Stress and Learning through times of Crisis
Generation Z, born between 1996 and 2010, and the following generation, Generation Alpha, have seen more of the world and its crises than any previous generations. Worldwide, students today have been through a pandemic, witnessed wars, and inherited an environment on the brink of collapse. Closer to home in the United States, kids are aware of constant threats to their safety and stability: a fear of gun violence, a national cultural divide, and an economic divide. And while the improvement of communication through the internet has brought a wealth of knowledge to the world and wonderful progress, it is something of a double edged sword.
Our younger generations are seeing the world’s issues -- all of them -- and feeling the weight on their shoulders. The feeling of dread for the future is then compounded by social isolation while students are at home, and individual crises that students are going through, such as online bullying, abuse at home, a break up, or a death in the family.
This communal stress poses a challenge for learning during this time and possibly for years to come. Acute or prolonged periods of stress have a negative effect on our formation of memories (both the encoding and consolidation phases) and may even have an affect on memory retrieval. Needless to say, memory is vital to learning in the classroom. The ability to retrieve memories and build upon concepts is necessary for the understanding of all subjects. So, not only is there a concern for ‘learning loss’ during this time, but there is also a concern that students are not truly understanding the current material nor retaining it. Learning from home is a challenge for many and before students can even begin to focus on school, they need to regain a sense of safety and stability.
So, what can we do as parents and educators?
Listen to them
As adults in our student’s lives, we can listen to our students and start discussions. Lectures go nowhere if we do not first give them a chance to talk about their stressors. As a tutor, I hear a lot about my students’ lives. I hear their worries, struggles, the good and the bad. They confide in me their deepest thoughts for one reason or another and a common thread has become very clear: students just want to know that everything will be okay and that they are safe to be a kid. First and foremost, they need to feel like the world is not burning outside their door; then and only then, will they be able to concentrate on retaining the things we teach them.
While learning from home and the pandemic have brought about hardship, this change has brought about an opportunity to connect: from parents to educators to students.
Together, we can support our future generations and learn a lot by listening in the process. Students may not remember school for facts that they regurgitated onto a test or the answers that they looked up, but they will remember the social and emotional skills they picked up and the connections they made.
“People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But they will not forget how you made them feel” - Maya Angelou