Reflections on Teaching in Crisis Contexts (2 of 4) - In this moment, your mindset matters
This article is part of a collection of blog posts related to the education in emergencies response to COVID-19.
Teachers with a mindset ready for their role will see a challenging task as an opportunity to learn and grow from the situation at hand.
During conflict or after a disaster teachers juggle domestic priorities, mitigating risk to their family or dealing with damaged property, alongside the need to support PSS/SEL services and lead learning for the children and adolescents they work with. Some teachers will focus on a return to routines and business as usual, with the intent of bringing a sense of normalcy, safety, and security back to learners’ lives. Others will embrace the ‘teachable moment’, using the context to draw out learning and skills development, serving communities and future selves through active engagement in peacebuilding or response and recovery activities. Both approaches are valuable and complementary; what’s important though is that teachers are given the opportunity and choice to find their area of strength in this moment and do what works best for them. The same is true for children and adolescents.
In all of this, the mindset we apply to our work, whether it’s a return to business as usual or innovating and leading for the moment will determine our own mental health and well-being, the sustainability of our approach, and thereby the influence we have on those we work with. As Carol Dweck (2008) identifies, our mindset has implications for our behaviour and for the outcomes we are likely to experience. Teachers with a mindset ready for their role will see a challenging task as an opportunity to test themselves and to learn and grow from the situation at hand.
Numerous areas of research and theory, from positive psychology to cognitive behavioural therapy, emphasise the association between the language we use to interpret and describe our reality and our ability to sustain our work, mental health, and well-being. For example, if we regularly read or hear critiques of our profession, value, and effectiveness, it takes considerable emotional energy to continually perform, especially when our income, levels of support, and status are not commensurate with the quality of the work we know we do. The social and emotional conditions this deficit theorising creates, such as a culture of complaint and blame mentality, requires considerable resilience when our work is routine, let alone in a time of crisis. When we are also bombarded with statistics and a pervasive disaster narrative, where events and associated developments are ‘dire’, ‘unprecedented’ or ‘catastrophic’, the compounding effect on our mindset and ability to function can be overwhelming and exhausting. I’m not saying that we naively ignore our reality, we need to be critically informed, but for the sake of our collective mindsets I’m encouraging us to be aware of the language and representations that we use and choose to engage with.
How might we find and apply language that helps us frame our reality differently? For example: the liberty that current limitations allow, the opportunity for change that this disruption presents, that innovation and creativity are often a product of constraints. Or, more practically, that COVID-19 is a reality common to us all, yet variably experienced based on age, gender, economic or employment status, or geographic location. Consequently, COVID-19 is a global phenomena in which all subject areas, from basic literacy and numeracy to advanced statistics, science, literature, and geography help us understand its antecedents, navigate our current challenges, and prepare for what might be quite a different future. In all disruption, opportunity is waiting.
Finally, I want to encourage teachers and school leaders to look beyond the local. Whereas isolated crises can leave us feeling dependent and at a comparative loss, COVID-19 affects us all. As such, there’s a certain synchronicity to education sector problem solving unlike anything we’ve ever experienced before. From this we have a sense of global solidarity, we are all in this together. In this moment, as we take learning online we can diversify and democratise the learning experiences and learning networks we access; despite the potentially tragic consequences of this time, we are also part of an exciting and historical global movement for change.
Dweck, Carol S. (2008) Mindset: The New Psychology Of Success. Ballantine Books, New York.
The views expressed in this blog are the author's own.