An Open Letter to Secondary Students

By Sharon Witt
An Open Letter to Secondary Students

Image by: freestocks.org

An open letter to Secondary Students, from Author, Teacher and Speaker, Sharon Witt, who has written on Starting Secondary School, on my blog before.

 

This letter is addressed to students in Melbourne, Victoria. However, so much of this is true for Secondary Students and Final Year students anywhere in Australia this term.

 

What a year they have come through. We are so proud of them!

 

 

“Dear Secondary Student,

 

This week is the time you have been anticipating for many months – returning to school after what seems like forever.

 

It has been a long road. You have been patiently waiting for your turn to head back to campus, always in the back of your mind that a further announcement at any minute could spell the completion of your schooling this year from home.

 

You have missed so much. Within a very short time, many of the things that brought you joy – your sporting practice, footy matches, Drama group, shopping, going to see a movie, hanging out with friends and mates at the park- all of your social activities, could no longer occur as our state battled to control an invisible enemy known as Covid19.

 

As you wake today, dust off that schoolbag and clean out your lunchbox (is that a mouldy sandwich you just found?!). You may be feeling anxious or really excited to be amongst your peers in real life today (as opposed to small faces on a screen for months on end.)

 

I know that for many, you are feeling like being in ‘remote learning’ during a world-wide pandemic has made you fall behind in your learning. You wonder if you’ve fallen so behind in your work as it seems everyone else has been navigating online learning quite easily. You fear that you have learnt so little in the past 6 months.

 

But what if I asked you to reframe this experience?

 

What if I reassured you that you have, in fact, learnt a great deal more during this unprecedented time off ‘more formalized, on campus learning’?

 

You see, learning doesn’t just take place within the fences of a school campus; the four walls of a classroom. What if I assured you, that you have in fact, learnt a great deal more in these past 6 months than you may have otherwise, and you may be, in fact have become a better equipped, young person, who has learnt so much more than you could possibly realise.

 

You have learnt a great deal of resilience over the past 6 months.

That there will be situations and events in life that can catch us off guard at any time, that we were not prepared for, and we have to learn to adapt, use the resources around us (family, friends, teachers) and those within us, to manage and cope.

 

You may have learnt about the use of online technology in learning in a way you haven’t had to use before. Your teachers have certainly had to adjust very quickly, and many of you helped some of your exasperated teachers work out how to ‘share their screen’ or ‘access the chat option’ in the initial weeks. Be assured, your teachers have had to learn on the run too!

 

You may not have understood all the math concepts during remote learning, but you have learnt a lot more about yourself. You learn more effectively in the afternoon, rather than the mornings. You have learnt that you need to put specific goals in place to be motivated to complete on-line assessments.

You may have learnt that you enjoy more time on your own, to read, write, create, learn an instrument. Maybe you learnt how to cook, write songs, build, plant, and dream.

 

You have learnt that you really thrive best around people. You have had to learn different ways of meeting your needs of connection with others- whether that be facetiming your friends, playing online games together from the comfort of your own homes, writing actual letters and cards to your grandparents and posting them.

 

You have learnt perhaps, even more-so the value of family. Of creating new traditions, like walking or riding as a family, movie nights with pizza, discovering a new competitiveness when playing family board games, the joy of caring for and looking out for neighbours or those most vulnerable within your community.

 

You have most definitely learned more about epidemiology (even if you don’t know how to spell the word!)- how a seemingly simple virus can threaten not only our health,  but affect your community and country in ways that we will continue to see for perhaps decades.

 

You have learnt how state versus federal politics work. How a state leader relies on other professionals to make important daily decisions that then affect our everyday lives.

 

So, as you head into school this week, may you reframe the significance of today.

 

You have not fallen behind – you are exactly where you are meant to be. In fact, you are much stronger, wiser and resilient that you may have realised.

 

And remember this – your teachers are nervous too. It has been a long six months for them as they have navigated remote teaching whilst also perhaps caring for their much older parents, other vulnerable relatives, young children, helping their own kids at home learning whilst doing their very best to manage their classes for you. They too have had to learn to put their own coping mechanisms in place when they can no longer go out, visit friends, travel for school holidays, and make plans.

 

As you enter those school gates this week – whether you are feeling anxious, nervous or just plain excited- remember to use grace. Everyone is in the same boat. You have all experienced a (hopefully) once in a lifetime event.

 

You will learn from this and have grown through this.

Look out for those that may seem anxious today – those who may have forgotten how difficult it was to socialise with others. Those that actually might have preferred to stay at home to continue their formal learning because the classroom noise and activity can be so overwhelming for them.

