As we experience unprecedented times of Coronavirus, Wendy Cobb discusses how this is an opportunity to make a transformational shift in educational policy and practice.

We are experiencing extraordinary times. Strangely though, amid the constant media focus on social distancing, I can rarely remember a time when I felt so connected to the wider world. Working mainly from home as I have been for a few weeks now, I have spent many hours in virtual chat rooms talking with students, tutors and external colleagues and sharing glimpses of our previously hidden private lives through the webcam images of our created workspaces.

Never has a focus on mental health, wellbeing and positive psychology been more crucial than today as schools prepare to close to all but a handful of children.

I am so grateful therefore to all colleagues, teachers and students who have engaged to date with the Faculty of Education’s series of recorded relationships education discussion spaces and particularly this week to Youth Mental Health First Aid Trainer, Dave Miller (Head First) and Cornelia Lucey (positive psychologist and co-founder of LIVEWISE) who responded to questions in our latest discussions on Mental Health First Aid and Positive Psychology Coaching for Beginning Teachers.

In our discussions, Dave and Cornelia reminded us all how important teachers are in the lives of children and of the strengths, love and compassion teachers share in their everyday connections with pupils, parents and each other. Head Teachers and school teams will be working very hard now to develop creative ways to maintain connections with their students from a distance and children will be similarly creative in developing new ways of communicating and connecting with friends, old and new.

Cornelia’s research on the benefits of positive psychology coaching for beginning teachers, aptly named ‘More willing to carry on in the face of adversity’, revealed some common themes that we can all attune to, such as it being ‘perfectly normal to feel this way’. Coaching conversations in times of adversity enable beginning teachers to normalise their challenges and give them permission to demonstrate self-compassion, something we should all help each other to do.

Listening to conversations such as these help teachers put the pieces together and see the picture from different perspectives. It is so easy to see a one-sided negative view of an event, particularly for teachers who often feel pressured to be perfectly caring and compassionate professionals in the face of challenging experiences, when they themselves are feeling the same anxieties as the rest of the world.

Yet, there is always hope; humans have a history of creativity in the face of adversity. Things may seem tough and scary now, but there is a real opportunity moving forward to make a transformational shift in educational policy and practice that many in the profession have been arguing for, for so long. There will be many virtual spaces opening now to ponder, reflect and think of ways of doing things in the future in fundamentally different ways.

So, let’s take care, stay connected and enjoy the new and no doubt stronger relationships we will all build over the coming weeks and months. And teachers, stay positive and carry on – we’re willing you!

Wendy Cobb is a Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Education.