About this time two years ago, I was knee-deep in wedding preparations for my beautiful daughter Kiah. Whilst the preparation was at times stressful, I am so glad that we paid attention to this event preparation phase because it meant that the event was a beautiful reflection of the love between my daughter and her husband, the deep love that we as her parents had for her and the joy that we felt for her embarking on this new chapter.
For many families, over the coming weeks, two important events will be happening at about the same time: Kids will be returning full-time to face-to-face learning, and parents will most likely be expected to return, at least part-time, to their place of work. From one perspective, it’s just a return to pre-Covid normal. But from the point of view of families it will be a major break from what’s become normal; remote work and online learning. It will mean new routines, new expectations, new activities and perhaps new stresses. But just like preparation for my daughters wedding ensured that all the right messages were communicated on her wedding day, preparation for this "return to school" event will be key in ensuring that we send all the right messages to young people about learning.
Over the coming weeks, it is my expectation that many of our families will be confronting a range of emotions. There will be delight at the prospect of return to school but there may also be elements of fear and anxiety. For some students tensions will loom large. Our Year 11 students for example, face a double transition in the coming weeks; transition back to face-to-face learning and transition into Year 12. Preparing well though for the "return to school" event will assist in reducing tensions, fears and anxiety and make certain that we communicate all the right messages about face-to-face learning.
Perhaps the biggest challenge that families may face over the next few weeks is around re-establishing routines. I would encourage you to use the next couple of weeks to spend time preparing your children for this next change. Set the alarm clock a little earlier to get used to a longer day. Have morning tea and lunch at a regular time. Begin practicing again all of the micro-routines that support the daily routine of face-to-face learning.
Engaging with concerns and anxieties that students may have about returning to face-to-face learning will also be an important aspect of this preparation phase. Ask your children what are they looking forward to most about returning to the College. Ask them what they will miss the most about online learning. Ask them how they are feeling about returning to the College and take time to tune into those feelings. If they are nervous, ask them what they think is making them feel nervous and help them navigate those anxieties productively.
It is also really important that we challenge some conclusions that our children may have made about online learning. Some students will state with a lot of conviction "I do better at home". And for many we can understand how they have come to this conclusion; there are less distractions, they seem more efficient in terms of time management and the pressure of getting social dynamics right is not as present in the online learning context. Let's also not forget that online learning has also been more comfortable in ways that many adolescents will be loathe to give up as they return to school. Who wouldn't enjoy being able to wake up in their pyjamas, roll out of bed and jump into classes?
So is this true? Do some students do better at home? Perhaps in the short term it may feel as if they are genuinely doing better. But the reality is that to permanently learn from home would not be helpful in preparing young people to live a purposeful life, one that enables them to thrive and bless others. We were designed by God to live in community and therefore we function best when we live, learn and serve in community. We feel a sense of wholeness when we are connected to others.
So in preparing for this "return to school" event can I ask that you encourage your children to embrace this opportunity to engage in community once again. Talk to them about how much you have missed seeing your friends and family and provide opportunities for them to begin engaging with members of the College community. Talk to them about how we were not made to live in isolation from one another and highlight for them how their return to face-to-face learning is a huge opportunity to bless someone else who like them has been missing connection.
I know my staff are working hard to ensure that the process of returning to face-to-face learning is smooth, engaging and rebuilds connection. We really want our young people loving the learning community that they are a part of. So together, let's prepare really well for this "return to school" event. But finally, I would reiterate the apostle Paul's words "Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4:6-7) I can see the very many ways that God has sustained us throughout this period of online learning and I am confident that He will sustain us throughout this next phase.