We must avoid labelling a generation of schoolchildren negatively and focus on their amazing resilience instead, writes Neil Renton, headteacher at a large secondary school
A close friend of mine remembers how her parents, during the second world war, played games in air raid shelters as children, how they grew stronger for knowing that they could adapt and survive, how they grew up to appreciate small pleasures. The pain and suffering that they experienced was remarkable, but they adapted and shaped our future.
As a headteacher, I am fearful of the current narrative about the ‘Covid Generation’. I don’t understand why anyone would use the term to describe our children. Why would anyone use the name of a disease to refer to our children, our future? We talk freely of a generation who has fallen behind, who need to catch up, a generation that will earn less, a generation of problems and suffering. We use a shaming language, a language of closed doors and of no hope. We must do better.
In 1968, Rosenthal and Jacobson wrote a seminal piece on how the expectations of teachers affect student performance. Simply put, when we expect others to behave in particular ways, we create a script that makes the behaviour more likely to occur. A teacher who is made to think that a student is high performing, expects higher performance and ultimately creates actual higher performance.
In 20 years of working in schools, I have seen how high expectations and positivity win every time and undoubtedly unlock potential. It saddens me to think that our negative talk of a lost ‘Covid Generation’ – a disease generation – serves only to perpetuate negativity and a self-fulfilling prophecy of no hope and failure. We must change this.
Even if we don’t learn the lesson from Rosenthal and Jacobson, we could look to brain science for more justification to change the narrative. Brain science shows us time and time again that negativity impinges on our brain performance. Emotionally charged negative thoughts divert energy from the pre-frontal cortex, used for cognitive function, to the limbic system, (freeze, fight or flight) so you simply can’t think as clearly. Negativity triggers stress hormones, making neuron activity less efficient. We must not label a generation negatively if we want them to think clearly for all our futures.
I feel strongly that we as teachers, leaders of schools and adults have a moral obligation to our children to shift the equilibrium to a positive narrative. A narrative that recognises that this generation have gone through something truly remarkable and where some may well indeed need support. This generation will rebuild, and they will create a more open and better society. This generation will be more resilient, they will value and seize what they have lost, like they did when school reopened for a term, and they will go on to be remarkable.
As a headteacher, I am optimistic for this generation and I want to dedicate our collective efforts as educators to helping these children who have experienced the remarkable, become remarkable. They are not the disease ‘Covid Generation’. They are The Remarkables. Let’s forget the ‘Covid Generation’ and focus on The Remarkables.
Neil Renton is headteacher at Harrogate Grammar School, Red Kite Learning Trust, England
Main image: Anna Samoylova