Giving children a voice in the post pandemic world Part 1

Photo by Ann H on

“Staying quiet to keep the peace can be a good thing, but if the peace has already been disturbed, staying quiet won’t make anything better. Summon your courage and speak up.”

Doe Zantamanta

It might seem counter intuitive to write a think piece about giving children a voice without representing their actual voices – however, this article is designed to give educators a space to think, before we re-open, about how they will carve out this space for authentic voice in their own setting. This must be a priority for us all. Without helping children to find their voice, they may find it more difficult to build their sense of self and their identity.

The children we educate had an identity once.  It was dominated by the place where they spent more waking hours at than their home – school.  This place helped them to find the three aspects that formed their identity: attributes “I am good at Maths as I score consistently highly in tests, but I struggle in Art,” qualities “I am a good listener, when my friends have problems they come to me” and values “when reading Of Mice and Men I realised how important equality is in society.”  These daily barometers of identity, alongside their home lives helped them to find themselves and form a view of their place in the world. 

As Sally Apps puts it in her thinkpiece ‘Towards Recovery’ all children have experienced a loss:

once schools stopped fully functioning, they lost their daily access to something safe, secure, known… For all children, there has been sudden loss: of routine, of structure, of friendship, of opportunity, of freedom.”

Sally Apps (2020)

Now, this place has gone and when students return to it, it will be very different:

  • The way they enter the building will change, as will the micro routines and interactions they once enjoyed at the start of each day
  • How they interact with their peers will change – they won’t interact without adults present
  • How they eat and enjoy leisure activities at school will change – these will be restricted and altered
  • How they learn and are taught, will change

Loss of identity is commonly caused by change.  We might think that the change has already happened because our young people have been at home and school is closed.  In fact, it will be the significant change in the place which used to be so predictable which will create the biggest trauma for young people.

As Carpenter and Carpenter put it – there has been a rift and children will experience mixed emotions in response to the period of closure. They will have many questions:

“We were walking a path together, and then this ‘thing’, this virus, sent us on different journeys. Can our lives reconnect? Can our relationship be re-established? School is no longer the safe, constant place we thought it was.”

Carpenter and Carpenter (2020)

These sorts of questions are already bubbling. On re-opening a new set of questions will form. Thus, we begin the quest to help children to carve their identity through first finding their voice.

Speaking with, not to, children when they return will be the most important thing we can do. 

However, this is not easy.  While we might want to be, we aren’t all trauma informed schools.  We don’t all have the right training to know how to speak with children in this post pandemic world where the crisis continues financially, emotionally or medically for many.  This think piece aims to help us to consider some ways we might provoke, promote and provide a space for talking with children and thus, help them to find their identity once again.

Finding their voice “they don’t stop talking at home!”

Children don’t always speak out in class as a matter of course.  As educators we spend much of our time encouraging a sort of ‘organised’ sharing of opinions.  We ask for children to speak up when it suits us, our lesson or the flow of learning.  Much of our time is spent saying ‘3,2,1’ or the dreaded ‘ssssh’ and other cliché phrases we dread allowing pass our lips for fear we have finally succumbed to being a real teacher: ‘it is your time you’re wasting!’

When children do speak up we ask them to: Pause, Pounce, Bounce… think pair share… wait for a random name generator.  Rarely in these instances do we ask for them to share their innermost feelings, fears or discuss a shift in their whole world, family and identity as a person.  But in this time so many mixed emotions will be lurking beneath the surface that we need to make space for these authentic voices to emerge and be heard.

Interestingly, when we discuss speaking up and speaking out with families, parents often tell us that children are completely different at home.  Talkative, helpful, loud, gregarious.  Two distinct selves. Now, children have blended their home and school self for a prolonged period where they have been forced to take school home with them – I wonder which of their selves they will bring back to our setting? 

As Jones discusses in his article about home learning in Italy his children ‘reverted’ to type when in a lesson context, even when this was a virtual lesson from home:

“one of our children, exuberant and confident at home, often froze when asked a question in class.”

Jones (2020)

So, how will we carve out space for our wonderful little humans to speak up when we return to a place which will be very different from before?

We must provoke – make speaking up a necessity because the students find something interesting, funny, they can’t help but give their thoughts or they feel the need to contribute because speaking up matters.

We must promote – give students the opportunity to celebrate the positive in what has happened.  What do they want to keep about their new way of life at home?  Just as adults will be considering what makes them tick in this new world, we must promote some of the new aspects of the children’s characters that have developed at home and celebrate these.

We must provide – actively carve out space for the necessary conversations about identity, loss, difference, similarity and fear that will dominate their inner thoughts.  For some these thoughts won’t be externalise or verbalised unless we make it so – and that is how the healing will begin.

Carina Smith, 12th May 2020.

Published by misscjsmith

Vice Principal (Acting) at Broadoak Academy in Weston Super Mare. Senior leader for 6 years, Head of English for 5 years, teaching for 11. Championing students and love to find innovative solutions to problems. Teach First Ambassador. Views my own.

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