Head's Blog - Paul Dwyer | Redmaids' High School
There are many times when a teacher or parent might find themselves lost for words. Being posed a challenging question from a perspective that one has not considered before; being asked an awkward question that you would rather not answer; helping to explain complex or abstract ideas in simple but still meaningful ways.
Events in Ukraine, and the images of death and destruction, and trying to find ways to address what is going on has definitely left me lost for words when talking with our students. The vast majority of young people are seeing headlines, news stories, social media posts, all of which draw attention to the atrocities in Kherson or Kyiv, often showing in gratuitous detail the aftermaths of shelling attacks or gun battles. Helping to place all of this into context, to enable students to start to contend with why such a senseless invasion has taken place, as well as to reassure or understand what the potential future might look like, is incredibly difficult, not least because these are issues that we as adults are also struggling with.
There are many who have written on how we might address the situation in an age-appropriate and sensitive manner, as well as helping students to address the anxiety they might feel about their own safety, or on the part of Ukrainian people. The stories of fund-raising, coordinating supplies or helping the individuals who are displaced or affected by the invasion are a moving testament to the ways communities come together to support those in need.
In all of this, we need to be mindful of the increasing sense of powerlessness that our young people are feeling.
The words ‘unprecedented’ and ‘world-changing’ have been used so much as to become cliché due to the pandemic. This, coupled with the increasing awareness of how the climate emergency is running away from us, or the ways in which we are still contending with prejudice and discrimination in so many ways, is leaving many students to look at the headlines and feel that there is a challenge they will inherit that is beyond comprehension. I have had a number of young people talk to me on this point; they feel there is little they can do, or they are worried about what their prospects are for the future, both individually and collectively.
We would do our students a disservice to simply tell them ‘it will all be OK’, or that unabashed optimism will carry the day. To patronise and tell them not to worry does not change how they feel about the situations they are confronted with.
Fundamentally, the best thing that we can do for our young people is to ensure that they feel they have a voice and that it is heard. This might be to express their concerns or to ask questions, or to highlight areas they want to see change for the better. Involving them in decision making more often, or empowering them to find ways to make a difference for causes they care about. Our own students have already been asking how they can raise money for Ukraine, where it might best be sent, what kind of events might make the biggest difference. The speed with which they have responded is inspiring, and matched by students and communities across the country and the world.
Idealism is a beacon that young people carry most brightly and should be allowed to hold on to for as long as possible. We must ensure that they have the tools to make the difference they hope to, no matter how small the sphere this might be.
Our young people will be the future of politics, health, charity, and technology. They will also be integral to their families, to local church groups or sports teams. We must help them realise that we may all feel powerless at times, and that feeling can be overwhelming. However, change is still possible and progress can be made.