By Sharon Witt
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!”
Preparing for Secondary School (for parents)
by Sharon Witt
The beginning of the new school year is rapidly approaching and thousands of teenagers (and their parents) across the country are settling in for a full year ahead in secondary school. Whilst for some, this marks the beginning of an entirely new stage in their schooling, others are buckling in for another year ahead of academic rigor.
The following are a few tips by parenting author and High School educator, Sharon Witt, to help your young person navigate the year ahead at high school and also provide some ideas for parents to support them on their journey. Sharon has co-authored, ‘Starting Secondary School’ (Penguin), with Dr Michael Carr-Gregg.
Organization tools to support success
We would like to assume that our teenager will naturally develop strong organizational skills and be a self-motivated young person. However, this is not often the case, and in fact, as parents we need to model organization tools and strategies for our young people. Creating a family calendar that is visible to your teenager is helpful, as is including key term dates, camps, sports days and excursions.
Create a space in the home for communication to and from school- whether that be a folder or notice tray where school letters can be kept and signed forms left for your teen to hopefully remember to return to school (don’t hold your breath 🙂 )
When starting secondary school, ensure your child not only has a school diary, but also uses it on a daily basis to record homework, assessment tasks and tests. Take a look at it regularly and ask questions if there are weeks of blank pages.
Create and support a homework plan
Many teenagers, as well as their parents, find homework an inconvenience to their life. However, if homework is set for your teenager, it is better to set them up for success rather than ignore the issue. Ensure your child has a well-lit space where they can complete homework each night, ensuring they also have the correct tools- pens, rulers, whiteout, paper, calculator etc (a stationery tub or set of small drawers is helpful for the home.) Ensure their social media devices are in another space and keep healthy snacks such as fruit, nuts, and dips at the ready so their brain can be nourished during study time. Encourage your teenager to get into the habit of creating a ‘To do’ list which enables them to set 2 or 3 tasks that can be completed then ticked off after completion.
Prepare for a successful day ahead
The best way to set the scene for a successful day ahead is to ensure that your teenager eats a healthy breakfast and takes a nutritious and balanced lunch with plenty of snacks to keep their brain focused throughout the day. Also ensure your child gets plenty of sleep. This is becoming increasing difficult as an unprecedented number of teenagers are reporting sleep issues as a concern, many finding it difficult to fall asleep or waking up and not being able to fall asleep again. Most teenagers require 8-10 hours of sleep each night, with many reporting less than 5, leading to an increased sleep deficit. Removing internet enabled devices from the bedroom is important for instilling boundaries for our young people who often lack the self-control to avoid engaging online when they should be sleeping. This is where adults need to develop their ‘digital spine’ and either insist devices are placed in a central charging area in the home, away from bedrooms or disable the internet at a nominated time each evening. Many teenagers would also benefit from utilizing a sleep routine such as reading half an hour before bed, warm bath or shower and warm milk drink. If sleep continues to be an issue, it would be worth a visit to your local GP for a consultation to rule out any other underlying issues.
Communicate with school
Communication with the school is important in aiding a successful school year for your teenager. Familiarise yourself with the names of teachers your child has for each subject, the Year Level Coordinator, and particularly their Pastoral Care/Homeroom teacher. If your child has any specific learning or behavioral issues it is important to communicate this with their teachers. Don’t assume that information will be passed on from previous teachers- whilst this is the ideal, it may not always occur so it is well worth sending an introductory email outlining any information that would be helpful for those that teach your child. Far from initiating ‘red flags’ to teachers, it is actually much more helpful to be made aware of any particular learning needs your child has and any suggested strategies that have been successful in the past.
Be sure to communicate any early concerns regarding your teen’s experience at school to the relevant teacher as soon as you become aware of it. As a secondary teacher myself, I can’t stress the importance of parents letting us know of issues before they become big problems. We can only deal with information you share with us, so by all means, call the school, email the pastoral care teacher and make an appointment to discuss any issues.
It can be annoying wading through the mountain of communication that arrives home via your teen’s schoolbag (if indeed it does make it home!) or flooding your inbox, however it IS important that you do in fact, READ the communication from school. Note important term dates, sports days, excursions and camps in your diary. The most effective way to know what is going on in the life of the school you have chosen for your teenager is to read the information that is provided to you.
Encourage your teen to find their spark!
The school year is long and can be exhausting at times, and it is NOT the be all end all. Encourage your teenager to find their spark. Ensure that they are involved in activities they can look forward to and bring them joy. This may be a sporting team or regular activity that gets their body moving, or an interest such as music, dance, art or anything else they have a passion for. Having an interest outside of school that encourages socialising and developing friendships is also great for resilience.
Last thoughts – Make time to chat about school
Finally, keep the lines of communication open with your teenager about their school experiences. Whilst you may be met with an awkward grunt when you ask about their day at school, don’t give up on asking. Also look for other opportunities to create conversations with your young person. Often a teenager will chat whilst you are driving in the car or if you have regular café dates. Just remind your child that you are always available to listen- listening being the crucial point here. Many adolescents don’t want you to fix their concerns, may just need you to listen.
Talk about the positive experiences you had during your own High School years and reassure your teen that it will go by quicker than they can imagine.
Surviving High School (for students)
Starting Secondary School (for parents)
Sharon has produced a FREE downloadable pdf of this article, for schools to print out or attach to their newsletters. Printable version here.