Today, 60 million students are out of school in the U.S. due to the COVID-19 Pandemic. Having them at home has stimulated a lot of questions. How far behind will they get? Will this pandemic cause more failures and drop-outs? How will colleges make it fair for admitting students? Will students experience toxic stress from being out of school? Will our students continue to fall behind the other countries? One article went as far as to say that we are in an educational emergency1. The fear and questions are mounting. Students and parents are scared and worried.
I can understand why there is worry. It would be normal to have these concerns based on the beliefs that our current education system has maintained and instilled in us for over 150 years. As a part of i.b.mee.’s trauma-informed Empowerment Education system, we have been coaching administrators, teachers and students for a decade, to support them in dealing with the challenges they face.
One of the biggest challenges educators deal with is the current education philosophy that the more productive students are, and better grades they have, the more successful they will be. The students have become an educational system of DOER’s, believing that what someone else is telling them to DO, is what they need to DO to be successful. Students are “do-doing” all over themselves and putting their own intrinsic motivation and inspiration to learn on the back burner. Maybe during the Industrial Revolution this was effective, but it’s not anymore.
When I was a college professor, I created a high-level wellness course that was designed to shift students away from the “doing” and into the flow of intrinsic learning from their body-mind and heart, and many of my students got angry. They demanded how to explicitly get the grade. They didn’t care about learning a new way of “being” that lowered stress and made life easier and feel more successful. I was forced by my Dean to shift my class back to the old way and add all the tests and projects.
For many years, these students had already been a part of an education system that had reinforced productivity, extrinsic rewards, and outcome-focus, over learning, intrinsic motivation, and process-focus. Unfortunately, these types of experiences actually create anxiety and stress, which is more likely to lead to decreases in self-worth, confidence, creativity and effective decision-making.
I have come to know many of the Millennial and Gen Z’s school struggles by coaching these young people around their anxiety, depression, low self-worth, confusion about their purpose, and even more seriously, around their addictions, thoughts of suicide, violent impulses, and chronic disease. Our current archaic, disconnected, one-size-fits-all education system is not working to support our students thrive. To say it bluntly, it is actually unintentionally causing primary and secondary trauma in our students and in many cases our teachers*.
From this perspective, the pandemic could be one of the best things that has ever happened to our current education system and to its students and teachers.** But as of now, many educational writers are putting what I believe to be, unnecessary fear and worry on our students (especially our high school juniors and seniors) about the negative effects of their lost days of school. “They will fall behind; it will take years to catch back up.” “They won’t get into a good college.”They may be traumatized from being out of school, etc. etc. etc. etc. etc.
Our Beliefs are Powerful
Our beliefs (conscious or unconscious) dictate how we feel and how we show up in the world. The fear-based beliefs that are unintentionally being instilled in our students from the current education system philosophy especially during the pandemic, are untrue, unnecessary, and causing more harm than good.
It reminds me of the powerful statement apparently backed up by research that I kept hearing in the schools a few years ago; “Our prison systems must obtain a prison bed for every student who can’t read by 3rd grade”. I was mortified when I heard this. I knew the power of beliefs and the effects this one would have on the students who were struggling with their reading. Sure enough, as this belief spread throughout the school, I could see that some of my students who were in the “extra reading practice group” were becoming more and more fidgety and unfocused. They began to give up more easily and get referrals to the office. Experiencing poor achievement in reading then became their self-fulfilling prophecy. “See, I can’t read by 3rd grade; I’m behind; so I am going to prison (I am bad; I’m not good enough.)”. As their Empowerment Coach, a part of my job then became to train teachers how to coach students to help them shift their disempowering beliefs to empowering ones; “I can learn to read and it doesn’t matter how long it takes for me to learn no matter what they say! This doesn’t mean I am bad or stupid!”
I heard someone say once that the main challenges our students face with achieving in school is because “WE ARE IN A BELIEFS GAP, not an ACHIEVEMENT GAP.” I totally agree and neuroscience and psychology back this up!
It is so important that we are mindful not to continue the belief’s gap during the pandemic by saying that everyone is “losing” in some way. We need to stay positive and talk in ways that are not fear-based to support our students to love to learn, not worry about where they are compared to a standard made by others. Enough already!
