We must avoid negatively labeling a generation of schoolchildren and focus on their incredible resilience, writes Neil Renton, an elementary school principal.
A close friend of mine recalls how their parents during WWII turned bomb shelters into a game as children, how they grew stronger knowing they could adapt and survive, how they grew up to appreciate little pleasures. The pain and suffering they experienced was remarkable, but they adapted and shaped our future.
As a director, I am afraid of the current narrative about the ‘Generation Covid’. I don’t understand why anyone would use the term to describe our children. Why would someone use the name of a disease to refer to our children, our future? We speak freely of a generation that has been left behind, that needs to catch up, a generation that will earn less, a generation of problems and suffering. We use a language of shame, a language of closed doors and without hope. We must do better.
In 1968, Rosenthal and Jacobson wrote a seminal article on how teacher expectations affect student performance. Simply put, when we expect others to behave in a particular way, we create a script that increases the probability that the behavior will occur. A teacher who is led to think that a student is performing high expects higher performance, and ultimately creates higher performance.
In 20 years of working in schools, I’ve seen 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 sick generation, only serves to perpetuate negativity and a self-fulfilling prophecy of hopelessness 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 for changing the narrative. Brain science shows us time and again that negativity affects the performance of our brain. Negative emotionally charged thoughts divert energy from the prefrontal cortex, used for cognitive function, to the limbic system (freeze, fight, or flee), so you just can’t think as clearly. Negativity triggers stress hormones, making neural activity less efficient. We must not negatively label a generation if we want it to think clearly for our entire future.
“We must not negatively label a generation if we want them to think clearly for our future,” writes Renton. Image: Neonbrand / Unsplash
I firmly believe that we, as teachers, school leaders, and adults, have a moral obligation to our children to shift the balance toward a positive narrative. A narrative that acknowledges that this generation has been through something truly remarkable and where some may need support. This generation will rebuild itself and create a better and more open society. This generation will be more resilient, value, and take hold of what it has lost, as it did when the school reopened for a quarter, and it will remain remarkable.
As a principal, I am optimistic for this generation and want to dedicate our collective efforts as educators to help these children who have experienced the extraordinary become extraordinary. They are not the ‘Generation Covid’ disease. They are The Remarkables. Let’s forget the ‘Covid Generation’ and focus on The Remarkables.
Neil Renton is Headmaster of Harrogate Primary School, England
Lead Image: Anna Samoylova