Safeguarding during the lockdown
Jason Tait, Director of Pastoral Care and Designated Safeguarding Lead at TASIS, The American School in England suggests that maintaining student wellbeing during the lockdown is possibly even more important than a school’s online academic programme.
Compassion and Care
As the world of education takes a giant step into the unknown world of technology-driven online learning programs, it is the strength of the teacher-student relationship that will provide much-needed certainty for school communities.
While schools quite rightly will be making every effort to maintain teaching and learning during the Covid-19 lockdown, the provision of compassion and care for students and their families will be equally, if not more important.
TASIS is providing opportunities for students to connect with each other and their advisor or homeroom teacher as a central component of online learning in the coming weeks and months. The importance of such moments cannot be underestimated in a school community that has students in every corner of the world.
With the worldwide reach of the pandemic we are facing, the international nature of our student body, and the differing stages, impact, and national responses to the coronavirus, we have recognized that safeguarding has taken on an even more central and complex role in the life of our school and our online learning program. This unique challenge requires a creative solution.
An important part of our approach during lockdown has been the use of The Student Voice, an online platform which we have been using since 2018 that allows students to share their concerns anonymously with the Designated Safeguarding Lead about where they feel safe – or otherwise – on campus and in the vicinity of the school. Adding direct feedback from the students themselves in this way has added depth to our safeguarding provision.
The Student Voice – why we got involved
Evidence suggests that students may be reluctant to share sensitive safeguarding issues with teachers face to face because their social conditions favour them to stay silent (Contextual Assessment Framework, Firmin 2015). The Student Voice approach was developed and piloted in partnership with the school as a Contextual Safeguarding information sharing tool that seeks to provide opportunities for student peer group engagement. Our aim was to develop a stronger school culture, seeking to bridge this perceived communication gap by listening to students and allowing the school to respond to their concerns effectively. We wanted to be able to identify and address potential safeguarding issues proactively by providing students with a forum to play their part in this process.
Before learning went online we were gathering data about where students felt unsafe in and around school. Students with information to share were able to access interactive maps of the school and asked to rate the safety of an area as GOOD, OK or BAD, and to provide further detail about their rating. All submissions were anonymous, unless the student elected to share their identity.
Students were also encouraged to share what was working well, in addition to areas and issues of concern. Between May 2019 and March 2020 we received on average 30 submissions per month, 59% of which were positive. It is fair to say that we learned just as much, if not more, from these positive reports than the issues of concern that were raised. We have learned that we often take for granted what is working well and that doing more of what works well can make a tangible difference in the life of our students.
The Student Voice – going global
And then school closed: now we are using the programme to track and anticipate concerns arising from the coronavirus pandemic. As a result, we are aware that students take time to adjust to transformational cultural changes such as online home schooling as they adapt to a new routine, and limited social contact. We have added an interactive world map where students can share relevant concerns that assists us in staying connected with them, adapting our support as a school and responding effectively no matter where in the world a student may be.
Communication and Connection
If compassion, care, and creativity are the building blocks that will allow school communities to flourish during this time, then communication and connection are the glue that will cement those all-important relationships. Therefore, all of our responses to student needs are personal and from the member of faculty with whom that student and/or parents have a strong relationship and attachment.
Despite the Coronavirus, our designated roles as educators have not changed, whether in person or online. As teachers, we exist to be constant, caring, and compassionate figures for our students and their families, seeking at all times to connect meaningfully through effective and personal communication.
As we seek to comprehend our current and future position, the words of the founder of TASIS England, Mary Crist Fleming, provide timeless and much-needed perspective:
“You ask, what can I, one small person, do against the enormity of it all?
And I answer you, start in a small but daily way – becoming the kind of human being who cares first about immediate things and immediate people – your roommate, your friends, your family, some sick person you know who is suffering, some old person who is lonely, a gesture, a note, a word, a call, the smallest thoughtful action that means so much to those needing it – the reaching out of a hand – in doing so, as you grow, you become that kind of person… You are no longer one small person, you have become a force, a force to be counted, a force that can change current events, can change history!”
Mary Crist Fleming, speech to students, 1991
When the day comes for our international community to carry on our learning journey in person and together, we will do so safely in the knowledge that our relationships flourished because of, and not in spite of, the events of Spring/Summer 2020.