The Covid-19 pandemic heralded a host of unexpected challenges and rapid changes for learners and educators worldwide and, more than two years on, continues to have a major influence on key aspects of teaching and learning. In its broadest sense, transition can be described as a continuous process which involves adaptations to different contexts and shifts in interpersonal relationships (Jindal-Snape, 2010). The recent global health crisis poignantly demonstrates the myriad and multifaceted nature of transitions as we universally grappled with multiple, synchronous changes to our lives. During the height of the pandemic, children and young people (CYP) had to endure unprecedented transitions, including sudden school, college and university closures. This necessitated extended time at home and engaging in hitherto unchartered virtual learning environments, and without the usual learning and pastoral support systems embedded in a physical classroom. In parallel, educators were obliged to navigate a plethora of rapid changes to their working regimes and adopt the mantra of ‘keep calm and e-teach on’. We know that Covid-19 created, and continues to present, a complex blend of transitions for educators and learners across all levels of education. For everyone, returning to the physical classroom post-lockdown has meant transitioning to a ‘new normal’ – an evolving educational landscape which looks and feels different.
‘Our priority must be to consider the multiple and multi-dimensional nature of changes for our learning communities and how transitions can be best managed to mitigate adverse effects and optimise nurturing opportunities.’
Living through a pandemic has had an enormous impact on CYP and, for many, their socio-emotional wellbeing and ability to learn continue to be affected. Our priority must be to consider the multiple and multi-dimensional nature of changes for our learning communities and how transitions can be best managed to mitigate adverse effects and optimise nurturing opportunities. According to school leaders, already vulnerable pupils, such as those with special educational needs and disabilities, were most affected; however, others are experiencing poor wellbeing and mental distress for the first time, with many CYP anxious or struggling to readjust to being back in a busy physical space. Certainly, Covid-19 exposed CYP to multiple unexpected and disruptive transitions, and individuals will have received different levels of support to help make sense of these changes and, crucially, how to cope. Transition strategies must consider these disparate experiences and the broad spectrum of students’ ability to deal with things. This is highlighted by pupils’ mixed behaviour since returning to the physical classroom, with some displaying poor social skills and an inability to self-regulate, which are indicative of underlying issues linked to pandemic experiences or related trauma.
Transitions for staff and the impact on educators’ wellbeing
A notable change to educators’ working lives has been led by the exponential growth in demand for intensive pastoral support – from primary-age children through to both young and mature adults in higher education. This has placed enormous pressure on staff resources, as this type of provision is often expected without factoring in existing responsibilities and with limited or no additional training. It must be recognised that staff themselves have endured lengthy pandemic disruption, and some will have been more directly impacted than others. Staff wellbeing must also be a priority as educators will not be able to provide appropriate support for students if they are feeling overwhelmed and unsupported themselves. Helping others in emotional distress exposes staff to vicarious stress, which is detrimental to their own mental wellbeing.
Embracing transition beyond the pandemic
Pupils who joined new schools and young people starting college or university during the midst of the pandemic may have missed out on feeling part of their learning community, while some students (and staff) are still recovering from the effects of Covid-19 both physically and psychologically. Undoubtedly, individual recovery will depend on a combination of personal and environmental factors, which no quick-fix or one-size-fits-all approach will remedy. Nonetheless, despite monumental challenges, there are positives to emerge from some pandemic-driven changes, which several institutions are embracing as they look towards an academic year unshackled by Covid-related restrictions, for example, the accelerated use of technologies and blended teaching methods which offer more flexibility and choice. Moreover, working through adversity has helped to create a stronger, more collective staff culture and enhanced collegiality. Alongside this, the government has promised 400 mental health support teams by 2023 to work with schools, and despite only benefitting around a third of England’s pupils, it is a welcome practical start. While disruption, uncertainty and state of constant flux may come immediately to mind when we reflect on our recent experiences in education, we can hopefully envisage a more optimistic future as we continue to navigate and adjust to a transitioning landscape.
Jindal-Snape, D. (2010). Moving on: Integrating the lessons learnt and the way ahead. In D. Jindal-Snape (Ed.), Educational transitions: Moving stories from around the world (pp. 223–244). Routledge.