Smooth ride on bumpy roads: supporting students in challenging times
by Beppe Pedron, Human Skills teacher at H-FARM International School
We, adults, sometimes find it difficult dealing with issues like war, insecurity, and fear, but it’s even more difficult for children and teenagers. We are adults but also teachers and educators, whom students often turn to for stability or answers on these issues.
It can be challenging, but it’s feasible.
Like many others, our school is not only a place where children learn, but also a place where they experience life, exchange ideas and experiences, and get some potentially useful keys to interpreting reality.
It is of particular importance during these challenging times (first, the Covid-19 emergency and the war in Eastern Europe now) for teachers to provide reassurance, create spaces, and deliver clear information.
Since the very beginning of the conflict, many teachers allowed ample time during regular lessons for students to discuss the conflict, which helped greatly.
Everyone deals with matters like these in their own individual way and we all, teachers included, play a role at some point in this situation, both as educators and as recipients. We are all, in fact, affected by this sudden outburst of violence, by the images we see in the news, by the added stress and the difficulty of interpreting it all.
Therefore, educators must observe the signs of distress, the biases we carry with us, reactions and, then, approach our students.
Apart from interventions in each class, management decided to offer a couple of plenary sessions where students could get some input to better navigate these times.
So, how can we approach this kind of delicate topic in order to increase students’ coping abilities, avoiding additional stress?
Some tips for a smoother ride on bumpy roads.
Monitor student behavior — Behavioral changes are signs of discomfort or a shift in balance. Seeing those changes can help teachers recognize more delicate situations or students.
The presence not only of disruptive or exaggerated behaviors, but also mood swings and self-isolation should be noted.
Create a space for questions — students should feel as if there is always a place for them to ask questions, to resolve their doubts. Questions can relate to the external situation, as well as to their internal thinking.
Provide a place for students to share feelings — Ask students not only what they think, but how they feel about the issue at hand. It must be an open space without judgement — explicit or silent — and without the necessity of interpretation. Just be there with them.
Assert comfort — show students that we adults, too, feel confused and cannot process facts; we often feel the same way. However, we must also express — and this is very important — that we are confident that we can handle it. Instead of using the rhetoric “all will be fine,” reassure students that they have the resources to cope, the opportunity to seek help, and the capacity to remain hopeful in spite of tough times. This has worked in the past for sure in their life and it will certainly work again.
Provide clear information — Often fear, anger and tensions stem from perceptions, fake news, and ideas. We need to provide students with reliable and unbiased facts, information and figures.
Promote intercultural sensitivity — At school we have students of different nationalities, communities and cultures. They get different information and their interpretations of the same are different, as well. Behind beliefs stand values, relationships, symbols, and family histories. When we respect all of these and help students place perceptions and ideas in the right perspective, tensions are released and differences lose their destructive powers.
Set limits — All of the above is helpful and useful but it’s crucial not to overwhelm the students with questioning, hours of discussion, and repetition of the same activities for days or weeks following events, then to only forget about it afterwards. The right balance is essential as an over-exposition could trigger discomfort instead of reducing it. It is wise to create spaces when needed, but in a defined way: a defined period of time, then moving on to regular activities.
Create alliances — As it happens in normal school life, also during particular times the alliance between families and school is essential. Teachers support what families do and vice versa. As a result of the educational alliance, students receive stronger support, underlying issues are identified and a healthier learning environment is created for all.
Peace as a choice — Children and teenagers need clear direction on possible alternatives to war. At H-FARM, we strongly believe that the choice is never between two or three parties. The choice is peace. Building a solid and robust alternative through peace is what we promote, not only by words but solving internal conflicts, reflecting on conflictual dynamics and believing in peace.
Students know and feel we are there with them, not always to give solutions or answers but — more important — to accompany them during the walk, however long, windy, bumpy, or rough the roadmight be.
Beppe teaches Human Skills at H-FARM International School and he is a trainer, humanitarian and development worker, life coach.
Degree in Indian Philosophy, master in Intercultural Studies, master in Humanitarian Interventions, AD Psych Couns., Professional Certificate in Coaching
Lived in South Asia for over 13 years, coordinates social/development and emergency interventions, supports humanitarian workers/volunteers on their psycho-social wellbeing, gives training to dev workers, coaches people for personal growth. Loves learning, meditation, walking and many many other things.