Digital Wellness | Parent Wellbeing Blog

When I was first asked to write this blog I thought it would be a great opportunity to share lots of the initiatives that we have been working on at MCM in the last year since COVID-19 became a part of our lives and link to the webinar that we will be hosting on Monday 8th February. I will discuss some of these, however, I firstly want to contemplate a time without ipads, smartphones, and Macbooks and to pose a few questions for you to consider.

 

1 – What would a day look like without technology for you?

2 – Do you need technology to be a part of everything you do?

3 – What was the world like without today’s technology, especially social media?

 

Many people who read this blog can imagine this because, we, I say we, because I am from generation X, the demographic of people born between 1965 and 1980 who spent most or all of our teenage years without smartphones, the internet, and social media.  If I’d mentioned the words ‘online risk’ 30 years ago people would have probably thought that there was a danger that computers might actually become popular and people could start to use them to talk to each other… imagine that!  It might shock you that 1991 was the year that Tim Berners Lee developed HTML – the foundation of the world wide web; the rest is history.

 

To contextualise things a little more, 1991 was the Year I was writing my GCSE’s and had just finished a coding course using BBC B computers! My sister and I were recording the top 40 on a Sunday evening, using our Sony stereo double tape deck, my mum would record her favourite shows on our VHS toploader and my Dad was pleased as punch about his “carphone”, which had a huge battery pack in the boot and a handset the size of my arm!  My sister would also spend hours on the house phone with her friends and we loved going to grandma’s to use her telephone with a dial!  I would go out on my bike all day with my friends, take some lunch and come home for tea…well that bit hasn’t changed too much! Top films that year were Terminator 2 and Nirvana released their top-selling album Nevermind.

 

Fast forward 30 years and we live in a world that is overflowing with digital media and technology.  Statista states that there are 3 billion smartphones and Netcraft suggests that there are 1.2 Billion websites. The level of activity on the Internet per minute is quite simply staggering.  (See Lori Lewis graphic below). The same technology has also afforded educators the opportunity to learn, share and connect like never before, however with this also comes the challenge of setting new boundaries combined with the potential of online risks.

Online learning

Delivering the school curriculum via online learning has seen educators globally evolving their practices over the past 12 months. The return to online school consistently pushes the boundaries and asks questions about creativity vs innovation, as well as encouraging reflection on the methodologies that are used to support school-aged children.  Perhaps the biggest challenge is the want, need, and desire to balance digital time, with other elements that support pupil learning, development, and well-being. In light of this, it has added value to teacher research, discussion, and sharing of ideas amongst colleagues, regarding the curriculum and the nuances of supporting pupils in the online environment.

 

Whilst most days have thrown a fresh challenge in my direction, one of the great pleasures has been the opportunity to work with so many excellent colleagues and discuss how we could affect change within the learning environment of the college, whilst supporting the needs of the pupils, staff, and parents.  It hasn’t been an easy time for many, however, the overriding thought that has gone through my mind has been a sense of duty of colleagues to serve this great community and to stay true to our beliefs via the medium of digital education.

 

Online learning can be a challenge, however, it has afforded us all a huge amount of growth and the opportunity to engage in mediums that we often put on the back burner because we were in our comfort zones.  Vygotsky’s suggested a “zone of proximal development” which is defined as “The distance between the actual development level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem-solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers.”  Online learning has been the epitome of this theory, mainly because it has encouraged us to embrace some of the critical success factors in the learning process, notably:

 

  • The presence of someone with the knowledge and skills to guide the learner
  • Scaffolding, or supportive activities provided by the mentor or teacher that help guide the learner through the ZPD
  • Social interactions that allow the learner to observe and practice their skills

 

Without a doubt, one of the most challenging aspects of the theory has been the “social interactions, that allow the learner to practice their skills.”  Working in isolation or without your peers or your teacher looking over your shoulder is challenging. The first term saw research into both the online learning elements as well as the online risks that pupils were potentially faced with.  All new and existing pupils, who had undertaken online learning during that time were surveyed.  I felt that it was important to reflect on the lessons we had learned during the first MCO period, as professionals, and to ensure the continued well-being and safeguarding of the pupils in our care.  The survey was conducted to uncover their perceptions of online learning and allowed us to evaluate the experience of how those in quarantine were coping with online learning.  The parameters that we were interested in researching were as follows:

 

1 – Technical challenges with online learning

2 – Engagement with lessons

3 – Structure of the day

4 – Well Being associated with online learning

 

I worked with Ms. Trif, our researcher in residence, to focus on the responses of the pupils and link the fundamental pillars of digital health to our findings, which led us to produce a guide on digital health.  This was shared with all colleagues across the college, as well as parents before the long holiday in December.  We felt that it was an important message to share before the long holiday, so that parents could make informed choices about digital health, despite the relaxation of the government control order to CMCO which would allow greater flexibility to travel and socialise.

 

A summary of the research is highlighted below:

What are some of the challenges to your personal Wellbeing?
SOCIAL ISOLATION
BOREDOM/ LACK MOTIVATION /FOCUS
EYE STRAIN

 

What are some of the challenges with online learning?
TECHNOLOGY ISSUES
FOCUS/ ENGAGEMENT
NON-INCLUSIVENESS

 

What are the main coping strategies that pupils are utilising
 EXERCISE
SOCIALIZING WITH FRIENDS & FAMILY
MUSIC/ART/COOK
READING

 

The system of academic and pastoral care had highlighted many of these challenges as well as the strategies that pupils were utilising, however, it was important to reflect on these and discuss strategies for all staff and pupils relating to the key pillars of digital health:

 

1 – Physical Health – the basis for building mental health.

