Should schools take lessons from corporates on wellness?

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In 2020, amidst a pandemic that has left the corporate world largely working from makeshift, often ergonomically-challenged home offices, Elton Mayo has resurfaced. Mayo’s work in the first half of the twentieth century traced the link between the social side of work — to grab a ready example, the two-minute banter around the water-cooler on that hanging corridor — and organisational health. The pandemic has underlined the significance his theory holds for employee wellness.

Organisations now seek to virtually recreate the social side of work. So, you have colleagues sipping coffee together, parked at Google Meet, Microsoft Teams and Zoom. Non-work activities are offered virtually to help employees keep their sanity intact.

It is probably equally necessary to recreate the “social side of learning” for students, as they continue to “study from home” with some slipping further into the bog of gadget dependence.

“We plan online classes in such a way that children have time to share their daily experiences, interact with their peers and also have some physical exercise. We also plan for a few classes where we all have lunch or snacks together virtually. That way children feel connected with their peers and teachers,” says Abirami .P, counselling psychologist and facilitator-and-counselor at HLC International School in Karanai, off Old Mahabalipuram Road.

Communication strategy

Due to the challenges resulting from the work-from-home arrangement and from the pandemic itself, corporates encourage their leaders to practise “overcommunication” with their teams so that they can lead with greater empathy.

The study-from-home arrangement obviously requires a similar communication approach from teachers.

Peer-level interactions and increased points of contact with teachers are now more necessary than ever before, because challenges are steadily on the rise, states Malathi Karthiban, chief counsellor, Adarsh Student Counselling Centre, which primarily caters to students of five schools and one college in Chennai that come under the Punjab Association. (On account of COVID-19, it has extended its tele-counselling service to children and even adults outside)

Malathi points out that the grown-ups in a child’s world, including teachers, should engage children in conversations that can reveal coping difficulties.

“There is a world of difference between the concerns children raised at the beginning of the pandemic and now. Earlier, it would largely be academics-related. Now, emotional problems surface more frequently. Aware of COVID-19 deaths in their friends’ circles, some children fear for the safety of their family members, especially the elderly among them. There is much information about COVID-19 out there for the older children to figure out who would be at high risk for complications from the disease. Where younger children are concerned, the problem often stems from an inability to process the situation correctly. It is not unusual for us to come across little children who feel neglected because they are not allowed to step out of their room. With their inability to process the complexities of human existence, let alone the peculiarities of a pandemic, little children tend to equate ‘being quarantined’ on account of a Coronavirus infection with rejection. When a child runs a temperature, it is possible to attempt to persuade them to stay confined in a room and take rest. When the child has tested positive for the virus and is asymptomatic, they have trouble processing isolation measures,” elaborates Malathi.

“In these five schools, teachers now set aside two after-school hours every day — between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. — for non-academic interactions with the children of the class they handle, via a WhatsApp group. There is scope for interaction through this group during the weekends too. Teachers are expected to encourage children to discuss their day and anxieties, if any. If there is something personal to be shared, the child would be encouraged to have a one-on-one interaction. At this time, only online intervention is possible and we try to make the most of what is possible,” explains Malathi and points out that teachers of the five schools exchange notes on what works and does not in terms of making the online classes less tiresome for the children.

“One of the striking shifts in focus is that the classes now begin with compliments, claps and ice-breakers,” adds Malathi.

The family on board

Another takeaway from corporates during the pandemic is how they engaged with the employee’s family, particularly in the early part of the lockdown when they kept their employees’ children engaged through online contests and educative sessions.

To give two examples, Prione, which provides technology support services to SMBs, got these children to design sunglasses under a programme called ‘Parents of Prione’. Temenos, a banking software solutions provider, reportedly ran an online soft skills training programme for its employees’ children. Schools could look at organising programmes that would get the student’s family on board.

“We have conducted two online programmes engaging the entire family. One was a seven-day programme on gratitude, which encouraged parents to teach their children how to be grateful for the good things in their life, by first practising gratefulness themselves. We felt a need for this programme as the pandemic had led people to take a dim view of their own lives. The families were taught to be grateful not just for the things they had, but also for the things that they lacked and also for the things in their house they no longer had any need for. This way, they were being encouraged to recycle these things by offering them to people who may need them.

“The second programme was ‘Lockdown Camp’ in which we called the WhatsApp group, ‘Fun Room’ where every member of the family was being taught life skills,” says Malathi.

“We have started our third programme which is a self-care programme for our teachers and it covers the physical, psychological, spiritual, financial and professional aspects of their lives.”

Abirami believes that if interventions that activate peer-level interactions are not engineered now, when the pandemic is over, students would struggle switching to the old in-person learning environment.

In a sense, children are like astronauts on a prolonged stay in space — in this case, it is online space — who would have to make some adjustments as they start living as earthlings again. Abirami says the weaning-off should happen when they are still online. However, the process has to be gently administered.

Says Abirami, “The focus should not be only on academics, but also on emotional well-being. We don’t know in what ways children would have been affected during this time.”

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Printable version | Oct 20, 2020 8:35:56 AM |

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