5 unexpected advantages of students wearing masks

Introducing mask-wearing in communal areas at school hasn't been as challenging as this teacher thought
17th November 2020, 3:00pm


5 unexpected advantages of students wearing masks

Coronavirus: The Benefits Of Wearing Face Masks In Schools

As cases of Covid began to rise, it seemed inevitable that masks would become more commonplace in schools. 

The topic of masks has been hotly debated in my school, as I'm sure it has in others, over the past weeks. We actually pre-empted the shift, and introduced compulsory mask-wearing in communal areas just before the official guidance around this came in.  

Coronavirus: Face masks in schools

I must admit, I feared how well it would go. But to my surprise, I have been rather impressed with the initial transition. What's more, while nobody would choose to wear a mask, there do seem to have been some advantages for students that I would not have expected.

1. Confidence

One of the most interesting things for me is that the masks seem to give students a confidence boost. It makes total sense, but it is incredible when you see it in reality. Simple things like the shy children saying hello to you in the corridor and students being willing to make contributions in class. These are all factors that I wasn't expecting masks to contribute to, and yet they have.

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2. Routine

The big concern for me with students having their faces covered was always going to be behaviour, and the inevitable mask-based stupidity. To the contrary, masks have allowed a new level of routine in the school. Mask use has quickly become embedded in the culture and there have been no more than a handful of mask-fuelled incidents. The way in which students adapt in these times is incredible and heartwarming. I'm hoping that they continue to remain as well behaved. I hope I haven't cursed it by writing this!

3. Collective responsibility 

Social responsibility is something that we try to teach our students throughout their schooling, but with masks, you are able to tangibly conceptualise the idea. What we have found is that the students' sense of community and responsibility for others has really shone through. There is an air of collective responsibility to keep each other safe in school and there has been a notable drop in behaviours that we would have classed as "not Covid safe" since the introduction of masks.

4. Less distraction

A huge proportion of what you communicate is non-verbal. That's a fact. Masks, in a way, hinder your non-verbal communication, but actually that has served as an advantage in some lessons. The peer-on-peer distraction has changed completely. Students are more focused because they have less to look at and be distracted by. I certainly didn't think I'd be saying that masks help with engagement when we first introduced them, but here I am saying it.

5. Safety

The use of masks adds a sense of safety to the school environment. No, they aren't perfect, but what the use of masks has shown is that although this virus is affecting our lives, with the right countermeasures, we can stop it from spreading. In a lot of instances, it is simply impossible to socially distance effectively in school buildings, so masks give an additional level of protection, while also raising the "profile" of the virus and acting as a reminder that things aren't normal and this pandemic is dangerous. 

If you are making the leap to masks, don't think it's all behaviour problems and nagging. It is some of the time, but most of the time, the use of masks in school for me has been really positive.

Adam Riches is an assistant principal and senior leader for teaching and learning, specialist leader in education and head of English. He tweets @TeachMrRiches

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