During Children's Mental Health Week (1-7 February) Mrs Sarah Sinclair, Sub-warden (Pastoral), highlights the steps Glenalmond College has in place to ensure our pupils' mental wellbeing is a top priority.
The past 12 months have rapidly and dramatically changed all our lives and it is clear that, in general, teenagers are among those most likely to be affected by this ongoing pandemic.
Moving to our online learning programme, Coll@Home, has been a steep learning curve for everyone and something which has always been an absolute priority is the mental health of our pupils and the steps we can take to support them.
Our detailed advice for pupils and parents on how to make Coll@Home 2021 a success covered areas such as the importance of a designated workspace (not working on your bed), establishing a good routine and building healthy habits which boost the mood.
Parents are encouraged to set a positive, focused tone at home, maintaining a healthy flow of conversation with their teenagers and talking openly about the fact that we are all feeling stress and anxiety as a result of the new normal and that this is perfectly natural.
We are hugely grateful to parents for all their support and positive feedback for our staff, particularly as we are aware that many parents are feeling the strain themselves, with working from home and a range of potential COVID-related concerns.
Our approach has included focusing on some of the worries and anxieties which teenagers typically have and to help them address these. Our tutors see their pupils each day and during these group sessions they cover different issues from discussing inspirational quotes, the United Nations Convention on Children’s Rights to sharing Radio 1’s Lockdown Life Hacks.
As well as academic achievement, school life allows people to connect with their peers and enjoy the huge range of social activities we offer. During online school, these activities have had to change and House events have become the focus - from house quiz nights and cook-alongs on video call to Weird Object Wednesday where pupils were asked to bring something hilarious to a virtual house meeting. All of these events are to bring peers together, make connections and have a much-needed laugh.
We recognise that being online for longer periods and away from school friends and normal life may result in stress and anxiety with some finding it difficult to maintain concentration and focus.
Our teachers are working hard to ensure there is a good balance between live lessons and off-screen activities. Our lessons have been shortened to allow pupils to have more breaks during the day too.
Importantly, our Housestaff are holding one-to-one conversations with pupils to chat privately with them, listening to how they are feeling and offering suggestions on how to make the best use of the downtime in their day as well as reassurance that they are there to support them as usual.
In addition, our House and senior staff are speaking with parents each week to discuss how they are finding Coll@Home, whether it is meeting or exceeding their expectations, and listening to their concerns.
With so much time online, our brains are having to work harder to try to work out the usual non-verbal cues we get when speaking with people, such as body language, eye contact and tone of voice.
This, coupled with the constant self-awareness which comes with looking at yourself on screen, means downtime has to be carefully scheduled in the day.
Our PE staff are leading Games sessions including Yoga and we are introducing personal reading sessions so our pupils benefit from the positive impact this has on our wellbeing. This week we are proud to be promoting Children’s Mental Health Week in our House Meetings, tutor groups, in virtual Chapel services and with a Dress To Express day before half term.
Coll@Home continues to be a huge success thanks to the energy and enthusiasm of pupils, parents and staff. Crucially, its success can also be attributed to everyone feeling a valued part of the Glenalmond community even when we are in different locations around the world.
We will continue to work together to ensure everyone is supported, encouraged and aware of just how important their contribution is to our tight-knit community.