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A Better Lockdown

As Covid cases rose, BBC Radio 4 shared stories of those who were flouting the lockdown rules. But then they had a visit from a behavioural scientist and changed their approach…

They were advised, in a live, on-air interview, that to publicise the rule-breakers would lead all the rest of us (92%, apparently) to think that ‘no one’ was following the rules, thus making it more likely that we too would relax our approach. The behavioural scientist explained that we are all very strongly influenced by social norms and what we think others in our community are doing. So now, at the end of their broadcast, Radio 4 highlight uplifting stories of people’s personal efforts to stay within the rules. It has been such a joy to listen to and it has helped me, personally, not to feel cynical about the behaviour of those around me.

When considering the best way to help our girls to maintain those all-important routines to support their mental health whilst they are learning from home,  we are minded to take a similar approach at South Hampstead. Social psychologists have known for years that focusing on the thing you want in someone else’s behaviour is far more successful than focusing on what you don’t want. We all learned this when we were parenting our very young children and we were told that we should say ‘Thank you for speaking quietly’ instead of ‘Don’t be so loud.’  It follows that we should continue to focus on the behaviour that we do want and highlight that it is the ‘norm’ to be doing it.

I have been so encouraged by hearing feedback from our tutors, as they check-in with their tutees at home. So many girls are reporting that they are ‘doing it better this time’. It appears that all the work we have done at school – about the important ways they can look after their own mental and physical health – is having the desired impact. When we returned to school in September, time was spent helping girls to reflect on their experience of lockdown. This created a sense of solidarity and camaraderie in the shared experience, with peers being able to laugh together at the more absurd bits and learn from each other about coping with the more difficult bits.

It allowed us to speak openly about the challenges and then to focus firmly on strategies to overcome them.

This focus has continued into the new lockdown, with Mrs Bingham, Heads of Year, the Wellness Captains and all members of staff reminding girls regularly about the importance of routines, getting outside, exercise, changing spaces and, very importantly, keeping in touch with each other.

For the ‘make it the norm’ part of the strategy, we are putting together a compilation of examples of students actually doing the things we’ve recommended. So many girls report that they are ensuring that they get outside, in some way, every day. They report that they have changed the location of where they are working, from being curled up in bed, claiming that their camera doesn’t work, to being sat at a desk or table with their camera on so that they can interact with their peers and their teachers. They talk about initiatives that they are taking to keep up with friends and their participation in the various activities, clubs and off-timetable initiatives to keep their lockdown experience lively and varied.

I am under no illusions that this is the case for every pupil. Lockdown is really hard and for some it’s harder than for others. Some pupils will be finding things really difficult because of their own particular circumstances and some won’t have managed to adopt the positive routines that nurture their wellbeing. This is why we aim to share evidence of the norm, conveying the message that taking these small steps is something their peers really are doing and enjoying. For those who are really struggling, we are encouraging them to open up and let us know. There are things we can do, even at a distance, and we have been able to bring really positive change to a number of young people in this position.

We want these girls also to know that it’s the norm to ask for help and to feel confident that positive change is possible.

Whilst I would never wish the circumstances we have all had to endure upon anyone, I do think that the skills our pupils are learning will last them a lifetime. Having a second go at ‘doing lockdown’ has provided that all important learning opportunity, with the chance to try doing it differently. We can help them to embed that learning by reminding them how far they’ve come, what they’ve learned and how valuable that learning will be for the future. It is, perhaps, a silver lining worth our notice and theirs.

Blog post written by Ms Brass, Senior Deputy Head, who heads up the pastoral programme at South Hampstead.  

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