Life inside a bubble: The importance of maintaining social connections during physical isolation

Issue: Volume 99, Number 6

Posted: 15 April 2020
Reference #: 1HA71u

Teachers can play a pivotal role in supporting children and young people to maintain healthy social connections, even during physical isolation.

Life inside a bubble

Social connections are key to wellbeing and it is ironic that we must be physically separated as we navigate our way through these challenging times. But with thoughtful use of digital platforms, teachers can support children and young people to stay socially connected with classmates and their wider school community.  

The key message from the Ministry of Health is: He waka eke noa – We’re all in this together.     

The Ministry's website states that, “It’s more important than ever to talk and listen, share stories and advice, and stay in touch with the people who matter to you.”  

For teachers, this means exploring ways to support students, especially those who would normally rely on face-to-face interactions to support their social and emotional needs. Children and young people need guidance on how they can have healthy and safe social interactions online, including how to minimise any associated risks.  

As they do in class, teachers can continue to support students to strengthen their social connections by revisiting strategies for building positive relationships, and considering ways they apply these in an online environment. The Ministry of Education’s Inclusive website(external link) has some useful resources to help teachers consider ways they can support and strengthen students’ relationships with peers.  

“It’s really important during this time to check in with our tamariki and rangatahi,” says Children’s Commissioner Andrew Becroft.

“They look to their trusted adults for guidance on how to react to stressful events. We adults will be feeling a bit stressed, too, and that's okay," he says.

A recent article in The Spinoff(external link) provides some useful observations and tips to support children and young people during physical isolation.    

Activities promote connections

Online learning can be set up to encourage children and young people to engage with their teacher, other students, their family, whānau or wider community.  

Ask yourself:  

  • How and when will I be available to my students for questions and conversations?    
  • Am I continuing to provide sessions for my mentor/form class, and would it be useful if those sessions encouraged social connections, discussed how to have safe online interactions, or focused on how to maintain wellbeing while on lockdown?  
  • How can I encourage student-to-student social connections and discussions for learning – one-to-one, group and whole class? For example, group work could be set via Google classroom and students could create and submit their work on a shared Google doc.  
  • How can I encourage student-to-family or wider community discussions for learning during a lockdown? For example, students could interview their parents or other whānau members. 

Interface magazine(external link) provides information and advice about learning during the COVID-19 pandemic, including tools to support online learning.   

Staying in touch

Outside of the online learning environment, ideas from the Mental Health Foundation for maintaining social interactions at this time include writing emails that share a favourite memory, playing video games with mates, playing online Scrabble or other board games, joining or starting a virtual book club, sharing a favourite karakia or waiata with friends on social media, and helping classmates with homework via online connections. There’s now even a ‘Kids’ quiz’ version of Stuff’s daily trivia quizzes, which could be completed in groups.   

There are lots of digital tools for staying in touch. Video conferencing software can be really useful at a time like this. People are using video conferencing for all sorts of reasons during lockdown including to host classes, group chats, music lessons and fitness sessions.

Staying safe 

While Netsafe does not want to discourage New Zealanders from using video conferencing software, it also urges people to take the time to be aware of the risks and how to stay safe. If people are setting up meetings but haven’t had a chance to really understand the safety implications and the capabilities of each of the video platforms this is an important first step. Netsafe has specific advice on popular video-conferencing tools including Zoom and Houseparty, and additional information can be found on their website.  

Netsafe(external link) has some great tips for how to stay safe when using digital tools, including:  

A new safety filter has also been developed to keep the internet safer for students learning from home by Crown company Network for Learning, with support from Netsafe and the Ministry. The N4L safety filter blocks access to a range of websites known to be unsafe and inappropriate for learning. Instructions on how to set up the N4L safety filter can be found at link).


Life inside a bubble

Getting help  

The reality is, this crisis brings increased uncertainty - and that can feel scary. We all need to help each other, and there is also professional help available if we feel we need it. These are official help services for young people who are looking for additional emotional support.   

Ministry of Education resources  

Guidance for families and whānau(external link) about helping children and young people while they are learning from home.   

Information and advice about COVID-19(external link) for students, families and whānau, and the education sector.   

Learning from Home(external link) and Ki te Ao Mārama(external link) are two new online spaces that have resources to support learning from home, and information about wellbeing.   

Other info  

Ministry of Health tips(external link) for looking after your mental health and wellbeing during Alert Level 4. 

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 3:05 pm, 15 April 2020

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