What will happen in our schools when physical distancing and face covering are enforced?
Parents, teachers and administrators are hard at work imagining Covid-19 friendly classroom settings, extra safe playgrounds and making sure that everybody’s body is safeguarded when school restarts in a couple of months. Physical distancing and face coverings are on top of the list, and with them, a giant, dangerous side effect: disconnection.
You’ve probably heard this statement at least once in your life: “human beings are social beings.” We are biologically wired to search for physical and emotional connection. We depend on them to survive and yet with the need for face covering and physical distancing we are being asked to act exactly in the opposite way. Against our natural instincts.
With Covid-19 and this connection off limits, we will see an increase in emotional and behavioral challenges as well as a decrease in the quality of the school atmosphere.
In this document I will explain why there will be such challenges, what will they look like, and how to work around them using simple, efficient, easy to apply strategies.
the permanent need to abide by and/or enforce physical distancing, and the use of face coverings,
the need to deal with students not complying with these measures,
the lack of touch and consequent release of oxytocin,
the constriction of available teaching modalities due to physical distancing,
the feeling of powerlessness and fear surrounding all things Covid-19,
the physical discomfort of wearing face coverings,
the inability to lip read and read facial cues,
and the need to effectively manage parents’ concerns around Covid-19 challenges,
will with no doubt increase the levels of stress, anxiety and frustration among students, teachers and administrators at schools. They will feel less safe, more irritable and be less tolerant with one another. Relationships will suffer and deteriorate. There will be more individualism, competition, inadequate expression of feelings and misbehavior. This will generate a decrease in the general quality of the school atmosphere which could ultimately impact retention and enrollment, especially in private settings.
There will also be a higher rate of emotional burnout and therefore less compromise with teaching and learning. This will possibly cause an increase in absenteeism and teacher retention will be more challenging.
Teachers and students will need to find ways to emotionally recharge more often, possibly needing more breaks and different resources from which to recharge.
Kindergarten teachers and students may have a less challenging time since these students don’t have a pre-established pattern of behavior. They don’t know what school looked like pre Covid-19. For returning students, physical distancing and face coverings will involve redefining the behavioral contract and resetting expectations. This will take time, effort, patience, consistency, empathy and compassion.
In regards to students with a history of misbehavior, the challenge will probably be even greater than pre Covid-19.
There will be an increase in the feeling of loneliness (comfort and safety are enabled by touch and the reading of facial cues) which will directly affect and magnify anxiety levels, reduce the availability to learn, cooperation and compromise from all parts. Loneliness is the subjective distressed feeling of being separated and is processed by the nervous system as potentially lethal.
All of the above will have a deep impact in behavior, since behavior is the expression of the soul. Stress, anxiety, frustration, loneliness, insecurity and physical discomfort always show through the actions of the body.
Increasing the feeling of belonging, has historically proven to effectively solve the challenges of loneliness, disconnection, disengagement, friction and misbehavior, and is therefore the workaround suggested for the case.
It is crucial to notice that there is an important difference between belonging to a group and feeling that we belong to that group. The difference resides in our ability to feel loved, capable and taken into consideration by the group and not just be a number or a name in it. It is only when we feel that we belong to the group that we are a part of, that our levels of engagement and commitment rise, our happiness improves, and our behavior tends to favor the cause of the group.
During the Covid-19 pandemic and due to the restrictions in physical contact and challenges in the reading of facial cues, physical connection and interaction find themselves thwarted, the development of a strong feeling of belonging challenged, and therefore the success of the students and teachers in the educational setting challenged as well.