Of all the years students have returned to school following their summer break, this will unquestionably be one of the most memorable.
After months of lockdown, summer came as a welcome release and open air and greater freedom of movement were embraced with unprecedented enthusiasm.
Now, while many students are keen to get back to their old, familiar learning environment, the uncertainty generated by the coronavirus means getting used to a slightly different modus operandi.
“Being worried about uncertainty is normal,” says King’s College Murcia’s school counsellor, Jorge Jiménez Castillo. “Never feel bad about feeling bad. Instead, try to acknowledge your feelings while focusing on your personal goals and on how to achieve them.”
Although uncertainty can of course be unsettling, it is something we all need to learn to come to terms with. In the words of US mathematician and writer, John Allen Paulos, “Uncertainty is the only certainty there is, and knowing how to live with insecurity is the only security.”
Given this premise, the months ahead will in fact help to nurture the persistence, flexibility and resilience required of us generally in our lives. Adapting to our new normality is essentially a workout for the future, which, in the absence of a time machine, comes without guarantees. As anyone who has ever launched any kind of venture, however small, will confirm, the key to success is managing uncertainty and the ability to pivot in the face of shifting circumstances.
Less limited than lockdown, the new normality allows us back into our old working environments on slightly different terms, which David Murphy, Director of Secondary at King’s College Madrid, explains. “Social distancing, washing hands, disinfecting desks, one-way systems, arrows on the floors – these are amongst the new norms at Soto,” he says. “The school feels like a very different place as our extraordinary staff not only ensure that learning continues uninterrupted online and in person but also make sure that the pupils’ joy at being back at school with their friends does not become a danger. I am in admiration of the efforts being made by all the staff.”
Meanwhile, though many of our goals may remain the same, some may require a more innovative approach to achieve the same results. But considering we spend inordinate amounts of time thinking up ways to nurture innovation and creativity, the new normality could be seen as a chance to exercise these qualities in an unbeatably authentic context, offering us a different experience of what it is to be human.
As we come at our day-to-day routine from a new angle, we will no doubt stop from time to time to marvel at our incredible capacity to adapt to whatever conditions are thrown at us.
As US learning specialist and educator, Katherine Hill, says, “We want to build resilience and we do that by acknowledging that things aren’t the way we hope they are, but we still look forward to specific aspects, and we can learn from the experience as it’s happening.”
Of course, in order to take the changing social landscape in our stride, a little preparation goes a long way.
Getting into a good sleep routine is fundamental to being able to cope with any eventuality. Not only does it lower stress levels, it enhances cognitive function and optimises our responses.
Sleep hygiene is easier for some people than others and after a typically looser bedtime schedule over the holidays, it can take a certain amount of time to establish again.
Experts suggest avoiding arguments, screen time and heavy, fatty meals before getting our heads down. They also advise going to bed and waking at exactly the same time every day and ensuring the use of the bed itself is confined to sleep, rather than watching TV or mobile phone scrolling.
Mealtimes also need to get back to a regular pattern and any materials needed for the months ahead, such as clothes and stationary, should be ready from the get-go as if the student were an intrepid adventurer, gearing up for the journey ahead. In fact, King’s College is encouraging students to bring a few of their own materials to class, such as art tools, to help to avoid any spread of infection.
Aside from organisational issues, students also need to feel mentally motivated as they return to the classrooms they left in March. While most will welcome the return to the high-octane buzz of school life and the chance to see their friends and learn together, the social distancing may seem daunting.
But students will undoubtedly work out new ways of playing together and relating to one another. The spin-off, as the new terms is embraced, is the cultivation of a can-do approach to life and creative solutions.
“We have been so excited to welcome the children back to school and indeed to welcome new Nursery children who are experiencing school life for the first time,” says Sharmila Gandhi, Assistant Head of Primary at King’s College Alicante. “Despite the necessary protocols that we have had to follow and the safety measures we have had to take, the aim has been to reintroduce a healthy routine back into our children’s lives and to provide them with a stimulus for learning which excites and enthuses them. I can see clearly how much the children have missed school life and how much they value the school, the teachers, learning and being creative. This year, the children have so much to look forward to such as expressive arts: drama, dance, sports, public speaking and music lessons. Visiting each class over the first few days, it is evident that the children are happy to be here; enthused to be learning and excited about what the year ahead holds for them.”
The new normality is also an opportunity to actively become leaders in our own lives, which means making choices that will affect both us and the community as a whole.
As David Murphy says, “It is certainly a challenge for pupils to return to school with all the restrictions which need to be in place, but the strong sense of community here means that taking responsibility for the health of others is everyone’s concern.”
In this slightly Brave New World scenario, our individual goals are suddenly more closely woven into those of the wider community. Solidarity is now at the centre of our agendas and that feeling of “closeness” with the people around us could well be the silver lining that will define this unique moment in history.
• Buy the stationary that makes you eager to get going.
• Surround yourself with tools that help to build on your organisational and creative skills.
• Make sure you eat regularly and well, exercise and get into a regular sleep pattern.
• Find a source of inspiration that speaks directly to you – either a Ted Talk or a book or quote, or a role model; your own security blanket that helps keep you grounded.
• Set yourself several goals to be achieved in the next few months, such as making a new friend, pushing up a grade, reaching a new level of fitness or going out on a limb to include someone in your year group who appears marginalised.
• Try to ensure you are the leader of your own life, making sure to be true to your own beliefs.