The gift a teacher can give pupils now? Predictability

Amid all the change and confusion, teachers must remain the same calm, predictable rock as always, writes Sadie Hollins

Sadie Hollins

Coronavirus and student wellbeing: Why predictability is so important for school students right now

School is often the most predictable place a young person knows.

They know when they have a maths or a science lesson, they know what days they need their PE kit on, they know what time break is so they can eat a bit of their packed lunch, and they know what time lunch is so they can eat the rest of it.

Like it or not, we often thrive when our lives are predictable. It allows us to imagine all of the possible scenarios we may be faced with and plan accordingly – reassuring ourselves that we will be able to cope with whatever challenges life throws at us. 

In short, predictability matters. But have we given it enough focus lately?

Predictability in schools

Understandably, a lot of the focus on wellbeing upon the return to school has either been on self-care for teachers (rightly so) or helping students to build the skills (resiliency, mindfulness, etc) to help them to cope with an ever-changing world.

This is all to be applauded.

But I think that, as a result, we have perhaps forgotten about how we, as teachers, can bring predictability to our students’ lives, and the need to make self-regulation a focus for both ourselves and our students.

After all, some of my favourite teachers when I was at school, and some of the colleagues whom I most admire, are those who were/are predictable.

Whether it’s saying hello to me in the hallway, asking how my weekend was or calmly asking why I was late (when I was at school, of course), knowing how the people you encounter on any given day will be towards you is a source of comfort.

And I’ve heard from numerous ex-students about how school was a safe place for them, a break from the chaos that they encountered at home. They found stability in the mundane and they found safety in the predictable.

Student wellbeing

This is not to say that teachers need to be robotic and not feel or express emotion within reason, but, in these most challenging times, we must do our best to provide stability and predictability.

But how can we show up predictably during a pandemic?

This is not an easy question to answer when teachers know nothing is predictable with school seemingly always on the brink of sudden change – possible closures, staff shortages, new government protocols (to name a few).

But in spite of this, we teachers can remain predictable. We can be our same selves, whether in class, teaching online or switching between both: we can expect the same behaviour norms, we can tell the same cheesy jokes, we can set the same sort of tasks.

I try to see every encounter I have with a student as a chance to put on hold the things that I’m stressed and worried about, and just be in the moment with them.

After all, it's not their fault that I’m annoyed at having to write reports, it’s not their fault that a family member is unwell, and it’s not their fault that my washing machine broke and flooded my kitchen this morning.

Routines matter

More than ever, we need to show up and be predictable, because right now the world around us isn’t going to afford our students the opportunity to experience this predictability in many other places, or with many other people.

And we should not be afraid to discuss this with students.

By discussing the possible eventualities when it comes to school closures or other unknowns, and how this may affect their education, rather than scaring them, we empower them.

Not because we give them the answers, but because we let them know that it is an uncertain time and they are not alone in feeling like that.

What is key, though, is that they know, whatever happens, that their teachers will be there for them, in the same predictable way they have always been.

Sadie Hollins is head of sixth form at a British-curriculum school in Thailand and has been teaching internationally for two years

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