 

Have patience for your peers, and your teachers. They may need a few extra coffees to get used to managing the extra noise and energy in the classroom again. There is no ‘mute’ button anymore. Your teachers are beyond excited to welcome you back to school. They too have learnt so much over these many months of lockdown.

Enjoy being back at school. This term will be over quicker than you know it.

And from your parents and teachers – we think you are amazing!”

 

Sharon Witt is a secondary educator of over 28 years and author of 12 books for children and teens including ‘Surviving High School’ (for children) and ‘Starting Secondary School’ (for parents), which is co-authored with Dr Michael-Carr-Gregg. You can find out more at www.sharonwitt.com.au

Preparing for Secondary School (for parents)

The Power of Family Meals

by Collett Smart
family meals

 


Children who take part in family meals display less delinquency, greater academic achievement, improved psychological wellbeing, more positive family interactions and eat healthier foods.


Eating meals together as a family has wonderful benefits. Frequent regular family meals (3–7 times a week) reflect a sense of family connection and priorities. It says, “We are important!”

Not a lot is known about exactly why family meals create benefits, but it is suggested that it might be due to the empathy, family cohesion, family attitudes and communication skills modelled or displayed during these times. The time together also generates feelings of closeness and comfort, providing a unique context to connect with your tweens and teens.

Although family meal time on its own is not a magic bullet for emotional health, evidence suggests that children who take part in family meals display less delinquency, greater academic achievement, improved psychological wellbeing, more positive family interactions and eat healthier foods (1).

 

This feels like another thing to add to the week – What should we aim for?


Start small

If you haven’t been doing ‘family meal time’, set a goal that is realistic and doable for your family.  Perhaps you might try to have a family meal at least three times per week, even if some members can’t be there occasionally, due to part-time jobs, work schedules, sport or other activities. 

A family meal also doesn’t need to be a formal affair. It could be lunch at the kitchen bench after school, a sandwich on your lap, an afternoon tea outside on the patio, or a Sunday picnic in the garden. The key factors include; no screens, the focus being on the people present, teens and adults all included in the conversation, for a designated period of time.  The meal habit communicates that time together is important. It’s OK if some teens prefer to just listen, be present and don’t want to chat every time. It is the ‘being together’ that counts.

Gatherings

Another goal might be to include both children and adults at the table, or in a big circle of chairs, when family friends are over for a meal. This was demonstrated to me by friends who always pull together their two odd tables when people are over (waves to Kerrie). They ensure that adults and children sit at meals together. Children and teens are included in the conversation, get to watch how other families interact and also gain the benefit of incidental mentoring by being part of adults’ discussions. Teens don’t need to sit at the table for the entire social event, but are expected to stay for the duration of the meal.

Even when it’s mayhem

It’s normal to have the turning-up-of-noses at food, bickering or irritability some days -> um… did I mention the turning-up-of-noses?  Families aren’t robots. These instances help parents to model saying sorry, how to empathise with the person who has had a bad day, to teach respectful communication and gratitude for what we have and what has been prepared. Gratitude and empathy are standouts, when teens have been part of preparing a weekly meal.


Some meal time conversation starter ideas, to try occasionally:

  • “List one good thing and one not very good thing that happened in your day.” It is vital that adults share some of their struggles as teens, in particular, often imagine that adults don’t have inner conflict.
  • “What do you think might help Dad deal with that difficult person at work this week?” Let teens help you brainstorm. Keep it age appropriate and don’t scoff at their suggestions.
  • “How did [that issue] you just spoke about make you feel today?”
  • “What did you enjoy most about your sport/flute/event this week?”
  • “Who is someone you are worried about at the moment?” 
  • (insert your own here)

 

One last thought

Even if meal times don’t happen during busy periods, don’t beat yourself up. That’s just life and family and being human. Just pick up where you left off. There is so much happening within the fabric of meal times that it is worth fighting to keep this habit going in your home.

Do you have any advice for us, on how you tweaked your weekly routine to add in a family meal or two? 

 

 

Please support or encourage a parent, by sharing this article with them.

 

Collett Smart is a psychologist, qualified teacher, speaker and internationally published author. The heart of Collett’s work is to support and bring Hope to parents of tweens and teens. She lives with her husband and 3 children in Sydney, Australia. Find out more at www.raisingteenagers.com.au

 


Adapted from Conversation #6 in Collett’s book, THEY’LL be OKAY: 15 Conversations to Help Your Child Through Troubled Times (Hachette, 2019). Another version printed at Mums At the Table.

 

 

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