Rational responses to very difficult conversations

There are certain topics that we as teachers and you as parents probably dread.  The moment the topics of sex or death rear their heads, there is a real temptation to run for cover and hope that someone else can field the awkward topics on our behalf.  To the aforementioned topics we can probably add, for the coming weeks at least, disease.

I probably don’t need to state the obvious by saying that we live in a 24-hour rolling news culture and as a consequence we may just as adults be guilty at times of hyper-magnifying certain issues because there is no escaping them. Presently it is impossible to escape from reporting on the coronavirus outbreak and the steadily mounting death toll trailing in its wake.  I’ve done my fair share of letter writing about it this week, no doubt soothing some and enraging others.

The current situation is concerning because there are few clear answers and no solution has been found to containing this new strain of human coronavirus. We are bombarded with ideas about the epidemic and war-like casualty charts only serve to alarm still further.  If we can avoid speculation then we will probably be all the better for it, we need to seek out reputable sources of information bearing in mind that even the most enlightened health organisations can take a top down approach to problems such as this one.  This is a time when we have to be aware of the mental health of young people as well as their physical well-being.  Many young people will feel worried about this evolving, uncertain situation and we need to offer them realistic reassurance.  Some viruses do not take a hold and fulfil their potential – bird ‘flu caused far less impact than was expected and not every cough or cold is coronavirus.  We need to be prudent and realistic.  Hand washing is important as is trapping germs in a tissue and binning the offending item!  I hope that it goes without saying that anyone who exhibits ‘flu like symptoms should seek appropriate advice and should stay away from school.  If you have been to a high-risk area then please also stay away until we know more about the challenge that we face.

There is a danger in our response to an outbreak like this that we discriminate against the most vulnerable. We need to speak openly about the dangers of labelling or jumping to conclusions about who is responsible for the disease. The coronavirus can affect anyone regardless of gender, ethnicity or sex. If we are caring and supportive then we will improve the chances of prevention and recovery.

Right now, there are highly qualified epidemiologists and public health professionals looking at spread patterns and possible cures for this particular ‘flu strain.  Modern medical science moves at an impressive pace and it is likely that we will be given more credible support very soon.  We need to ensure that we are choosing our sources of information carefully, at some point in the near future we may well need to respond speedily to an important piece of advice so it is important that we ensure we can see with clarity.  We can talk positively to our pupils about the measures that have been taken, we can stress the importance of basic hygiene and we can reassure our young people that the best minds in the world are seeking to solve the challenge we face.

Nicholas Hammond