Better Than Before – 3 Practices That Should Be Part of Our New Normal


Jessica Werner, Ph.D.
CEO, Northshore Coaching & Consulting


It is summertime and there are currently a lot of conversations happening around what the new normal will be in schools come this fall. Clearly, the teaching conditions we endured for the last year and a half were decidedly not normal. At best it was innovative, and at times it was simply survival. COVID was a once in a century pandemic and teaching through it wasn’t always pretty.


Though we know there will be a ‘new normal’ for schools, it may take a few school years for us to feel comfortable in this, let alone thrive in it. Yet, it is important to remember – teaching is hard during non-COVID times, and our ‘new normal’ should reflect that. Here are the top three aspects of our new normal that I am advocating for:


Keep wellbeing a priority

For everyone in schools – administrators, office staff, teachers and students.  In many schools where I work, the focus on academic achievement shared an intentional space with a focus on wellbeing, social-emotional learning, and self-care this past year. Teachers were offered CPD opportunities for wellness, which came at a crucial time as many reported feeling burnt-out as early as mid-September. The schools that did this deserve to be commended, yet it would be a mistake to discontinue this type of support in the future. Schools must continue to nurture the health and wellbeing of their staff as much as they focus on the social and emotional needs of their students. We know from research that happy, engaged teachers are less likely to transfer schools or to leave the profession entirely, just as we know that these teachers report higher academic gains in their students.


Encourage continued innovation

When the pandemic forced immediate school closures in early 2020 everyone working in education was forced to adjust, more or less overnight. It was extremely difficult, and this cannot be understated. This sudden, unprecedented shift ultimately led to new thinking, cooperation, and innovation in almost every school I have worked in and visited in the last 18 months. Educators have flipped the way of doing business on its head and this should continue to be the way schools operate post-pandemic. School administrators must encourage continued innovation by investing in CPD opportunities for staff, particularly those that are personalized to meet each individual’s growth goals.


Continue appreciating educators

Early in lockdown, Shonda Rhimes, an American television producer, went on social media after one hour of homeschooling her six and eight-year-old children, and said “teachers deserve to make a million dollars a year. Or a week,” and many people expressed agreement. Teaching is hard work. We educators have always known this, but it was nice, for these months, to hear this sentiment expressed by our non-educator friends. Despite this hard work, educators often feel taken for granted. At my daughter’s school, the parent community provided at least 20 lunches for the school staff throughout the year as a ‘thank you.’ Teachers also received a small stipend to reward them for their hard work during this extraordinary time. These displays of appreciation were absolutely warranted, and they should not stop when COVID concerns are behind us. Roughly 50 per cent of educators leave the profession in the first five years, and nearly 10 per cent quit every year after that. That is significant turnover, even in ‘normal’ times. One of the top reasons teachers quit is due to not feeling adequately respected or appreciated.  Therefore, I propose that we must continue to show educators that we respect and appreciate their hard work. Let’s try our best to keep amazing people in this profession. Through lunches, stipends, or simply a kind word or note here and there, letting your child’s teacher or your teaching staff know you care can mean a lot and help boost morale.


As we transition to ‘post-pandemic thinking, let’s focus on what actually worked well during pandemic teaching and consider how we can integrate these positive outcomes into our future work.  No doubt, COVID was a challenge for all, and especially for those in education. Let us remember that during this challenging time educators rose to the occasion and continued teaching, an act of resilience that will not soon be forgotten by millions of grateful students and families.


What do you think about the points raised in this article? We’d love to hear your feedback.




Jessica Werner, Ph.D. is the CEO of Northshore Coaching & Consulting. NSCC partners with schools worldwide providing professional development opportunities for teachers and school leaders that focus on both performance and wellbeing. Dr. Werner’s personal expertise lies in helping teachers establish a positive classroom culture, develop SEL skills, and improve their instructional practices. She teaches Assessment courses as a Professor of Education at the University of Notre Dame and lives in St. Paul, Minnesota, with her family.

Understanding the social and emotional impact of lockdown

Crispin Chatterton, Director of Education, GL Education


Understanding the social and emotional impact of lockdown


A few weeks into the coronavirus crisis, health experts and psychologists were warning that a tidal wave of mental illness could overwhelm children post-lockdown because of the problems they had stored up during it.


Those fears understandably persist, as the disruption to school life in some schools continues well beyond the time initially envisaged. The fears have, however, been tempered by more recent studies, including a survey of 10,000 parents and children by psychologists at the University of Oxford, which painted a much more nuanced picture.


