) and revisit organizational habits & practices around learning at school. 
  5. Reassure yourself and your children that all is well, and all will be well!
  6. Listen. Be present. Ask what they need to restore their confidence to take the next step forward, and remind them that they can talk to you if they are struggling so you can help them articulate what’s going on and seek help together if needed.

Finally, rest assured that we are doing everything we can to support our students to meet the challenges that may present for them at school, but we can’t help if we don’t know.

Acknowledgments & further reading

Developing a Growth Mindset – YouTube -

Director of Counselling