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DIGITAL COLUMN | Tim Manson | Getting ready for this ‘New Normal’

Updated: Aug 12, 2020

Tim Manson is Vice Principal at a local college in Ballymena. Tim is a family man at heart with a keen interest in all things Geography, and an avid supporter of Ulster Rugby.

This August will feel very odd for us all.  

In my family – August is when we go exploring a different part of the world for a short holiday. It’s one of the few times in the year when we are all together and not going in 4 different directions – so it's a great opportunity for us to catch up with each other. But that’s not really happening this year. This August will feel very odd for us all.  

August is a time for exam results.  

On Thursday 13th August the A Level exam results are released. Schools have been thinking about how they are giving out results in a socially distanced manner.  There won’t be the same buzz, the same hugs of excitement, the same groups of celebrating students getting pictures together with their teachers one final time.  The local universities have even given guaranteed places to some of the students – so they have weeks of knowing that they are going to Queen’s or the University of Ulster but don't know the grades that got them there. This August will feel very odd for us all.  

Then, a week later on Thursday 20th August the GCSE results are ready.  Year 12 pupils will be nervously waiting to see what grades they have ended up with, following one of the most bizarre school years ever. Will they get back to school?  Will they be able to study the subjects that they are interested in? Will they have enough grades to get the course they want to follow in the NRC? These are big questions and parents and pupils will need to make really quick decisions about what they want to do and where they want to go. Teachers will be ready and willing to give advice. Parents and pupils will be wanting to get clarity on their future. This August will feel very odd for us all.  

Spare a thought, too, for the Year 8 pupils who will be pulling on over-sized, starchy new uniforms for the first time and standing at front doors for the most uncomfortable of photos. They missed their P7 ‘fun’ time. They missed the final celebration of being the biggest fish before moving pond and becoming the minnow again. They missed the end of an era rites of passage – the trips, the hoodies, the sports day, the awards ceremony, the simple events that helped bring closure to one chapter of their lives as a new one was being opened. They missed the opportunity to see round their new school and meet their new teachers and classmates. So, this new school year is going to seem more difficult. It’s going to take a deeper breath and it’s going to take a lot more courage that usual. This August will feel very odd for us all.  

Tim Manson

It is going to take a while for things to get back to any semblance of normality.   Schools are not going to look or feel the same. There are not going to be the same freedoms both before, during and after school. So, let me finish with a few final words of guidance about how we all should act as we negotiate through the final weeks of August:

1. Be patient – you really don’t know the journey that other people have been experiencing through COVID.  Did they lose a loved one?   Were they stuck doing long shifts in a hospital or nursing home? Did they have to deal with mental health issues due to the consequences of the Lockdown?   Let’s all be a little more patient that before.   Let’s give others the benefit of the doubt.

2. Be aware – some people have had their confidence knocked out of them due to COVID.  The thought of coming into a public space with lots of other people is a scary prospect.  Maybe they were shielding or having to look after someone who was severely at risk?  

3. Be flexible – as I write this, I still don't really have all the answers about what will be happening on that first day for any pupil.  We are all going to be finding our way and we might need to change plans really quickly to roll with local issues and developments.  

4. Be supportive – all of the staff in schools are really keen to get back to some sense of normality – but that is going to take time.   Staff want to support you in whatever we can to ease the stress the make sure that even the most nervous learner feels safe and secure coming back to school.  Support them too by making sure that your child is following all the rules and is not putting people that they come into contact with at risk.  

5. Be positive – think about how you can support your child through this.  Be positive and talk to your child in a way that promotes positivity towards the school, the staff and the fact that they are going back.  See it as a good thing.  Say things that encourage like:  ‘I know that things will be safe’ and ‘I’m sure you are excited to see your friends and your teachers again’.  Don’t share your doubts, fears or concerns.  Build up your child so that they will gain confidence from your attitude.  

This August will feel very odd for us all.   But, if we all pull together – we can get through this and make sure that our kids are ready for a busy, productive and happy year ahead.  

• You can follow Tim’s personal blog at: https://timmanson.wordpress.com/