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Hear Our Voices

by Rebecca Thomas

The winds of change and possibility:

“It starts with the school showing that it loves children.”

- Chris Dyson

Left wrung out, underappreciated and exhausted from the barrage of messages, policy changes and public opinions, teachers settle down for a rest.

In the chaos of the past two years some educators have lost the joy ‘the job’ used to bring.

Watching the very nature of physical schools we love twist and morph into something we no longer recognise is undoubtedly sorrowful. What must new teachers to the profession be thinking they have signed up for? Which principal, close to retirement, thought their last stand and academic year in the trenches would end like this?

Disconnected, we prepare for another term.

What will it bring?

Will there be traction?

Will we see the changes in education we are all hoping for rise like a phoenix from the ashes to save us?

It is with certainty we understand that learning online from screens, or behind masks is not the job we signed up for.

We are relational souls who thrive from a smile, a nod of acknowledgement on the playground from whānau, banter at the photocopier with a colleague, the joy we get when reaching the end of a complete (uninterrupted) sequence of learning that has been shared with our students. These small and immeasurable moments are the ones that make the tiredness go away when we give ourselves over to ‘the job’.

With this important feedback loop missing from our spirits, united we feel lost.

The winds of change

Term 2 will possibly bring more changes, more policies, more sickness, more uncertainty. What we can do, however, is continue to show our communities and students we still care deeply. Fill your next ten weeks with as much joy and laughter as you can muster.

Here are 4 top tips for you to implement as we begin Term 2 to try and help you to bring some joy back into our children's world.

Tip # 1.Taha wairua - spiritual wellbeing

Disconnect your devices for the first part of the day

As the students enter the classroom at the start of each new day, you might decide to make a habit of putting down your own devices and stop checking your emails. Try not to look at a screen until it is time to do the roll; demonstrating how to manage your screen time.

Instead, give your students your full attention and invite them to share something important to them, have a conversation, play a word game, or even just listen to some music together.

Remember, school is as much a place of social learning as academic learning, making teachers one of the most influential people in a students’ life. Role model the behaviour you want to see from your kids. Teacher credibility plays a key role in facilitating successful student teacher interactions, as discussed in Finn, Amber & Schrodt, Paul & Witt, Paul & Elledge, Nikki & Jernberg, Kodiane & Larson, Lara. (2009). A Meta-Analytical Review of Teacher Credibility and its Associations with Teacher Behaviors and Student Outcomes

Tip # 2. Taha hinengaro - mental and emotional wellbeing

Introduce a class pet

Whether it is a snail, tadpole, goldfish or even a school chicken or pig, you could try and invite an animal/minibeast/plant into the classroom and teach your learners to organise and look after its needs. They can create timetables and develop responsibilities for the pet/plant. There are many rich learning opportunities and benefits in having a classroom pet. A class pet may provide a crucial bond to the natural world that enhances your students’ health and wellbeing.

If you are far too squeamish for minibeasts perhaps a soft toy that represents your class pet will suffice? You can read more about pets and the effects on mental health here.

Tip #3. Taha whānau - social wellbeing

Invent an imaginary student

Learning with imagination may be just as important as having knowledge. To build on this idea you might like to create playful imaginative conversations by inventing an extra student on the roll. Give this student a name. This student can sometimes be sick, forget their mask, homework or even misbehave on the playground; creating opportunities to learn from mistakes. An imaginary student would be free to take risks and be a leader, and to state opinions rather than just correct answers.

Maybe this imaginary friend can partner up with someone when you are a student short? Maybe they have a nut allergy or are scared of swimming? This is a great way to create empathy ‘ontap’ when needed in a real context.

Tip #4. Taha tinana - physical wellbeing

Engage in some morning exercise

Some of our students may walk through the classroom door bringing stress with them. Studies show that physical activity is a natural way to prevent the negative effects of stress. You could put aside the first fifteen minutes of the day to do some controlled exercise with the students (remember to role model joining in too). Exercise before school may also help students who have trouble concentrating.

Māori Movement offers some great ways where you can complete a ‘Fitness of the Gods’ warm up. Māori Movement is a unique health and wellbeing programme that brings together the traditional training of Māori warriors into a modern interpretation.

With these four simple classroom routines in place, you are in a good position to make Term 2 a balanced, safe and exciting start for your students where everyone can focus on looking forward with joy.

Emily Dickenson "I dwell in possibility"

I dwell in Possibility--

A fairer House than Prose--

More numerous of Windows--

Superior--for Doors--

Of Chambers as the Cedars--

Impregnable of Eye–

And for an Everlasting Roof

The Gambrels of the Sky--

Of Visitors--the fairest--

For Occupation--This--

The spreading wide my narrow Hands

To gather Paradise--

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