2 – Relationships – connection gives us a sense of belonging.

3 – Engagement and Focus – allows us to feel energized, interested, and intentional.

4 – Positive emotions – relieve stress, protect against anxiety and depression, increase group cohesiveness and overall engagement.

A more detailed overview of these pillars can be found in the article that was sent to parents in December 2020 – CLICK HERE

 

Throughout the last year I have been working with a number of colleagues and pupils across the College embedding the Common Sense Media Curriculum.  The curriculum is something that I have spoken to parents about regularly over the 2 years, however, I thought it was pertinent to share how this has changed and the use of language that is now employed. The one thing that we are all guaranteed is change and the graphic below highlights this.  My main point to you as parents is that no matter what term is given to the different elements of digital citizenship, we are aware and will continue to strive to identify what needs to be discussed with the pupils and you, the parental body.

To wrap this part of the blog I wanted to share another resource, as well as some books that I have read over the past 18 months.  Within the last year, there has been a huge focus on digital wellbeing & wellness, and as such many elements of research as well as the film “A social dilemma” have highlighted what it looks like.  The graphic below (courtesy of the digital wellness institute) introduces us to 8  strands of what is now being termed “Digital Flourishing”.  This is something that we will continue to work on with the pupils, across all aspects of college life and I am looking forward to the team of digital ambassadors assisting me in promoting and continuing the conversation.  I hope that it will evoke some conversation in your households and I am sure Mr Gough’s observations and advice will allow you to think more about my initial questions:

 

1 – What would a day look like without technology for you?

2 – Do you need technology to be a part of everything you do?

3 – What was the world like without today’s technology, especially social media?

 

I would highly recommend the following books:

Let the Children play  by Pasi Sahlberg & William Doyle

How to unplug your child by Liat, Hughe & Joshi

The Tech solution by Shimi Kang

Mr D Ogilvie, Director of Digital Learning, Geography, VLE Co-ordinator

Being safe and time-bound

Below is based on my experience as a Housemaster for 6 years and understanding the different cultures and behaviours of our Prep School pupils. Ultimately, our young need and respect a consistent, firm and fair approach. With regards to boundaries, this is easier said than done, but having regular discussions with your friends and family you will be able to deduce what is the relative ‘norm’ and match that with what you feel is important as a parent. It is important to include our young in the discussion around boundaries and expectations in the home. In the boarding house, the pupils are brought up to have ownership of their living space; help with keeping it clean and tidy, do the necessary chores around the house and be invested in the development of their space and activity.

 

  • Awareness of social media use and games being played – take an interest. 5-10 minutes research on Common Sense Media – just knowing a little bit about it helps make your son/daughter feel safe, as they know you are ‘aware’. Plenty of discussion and knowing when to intervene is important. Simply banning a device or restricting their use without due thought and reflection is going to be resented and counterproductive.
  • Boundaries about overuse – these need to be firm, as we know that games and social media are highly addictive so they need our help to moderate their use.
  • No individual person is safe from ‘predators’/identity theft, sextortion and the likes, online – we have to take precautions and ensure our young have a voice – they should be encouraged to talk about their online activity regularly. They are very aware, but they are also very careless and vulnerable.
  • Routine in the evening and bedtime – as parents we should be ensuring a healthy routine before bedtime and devices are not available from a certain point. Using them as an alarm clock is not a reason to have their device in the bedroom. As adults, we recognise the addictive nature and stressors of feeling the urge to ‘check-in’ on your device first thing in the morning and late at night. We should be exhibiting certain behaviours, especially at the dining table and when talking to someone – not looking at or prioritising our phone use, for example.
  • Exercise/activity/downtime is crucial whilst we are online and in general in the evenings. Knowing when your son/daughter has PE and Games is a small, but important step to helping monitor and support them in being active – get them to engage in a physical activity that has been set and in a place you can see them taking part – even join them!
  • Timetable – be aware of this and look to check up on subjects such as Art, Drama and Music where there is a temptation to disengage and do other things online. There is a lot of great work being put into these subjects and we owe it to the teachers to encourage and motivate our pupils to engage with these creative subjects.
  • Different learners – it is important to have regular family check-ins to discuss the day and give feedback to the College about certain days being a struggle, or other factors that may be influencing their learning – open up a dialogue with the Form Tutor, SS Tutor, Head of Year and or the Boarding/Day HMs. They are key in supporting your children with their online learning and overall wellbeing.

 

Finally, parenting is the hardest job to get right – put simply, there is no right or wrong answer when it comes to the individual child. Your love, patience, openness and your honesty in caring for your child and making sure they are listened to – they have a voice – is what really counts. This concept of pupil voice is so important and should be our goal as parents and teachers – ensure they know they can talk to someone.

 

Please do come to our webinar on Monday 8th February, where you can ask questions and listen to our approach as a College. We are confident you will take some pointers away which will help you feel more confident in supporting your child whilst online learning and in general.

 

Whilst we will be answering some questions regarding internet safety and online risk on the upcoming webinar we plan to follow up this blog post with one which wraps around the research that we have done with our pupils and current best practice and recommendations for online safety.

Mr A Gough, Deputy Head of Prep School (Pastoral)

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