This special issue focuses on the experiences of educators and students returning to the classroom post-lockdown. We have included contributions from lecturers, students and academics to capture a diverse range of voices. The work was a product of our January 2022 conference, Transitions, wellbeing and mental health: Education after lockdown.
It is important to mark lockdown as a significant transition which educators and students experienced. In line with multiple and multi-dimensional transitions theory (Jindal-Snape, 2012), we view transitions as multiple and multi-dimensional as well as linear and sequential. We all, to varying degrees, experienced a range of social, cultural and psychological transitions during the first and subsequent national lockdowns. Educators and students were required to adapt quickly to new ways of learning and reduced social contact, and many experienced ongoing anxieties about the global pandemic. Normative transitions were disrupted and therefore events which are usually fixed in the academic calendar to signify a person’s achievement (examinations, graduations, leaving assemblies and proms) did not take place. Within this context of ongoing uncertainty, returning to the classroom was never going to be easy for some.
Negative transitions can have an adverse effect on wellbeing and mental health. When the process of adapting to change is not smooth, this can trigger a range of mental health conditions, including, but not limited to, anxiety and depression. Positive transitions are likely to support individuals to stay mentally healthy, but less positive transitions can trigger a range of negative emotions. Individuals with high levels of resilience and self-esteem are more able to cope with the effects of negative transitions because these effectively act as buffers.
For students, it is important to remember that the transitions that they experienced during and after lockdown because of the pandemic created additional stressors on top of the usual stressors to which young people are exposed. Relationship breakdowns, moving into, through and out of higher education, transitioning into employment, exploring their personal identities, and moving geographical locations are all typical transitions that young people experience in their daily lives. The pandemic simply created additional transitions which they were required to navigate.
For educators, returning to the classroom after lockdown was considered by some to be daunting. In some cases, new and creative pedagogies which had been developed during lockdowns had to be displaced as in-person teaching resumed. Colleagues were naturally anxious about returning to crowded classrooms and busy campuses, and in some institutions Covid-prevention measures were removed with immediate effect to signal ‘business as usual’. In higher education, some institutions continued with hybrid models of working while others resumed on a fully in-person model due to fears that the quality of their programmes would be called into question by the regulators.
Educators also had to support their students to manage the transition back into classrooms. Although most students welcomed returning to their schools, colleges and universities, some were anxious about the removal of Covid-prevention measures and opted to stay at home. This impacted on attendance. Some students did not develop working routines during lockdowns, and this meant that many struggled with the transition back to the classroom. Students in higher education experienced anxiety that their degrees and employment prospects would be adversely affected due to their placements being cancelled, and some first-year students even questioned their right to be admitted to a university given that they had not sat examinations prior to entering university. This lack of opportunity to experience examinations as a rite of passage adversely affected students’ self-esteem, and universities will need to work hard with these students to help them recognise their own achievements.
In this blog series, two university students share their transition experiences and personal journeys to, through and from higher education. George Clayton, a first-year student, describes his sense of ‘hybrid learning limbo’ while navigating the staggered return to in-person teaching and considers what he has learned about his own learning preferences. Ben Broadhurst reflects back on his university life and his unique experiences as the ‘Covid generation’ of 2022 graduates. While resilience and the power of peer support are highlighted, gaps in institutional support, both academic and in terms of mental health and wellbeing, are exposed.
Jonathan Glazzard and Anthea Rose discuss the turmoil in education over the last two years and how normative transitions have been badly shaken alongside the unprecedented challenges of pandemic-driven changes. They argue that stress and anxiety for both teachers and pupils is to be expected as learning communities readjust during this time of post-pandemic transition. Michelle Jayman considers the evolving educational landscape post-pandemic – which looks and feels different. As the repercussions of Covid-19 continue to present a complex blend of transitions for educators and learners across all levels of education, our focus must be on how transitions can be best managed to mitigate adverse effects and optimise both learning and nurturing opportunities.
Self-determination theory (Ryan & Deci, 2000) emphasises that autonomy, competence and relatedness are the key drivers of human motivation. We have learned a great deal during the past two years, particularly about adaptation and about different ways of working and teaching. However, students and lecturers will flourish if they are provided with autonomy, given opportunities to collaborate and connect with their institutions, and if they have self-efficacy. Leaders need to prioritise these three essential ingredients to enable students and staff to flourish.
Jindal-Snape, D. (2012). Reconceptualising and facilitating transitions. (PhD thesis). Trainee Educational Psychologist Research Thesis Conference, University of Dundee, Scotland.
Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American Psychologist, 55(1), 68–78.