Parents of children under the age of 11 largely agreed that they had noticed an increase in stress and behavioural problems in their children as lockdown went on. But parents of teenagers tended to report that on average their children’s behaviour and emotional wellbeing had continued much as before and they hadn’t noticed any deterioration.


Indeed, some parents – including those with children who had special educational needs or pre-existing mental health issues – said that their offspring’s emotional behaviour had tended to improve during lockdown.


Schools are rightly concerned about their students’ wellbeing after such a long absence. But the Oxford study reveals not only children’s fragility, but also their resilience. Some will have found the experience an ordeal – but many won’t. The challenge is to identify the students most in need of support and apply the right strategies.


Shining a light on student wellbeing


Some schools benefitted from having a clear picture of their students’ wellbeing before they went into lockdown. At Garden International School (GIS) in Kuala Lumpur, Michael Browning, then Head of Year 7, was in the middle of a year-long project to support students that they had identified as fragile learners using data from the Pupil Attitudes to Self and School (PASS) survey.


The survey is a psychometric assessment that measures student attitudes across nine factors that are proven to be significantly linked to educational goals, such as a child’s perceived learning capability and their response to curriculum demands. The scores are accompanied by a series of practical interventions aligned to each of the factors to support schools in responding to their findings. These interventions have been updated this year to provide guidance to support students returning to school after a prolonged absence.


Because a significant number of the GIS fragile learner group were EAL students who had a significant verbal deficit, Michael worked closely with the Head of EAL as well as the school counsellors to devise a programme that supported students’ literacy as well as identifying and managing emotions.


At the end of term 2, things were going well; the school measured an increase in attainment and progress across the year group, and the level of increase was higher for the fragile learner group.


As the school went into lockdown the programme had to be adapted, with lots of emphasis on celebrating success and recognition of effort. As Michael explained: “As head of year, tracking the more vulnerable students has become more challenging during this period of online learning – but equally more important than ever!”


The data for the end of term 3 showed another increase in attainment and progress levels for the fragile learners. Despite the challenges faced during lockdown, the project has shown that using attitudinal data to target certain groups works.


Michael explains: “The project has given me a way to use the data in a smart way – shining a light on students who might otherwise get missed.” PASS has also made it clear that we don’t need to go away and suddenly re-learn how to teach or work with students – it’s reassured me that a lot of what we do in class is already going to be helping the students, but it’s prompting you as a teacher to be aware and to use these strategies consistently.”


Understanding attitudes as students returned to school


At Jumeira Baccalaureate School in Dubai, the Head of Secondary, Erika Elkady, was apprehensive about students’ social and emotional wellbeing as they returned to school after the long lockdown:

“Had they been able to process the ‘new normal’ which we as adults were still trying to come to terms with? How would our teenagers respond to be back in school after such a long time?”


To get the answers, the school carried out a PASS survey in the second week of the school year.


“The data gave us a wealth of information,” Erika explains. “We learned that our phase 3 students’ attitudes in all nine factors are now more positive than when we started to conduct regular PASS surveys in 2017.


“Our phase 4 data on the other hand shows a slight dip in students’ perceived learning capability and confidence in learning, which is not unsurprising as the lockdown and the uncertainty about exams in May 2021 will cause some anxiety in our seniors.


“Overall, the data is comforting as we learned that our students’ overall wellbeing is much better than we had hoped for. Moreover, we also know now who needs extra attention as we have been able to flag a number of students.”


So, while it may be obvious that different students will react in different ways to any challenge, including those set by coronavirus, having a way to identify and weight each group or individual’s feelings allows schools to prioritise and calibrate their response.


Erika Elkady and Michael Browning will be speaking about the social and emotional impact of lockdown on students at GL Education’s online Global Assessment Conference in November.


Find out more and register for free here.


What do you think about the points raised in this article? We’d love to hear what you have to say.



Crispin Chatterton, Director of Education, GL Education



Forget Rote-Learning, Kids Can and Will Change the World If Given a Chance!

Kiran Bir Sethi, Founder: Riverside School, & Namrata Jajoo


Design for Change (DFC) was born in 2009 from the conviction that children are not helpless, the optimism that change is possible, and the belief that they can drive it. Here’s a look at what this initiative entails for empowering and equipping children! 

“I now know that I don’t need permission to change the world.” 

