Dealing with the impact of global uncertainty on a school community
It seems we are now constantly dealing with the effects of local and global uncertainty. Milena Prodanić Tišma describes how one school in Zagreb helped children to cope after two earthquakes during lockdown.
One crisis after another
School systems around the world have all gone through various stages of crisis: in the two years since March 2020, schools have been fighting to prevent a global health crisis from becoming an educational catastrophe. With the war in Ukraine, we are dealing with another situation with implications for us all.
In Croatia, we were facing another challenge. In March 2020, Zagreb, was hit by two earthquakes. the COVID-19 crisis paled into insignificance as concern for the well-being of students, both physical and mental was given higher priority than ever before. Everything stopped and we all went backed to basics. Citizens rushed to each other’s aid. The feeling of caring for each other was palpable.
Back to school
We were aware that when the time came for the pupils to return to school we had to have a clear strategy for supporting them. We had to learn how to recognize the needs and difficulties that they all faced while choosing the right individual approach given the different traumas they had suffered.
When the time came for students to return to school from online classes, the students had different reactions. Group dynamics in some classes were significantly disrupted. With the enrollment of new students in some classes, group relationships were under pressure. Students who were leaving us had the added stress of the uncertainty of enrolling in their next school.
Listening to parents and observing at school
In conversation with parents, it was brought to our attention that some students had difficulty sleeping, at night some students began to push their teeth forward, so the number of students who visited orthodontists also increased at that time.
Parents began to face feelings of helplessness: as their children began to lose interest, they also became irritable. They found it harder to communicate their emotions or they communicated them in an unacceptable way. All this was not helped by the fact that returning to school brought with it a “new normal” in which the rules of social contact were significantly different from the usual pattern of behavior. It was a real challenge for many to follow them, and no matter how hard we tried to explain the reasons for them, there was still resistance from a small number of students.
A new view of what a school is
All this directed us towards a clear strategy that led to a change in the concept of the very functioning of the school. We started from the belief that one of the basic tasks of education is to offer students ways to discover and develop skills that help them become successful future members of our society and how we can support them in their self-realization.
Confronting the earthquake
Of course, first it was important to enable students to conduct an exercise on how to act in the event of an earthquake. We had to make them aware that an earthquake is possible and that we cannot control or predict it. Suddenly the students’ life skills became more important than ever before and they had the opportunity to demonstrate their skills first hand. Students learned that the only thing we can do is control our reactions, which are crucial at those given moments because spreading panic can lead to tragic consequences. The school conducted several earthquake exercises to give everyone a chance to re-learn how to react and how to leave the school in the safest manner.
Mindfulness really worked
The overall analysis of the condition and needs of students led to a new school management strategy in which one of the most important roles was played by the mindfulness approach. Students were taught how to become aware of the moment we are in at that exact moment. Through breathing exercises, they were helped to focus and practice their emotions. All of this led to a better understanding both of themselves and their reactions to stress. Some students showed resistance to the concept of mindfulness, but what was important to us was to bring them closer to understanding the power of their own mind that will help them through various techniques to cope with everyday life challenges.
These approaches required a change in the organisation of the school itself so that it could respond to the individual needs of the students themselves. The school appointed leaders for teacher teams for upper and lower years, an educational rehabilitator who, in cooperation with the school leaders of teaching and learning and team members, devised a strategic plan of individual support for students with different needs.
The coordinators focused on communication with the teachers in their team, which ensured timely information received by all. The school also added an additional member of staff who, together with the selected teacher from each team, created workshops to help students at the level of the classes themselves.
We became aware that the world of our students in school is filled with many different layers. Each class is a small universe within itself. Each student within the class has their own desires, needs and opportunities.
During the process of implementing the new strategies, the selected professional team worked continuously to empower teachers and to release additional resources as well.
Ready for the next global crisis
As the aftermath of the ‘covid + earthquake’ crisis faded, the school had gained the immeasurable value of the unity of all employees in the joint mission of education. This gives us a common strength for new challenges and the unpredictable nature of everyday life in which the level of student skills shapes their success in the future.
The next crisis is of course unfolding rather quicker than we had hoped. However, we are now ready.
Milena Prodanić Tišma, is the Founder and Principal of Bright Horizons International British School in Zagreb.
Feature Image: by robert_marinkovic on Pixabay
Support images – students: kindly provided by Milena