You can’t LOSE LEARNING
Students can’t actually fall behind in learning, unless you are measuring learning by increased outcomes such as the number of classes they finish, tests they pass, grades they make, honors they receive, and if they progress on time to the next grade. But, obviously just by students having high numbers in these things doesn’t mean that they have learned anything. Learning isn’t about outcomes, it happens because of an inner process that works best with choice and little stress. Young people can learn anything if they are inspired, and their brains are in learning mode. If they believe that they are not smart enough or are “less than” others because they believe they are falling behind, this increases their chance of being in a fight, flight or freeze response (stress/survival mode) where it is more difficult to focus and learn.
During this pandemic, it doesn’t surprise me that high school students aren’t actually showing up for their online schooling. Some teachers report that fewer than half of their student are regularly participating.2 Most secondary students like school because of the social aspect and this has been taken away during COVID. They are also tired of being robots in an outcome-based, “DOING” system that doesn’t allow them to focus on show they are as human-being very well. This pandemic has actually given students and teachers a break from a disempowering, unhealthy education system routine that has been dictated to them by a century of “this is the way we have always done it”.
Students can feel this, but since they have been so conditioned to believe that the current system is their magic ticket to success, they can’t trust their instincts nor imagine schooling being any other way. Even when school can be a place where many children feel more fed, safe and connected with by their teachers than the do at home, most of them will still experience some type of primary or secondary trauma from the education system.
If the education system would truly allow educators to learn to set up learning environments where the whole-child is prioritized, we will see a huge positive change in our students in school and beyond. If we help them embody that the process of purposeful, fun learning is the goal, they will naturally expand themselves way beyond what they could imagine and naturally contribute to their school community and beyond. Supporting students in enhancing their personal passions will allow them to gain confidence and step up with new ways of learning that feel really good and contribute in making our world more safe, peaceful and sustainable.
Let’s quit putting all young people in the same educational box by making them believe that there is only one way to learn and it is the way of the current system. They all have their own amazing shapes. Let’s quit telling them that if they don’t do well on the ACT and SAT and don’t get A’s, and don’t go to the best college, that they won’t be successful in life. It’s just not true. Every young person has a beautiful and amazing life journey to experience if we offer them a truly healthy and empowering learning environment where they have the freedom, confidence and skills to recognize and trust their unique brilliance, and then support them in cultivating the courage to step into their creative ideas, and allow them to unleash it!
Fortunately, the current education system is in the process of breaking down and being built back up in a new healthy and empowering way. If we all can see this, something amazing can truly prevail. All levels of educational leaders globally can collaborate to harness the intrinsic power of the current educators and Gen Z and Alpha generations who are in school now. Teachers, principals and students can become the main voices and catalysts for a positive shift in education. New ideas in communication, evaluation, courses, textbooks, online resources, technology, learning methodologies and ways to collaborate will powerfully come to life, like a flower blooming for the first time. College admittance guidelines will shift into something we can’t even imagine yet that supports our students in being intrinsically motivated to learn and grow and contribute to our society (not forced).
Our one-size fits all practices will go away and a new way of education will come through that truly sees, hears and values every student as a unique, brilliant individual with everything they need to be successful in their lives already inside themselves.
The COVID-19 Pandemic
I believe that the pandemic will be a catalyst in the unfolding of a truly healthy and empowering system of education where everyone thrives.3 Is it any coincidence that the pandemic is happening towards the end of the Gen Z’s schooling and the beginning of a new generation? The pandemic is giving the Gen Z’s a chance to go inward and say, “What do I really want? What is important to me? What do I need?”
It is giving them a chance to connect to their dreams and reevaluate.
They are beginning to realize…something is wrong with the current system.
They are beginning to be done with the old way.
Feeling successful because you passed four math classes and have an A average is a thing of the past.
So what is the new definition of success for education? What does it look like? Feel like?
*According to the Adverse Childhood Study (ACE Study) and other research, there are many things that can happen to us growing up that can become a traumatic experience. i.b.mee.’s research is uncovering the significance of the role that the current education system unintentionally plays on creating new or further trauma in our young people and educators.
**We are in the midst of a serious flu pandemic. Our hearts go out to the families who have lost their loved ones and whose lives have been drastically altered. In no way, because we believe that the pandemic could be a catalyst for change for our education system that we want to minimize the hurt, stress and sadness that many are experiencing during this time.
***The result of our mission is for students have the freedom, confidence and skills to know, love, trust and be themselves so they can live their highest and healthiest vision for themselves, their relationships, their community and their world…-so every kid counts and is W.E.L.L!