Wellbeing: Supporting students who have to self-isolate

Written by: Dr Pooky Knightsmith | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

With potential this year for individuals or groups of pupils to be sent home from school at very short notice due to Covid-19, a new pastoral challenge will be supporting the wellbeing of those students affected. Dr Pooky Knightsmith advises


Whether it is individuals, small bubbles or entire classes or year groups, we should be planning for when, not if, children need to isolate in the months ahead. In this article, I will explore some of the things you can bear in mind and some of the forward planning you can do to minimise the impact of future periods of isolation or lockdown on your students.


Facilitate open, honest conversations

There is much uncertainty right now and that is unsettling for everyone, but by developing a culture of openness and honesty where we share clear plans about what could happen next, everyone will feel somewhat reassured.
Students, staff and families should be prepared for the possibility of periods of isolation and have some idea of what they can expect from the school during these times. If you have a plan, ensure that it has been communicated to students, staff and families. If you do not have a plan for self-isolation incidents, now might be the time to create one.



STUDENT WELLBEING ADVICE: Dr Pooky Knightsmith features in a recent episode of The SecEd Podcast focused on supporting student wellbeing post-lockdown and as we go back to school. You can listen for free via your streaming service or at https://bit.ly/2YzYutD. SecEd's free Back to School Guide on Student Wellbeing – which features further advice from Pooky and is one of four 12-page guides we have published – is still available via https://bit.ly/3eTHR28



Offer reassurance about safety

When asked to isolate, some children may worry deeply about how safe they or their family and friends are. It is important to teach children in age and stage-appropriate ways about why isolation or lockdown is occurring and that it is largely a preventative measure. However, this is also a good time to remind children about safe practice to limit the spread of the virus. Be prepared to answer questions and explore the topic, offering reassurance and reminders as appropriate.


Plan for what the “at home” routine might look like

One of the most helpful things that we can do to protect our mental health and promote our wellbeing is to have a daily routine. For this reason, school is a great protective factor against mental illness as it forces us to get up, get clean and get out every day, as well as providing a sense of belonging, purpose and connection.

Unless we plan to maintain these factors, they can easily fall away when a child is not attending school. A helpful and practical thing to do is to create a “wellbeing action plan”, which considers our daily routine and the things we will commit to doing and those we will avoid doing each day in order to keep ourselves well.

The young people of Cornwall have created a fantastic interactive online tool for creating a wellbeing action plan which includes lots of ideas for wellbeing. It can be completed either with or without adult support and can be accessed online (see the Start Now website, link below).

Schools are required by the official guidance for re-opening (DfE, 2020) to have contingency plans in place for remote learning to continue in the case of local lockdowns or self-isolation – these plans can also contribute to the sense of routine for students.


Consider how to stay connected

Loneliness and lack of connection is something that many children said they found difficult during lockdown. For many there was also a lack of direction and purpose when they were not able to engage with school or hobbies.

It is important, therefore, that we consider how to maintain a sense of connection for students and staff during periods of isolation. This is a great time to explore online relationships as part of your PSHE programme as this has been a key way of children keeping in touch with their peers and we need to ensure they know how to do so safely.

We might also consider how we can best make use of online technologies to ensure children can stay somewhat connected to school. For example, could tutor periods, circle time or assemblies be streamed?

Beware though of the digital divide and consider some ways that you can stay in one another’s hearts and minds without being connected online. For example, while in school, you could practise mindfulness or personal reading for a few minutes each day during tutor time and suggest that this continues at the same time each day at home, even if you are not together.
That way, you will all know that even when you are apart physically, you will be together in spirit for a few minutes each day. Small acts like this can really penetrate the loneliness and darkness that some children feel when they cannot attend school.


Have clear academic expectations

It is important to know what your academic expectations are of children who are isolating and to communicate these expectations clearly. Children need to know what is expected of them, and we need to ensure that they have everything they need to be able to succeed with any tasks set. It is important to be practical and reassuring and to include families in conversations too. This will all be much easier to manage if you carefully plan ahead so that everyone is clear about what is expected if self-isolation or lockdown occurs.


What about the adults?

It is not only children who need to know what is expected of them, but families too. A friendly phone call or email home can go a long way to assuaging a family’s worries and ensuring that they know what is expected of them and their children.
School staff too need to be kept in the loop and we need to remember that their wellbeing matters as well. Regularly check-in with staff isolating at home and consider carefully how to ensure they still feel part of things, that they are clear about what is expected of them, and that this feels reasonable and possible in their current situation.


Conclusion

I hope these pointers give you a few ideas and reassurance that while the wider situation is out of your control, there is much you can do to support your students. If you remember only one thing, remember the importance of consistent and clear communication with staff, with children and with families. Get that right and the rest will follow.


  • Dr Pooky Knightsmith is a passionate ambassador for mental health, wellbeing and PSHE. Her work is backed up both by a PhD in child and adolescent mental health and her own lived experience of PTSD, anorexia, self-harm, anxiety and depression. You can contact Pooky via www.pookyknightsmith.com and for her previous articles in SecEd, visit http://bit.ly/2daU4zs.


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