By Erika Elkady, Head of Secondary, Jumeira Baccalaureate School.
After having been in lockdown for all of term 3 due to Covid-19 and not having seen our students for six months, most of our teachers felt a different sense of excitement than normal to be back on campus in September 2020. It was not the usual anticipation to see our students again after a long summer holiday, but more feelings of anxiety fuelled by so many unknowns. Our worries were not so much about student attainment or having to teach synchronous lessons in a different classroom every period or having to wear a face mask and keeping physical distance at all times. No, our apprehension was based on not knowing what to expect regarding our students’ social and emotional wellbeing.
Had they been able to process the ‘new normal’ which we as adults were still trying to come to terms with? How would our teenagers respond to be back in school after such a long time? Would they be able to follow up on all the new rules and restrictions in school to keep us safe? Would they after so many months of ‘freedom of movement’ at home be able to sit at the same desk in the same classroom for most of the day? How would the online students respond to having their teacher and classmates together at school while they can’t physically join them due to living with family members who are at high risk? Would all the students just be happy to have some normalcy back and accept the new restrictions without much of the typical teenage pushback? And would students be anxious to contract the virus in school and how would they respond to a “positive case” in our community?
These questions were already on our minds before the summer holiday had started. Although we knew that we would not have any answers before the students were back in school, we did understand that without (staff and) student wellbeing teaching and learning would not be able to take off. Therefore, our priority was our students’ wellbeing in the first weeks of the school year. We agreed that we needed to focus on creating a positive climate. So, we made time to establish new routines in order for students to feel safe in school. We also made time to celebrate and express our gratitude that we were seeing each other again. We used positive language and did not speak of “lost time”, “being behind” or “catching up”.
Although this first week back helped us to rekindle the student-teacher relationship and allowed us to monitor how students were settling in, we knew we needed to delve deeper to gauge how our students are feeling about themselves and school in the middle of this pandemic. Therefore, we conducted the PASS survey in the second week of the school year. The data gave us a wealth of information. We learned that our phase 3 students’ attitudes in all 9 factors are now more positive than when we started to conduct the Pupil Attitudes to Self and School (PASS) survey in 2017. Maybe most important is that their feelings about school improved significantly as well as their attitudes to attendance. Our phase 4 data on the other hand show a slight dip in factors 2 (Perceived Learning Capability) and 7 (Confidence in Learning), which is not unsurprising as the lockdown and the uncertainty about exams in May 2021 will cause some anxiety in our seniors.
Overall, the data is comforting as we learned that our students’ overall wellbeing is much better than we had hoped for. Moreover, we also know now who needs extra attention as we have been able to flag a number of students. Having the PASS data so early in the school year helps us to further focus on student wellbeing on a cohort as well as an individual student level. At Jumeira Baccalaureate School student, wellbeing is our first core value as, without, academic achievement will fall behind.
Hear Erika talk in more detail about her school's experience at the Global Assessment Conference this November! You can find out more and register here.