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Teachers should be taught to be mentors not just knowledge providers

By LV Sehgal,

Create a sense of belonging among students, which allows them to feel included and accepted.

Schools must focus on ‘learning by doing’ and engage students in activities based on their interest, writes Principal LV Sehgal.

The COVID-19 pandemic has put at stake the future of an entire generation of learners. As students return to in-person classrooms, loss and trauma are ongoing themes. All schools should be prepared to cater to our invaluable learners who have been confined to their homes, isolated from their peers, and missed the joy of learning together. The learning ecosystems need to be redefined in sync with the new normal, to provide the necessary psycho-social and emotional support to the learners and engage them effectively in academic and co-curricular pursuits.  

Considering that each family experienced trauma due to illness, loss of loved ones, reduced family income etc., the schools need to focus on “strategies rooted in emotional regulation, self-growth, and relationship building” to help students heal from stress and loss. Also, schools must incorporate all protocols of the COVID-19-appropriate behaviour, and the prescribed child safety regulations to emerge as safe and secure precincts. Beyond being ‘knowledge providers’, teachers ought to be trained to be ‘mentors’.  The support staff members too need to have a positive, caring, and compassionate attitude, along with a non-judgemental approach, such that the learners experience an overall sense of well-being and joy, besides feeling welcomed. 

It is well-known that children often take cues from the key adults in their lives, which also include their teachers. Therefore, teachers are expected to manage their emotions well, and stay physically healthy to be the ideal role models, and provide consistent support to vulnerable children. Positive teacher – student relationships must be carefully nurtured and students must be encouraged to express themselves. The counsellors/teachers can identify age-appropriate relevant themes and engage a small group of pupils in an informal, apparently unstructured conversation regularly, in order to draw them out, and mentor them efficiently, as per need.  

Creative activities, preferably in groups, to develop socio-emotional skills of the learners will need to be focussed upon. Under the supervision of teachers and in the secure company of the peers, these creative activities will encourage freedom of expression, and help learners to process any pent-up frustration or stress. Students should be encouraged to build language and communication skills. They should learn to face open-ended questions, which would further help them to deal with their feelings and may result in catharsis of emotions. 

Furthermore, a pleasant and comfortable Relaxation Corner could also be created in classrooms. Whenever overwhelmed with emotions, students can access these to share their feelings with the teacher/counsellor, and be engaged in activities that would calm them down. It would be immensely helpful to instil values and positive attitudes among learners through day-to-day functioning. In the present scenario, we need to focus on collaboration, teamwork, empathy, and gratitude. A grateful heart is indeed a positive and hopeful heart. This can be done through relevant Morning Assembly programmes, inter-house activities, and environment community outreach programmes, etc. 

Schools must focus on ‘learning by doing’ and engage students in varied activities based on their interest, not essentially merit or capability. Besides, effecting experiential learning, these activities also provide a creative deviation from emotional concerns. Initiating a Mealtime Club could also be an excellent way to facilitate social interaction and create a sense of belonging or community among students. This allows them to feel included and accepted.  

Emotional and mental wellbeing has oft been associated with physical activity. Sports and games must enjoy a place of pride in the school curriculum. Participation in sports of their choice – whether for play or competition, should be mandatory for all students. Deep breathing exercises and Yoga should also be focussed upon as they help to regulate feelings and induce a sense of calm and well-being. Educators must zealously seek to optimize the multifarious benefits of Sports in the healing and fitness journeys of the learners, especially in the post pandemic world.  

Overall, our focus should be to make learning a fun and collaborative endeavour for students of all classes, such as through inter-disciplinary and activity or project-work based approach, etc. Schools should facilitate hybrid teaching, giving students the freedom to choose between online and offline classes. Innovations in pedagogy, and using varied approaches for transaction of curriculum that allow the learners to study at their individual pace would also help to keep them engaged.  

We must respect the uniqueness of each child in all aspects, including the response to turbulence in life. Therefore, students must be regularly monitored, and those who seem unable to cope must be identified sensitively for therapeutic intervention, in accordance with the prescribed guidelines. 

The past year has witnessed the emergence of a more purposeful and positive collaboration between the schools and parent community, worldwide.  Care must be taken to strengthen this bond further, for the greater good of the children. Together, we all must aim to guide the learners to grow into responsible, compassionate, and resilient citizens, with the potential to achieve their own aspirations, and successfully lead the world through unforeseen trials and tribulations in the future. Indeed, it has been appropriately opined that "...in serving the best interests of children, we serve the best interests of all humanity."  

L V Sehgal is the Principal, Bal Bharati Public School. Views expressed are personal.