Surviving As a Learner during the Global Pandemic

Now is a really good time for students to learn how to adopt a growth mindset as a means of coping with their interrupted lives.

—By Liz Keable

Liz Keable is a fully qualified teacher and trainer. A Biologist with a special interest in the brain, she has always pursued ‘brain friendly’ ways of teaching. Specialising in Gifted and Talented Education, Liz provides one to one mentoring (privately and in schools), group training, as well as public speaking. The vision she has for everyone is that they gain sufficient confidence in themselves to ‘grow’ and reach their full potential at any age and within any sector.

Liz Keable is a fully qualified teacher and trainer. A Biologist with a special interest in the brain, she has always pursued ‘brain-friendly’ ways of teaching. Specializing in Gifted and Talented Education, Liz provides one-to-one mentoring (privately and in schools), group training, as well as public speaking. The vision she has for everyone is that they will gain sufficient confidence in themselves to ‘grow’ and reach their full potential at any age and within any sector.

Mindset, Mindfulness, and Resilience are among the several buzz words that have found their way into education over the last few years. Practitioners with expertise within those fields have provided a range of texts with recommended activities to help schools support the mental and social development of pupils alongside their academic achievement.

Importance of Mindset

For all of us though, student or not, our mindset is what will dictate the level of resilience we demonstrate through challenging situations, or how mindful we are under a particular set of circumstances. These are not mutually exclusive skills, but inextricably linked features of the human mind, available to all of us during the current crisis to make wise choices that will help us to cope. For that reason, now is a really good time for our students to learn how to adopt that growth mindset as a means of coping with their interrupted lives.

Need for change

The need for a change in mindset is highlighted by the fact that Universities are experiencing an increase in the number of students arriving into higher education without the necessary mindset for independent academic study. Part of the reason for this is that we teach students what they need to know, but not always how to take responsibility for their learning processes.

When I am first asked to work with a student for whatever reason, I initially provide them with a series of booster sessions aimed at improving self-concept, before tackling the difficulty they have in accessing the learning. The overriding necessity for success in any endeavour is the belief that it is possible, followed by the knowledge of ‘how’ to achieve any desired outcome using a range of study skills. Raised attainment usually follows quite naturally as a result of a student believing in their ability to achieve, and genuine appreciation for how important and desirable planning, challenge and practice are to the learning process.

The creation of a growth mindset is what leads to resilience and inevitable success, despite any challenges that appear to be in the way. This is true within education, but is also the solution for our current cohort of children, young people and university students who are experiencing the loss of their freedoms.

Teaching students how to take control of their mind

Those with a fixed mindset will be blaming everyone for the current pandemic, and moaning about what they are now unable to do, demonstrating a victim mentality that just adds fuel to the fire of the crisis and does not support their mental health.

Those who take responsibility for their thoughts and behaviour, however, will be looking at what they can do to protect themselves, what they can do to help others, and how they can fill their days with purposeful activities whilst seeing out the isolation period.

The greatest enemy of mental health is the loss of control over one’s circumstances, so the quickest way to protect children and young people during the current lockdown is by teaching them how to take control of their minds and the way they respond to events.

Coping with loss

Yes, there is a sense of loss for everyone at the moment in one form or another, but loss is a natural part of life and we should not be attempting to protect our young people from it. Coping with loss is a life skill in which they need to become experienced. Social distancing is unnatural and the current generation is the most ‘connected’ group of humans ever to live on this planet, so this directive alone is hitting them hard. But is this not the perfect time for students to start taking responsibility for their thoughts, learning to be independent thinkers who feel comfortable with a challenge?

Students need to take personal responsibility

Parents and teachers can be great allies in the learning process, but students should not feel dependent on them. Even those with learning difficulties become much more successful learners once they focus on what they can do rather than what they can’t, and have a greater understanding of how their thinking can get in the way of achievement.

Attending a school, being physically in the building, is not a pre-requisite for gaining an education. Having a full timetable of ‘lessons’, although desirable in some ways (access to a good teacher is always a bonus), is not essential either. It will feel that way to a student who does not know how to take personal responsibility for their learning, but for those who do, it is an inconvenience that can be overcome.

As educators, we are constantly encouraged to find ways of raising attainment, and yet we are not actually in a position to achieve that! The only people who can raise attainment are individual students doing it for themselves.

That independent attitude should be part of the mindset of every student and those who have it will survive this period of difficulty with their mental health and academic progress intact.

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