In a small village called Labana in the desert region of Rajasthan lives 10-year-old Bindi. While she comes across as a simple and shy student of Satya Bharti school, she and her friends showed extraordinary courage in taking on the centuries-old practice of untouchability (mandated by the caste system) through organising provocative rallies and hunger strikes. 

Students in Kolkata noticed that young children were starving on the streets while restaurants had a significant amount of food going to waste, so they designed and implemented a delivery system to collect unused food from hotels and restaurants, and bring it to undernourished children in the city’s slums. 

A team of 10-year-olds in Varanasi noticed that much of their community was illiterate and developed a series of solutions to “learn and develop the habit of reading” – from setting up libraries in elementary schools to teaching their peers about library management and setting up newspaper stands outside schools so that adults could develop the habit as well. 

These are just a few of the amazing 22,000+ stories crafted under the Design for Change (DFC) initiative by children from across the world! 

Source: Facebook 

My submission to you is that today’s ‘Superheroes’ are not from the Avengers or the Justice League, but rather they are these courageous children, who are unleashing their superpowers of imagination, creative problem solving, empathy, leadership, and collaboration. 

What could have inspired these children to become such amazing problem-solvers and change-makers? Let’s explore the origin of this ‘I CAN’ mindset. 

Consider this – In the first two years of our children’s lives, they tell us how amazing they are at exploration and finding solutions. They go about navigating the world from crawling to sitting to standing to running to speaking – aren’t they then, the masters of the art of problem–solving? 

Since these problem-solving capacities are innate to them, and they are engaged in such activity right from birth through adulthood, shouldn’t children simply become better problem solvers with age and experience? 

Now, take a moment to reconsider what happens when the child (with his/her innate problem-solving capacities) starts going to school. More often than not, highly enthusiastic parents and teachers aim to help children develop to the best of their abilities, but unfortunately also to feel, think, and behave in prescribed ways. 

The child is directed and advised about the many things ‘they can’t’ or ‘should not do’, thereby changing the child’s vocabulary from ‘I CAN’ to ‘CAN I?’ Across the world, so many children are told that they are too young to solve problems and should let adults take care of the issues they face. 

This narrative dis-empowers children, making them fearful of making mistakes and developing a lack of confidence in their own ability to make decisions and choices. 

Through this article, I seek to unravel the fabulous journeys of children who have developed creative confidence in their capabilities and capacities to take ownership of their world and also to take action towards building a more desirable and sustainable future. 

Here’s how it all began: 

It was the year 1996. After a long day at school, my six-year-old son Raag and I sat perplexed and confused, staring at the big red mark on his English notebook. Apparently, he had failed to memorise and write an essay verbatim as instructed by the teacher. 

He had used his own imagination and vocabulary to frame the essay and was clueless about the reason for the rejection of his work. I soon realized that something was clearly amiss and that it was actually the schooling system that I was up against. 

My conviction that prevalent education practices were failing to give my child an identity grew stronger by the day, so, I decided of taking my son out of school, and rolled up my sleeves to start ‘Riverside’ on the banks of the River Sabarmati, in the land of Gandhi. 

What inspires me most about the Mahatma is his amazing stamina, sense of humour, and shameless pursuit of his goals against all odds. 

These have also been the key ingredients in building Riverside over the last seventeen years. 

The Birth of Design for Change (DFC)

Design for Change (DFC) was born in 2009 from the conviction that children are not helpless, the optimism that change is possible, and the belief that they can drive it. 

I initiated the ‘Design for Giving’ School Contest in 2009, as a national challenge for school children to change some aspect of life in their communities. 

The challenge spurred young children to solve real-life problems in their immediate environment while building a sense of empathy, confidence and responsibility. 

Today DFC is a global movement with footprints in 65 countries and has helped to cultivate the ‘I Can’ mindset in more than 2.2 million children. 

With empathy at its core, this framework nurtures the problem-solving mindset via four steps of Feel, Imagine, Do and Share (FIDS). 

We call this FIDS for KIDS! 

This simple four-step framework helps schools foster a learning environment using the ‘both, and’ model, nurturing both Content and Character, both a Passion for work and the Compassion for the community. 

The DFC curriculum is accepted all over the world because of its flexibility and non-prescriptive nature. The most critical feature of Design for Change is that it is not only simple and practical but also open-source, accessible, adaptable, and replicable.

(see to know more and try out DFC in your setting). 


Time-tabling For Design for Change 



Today, student success requires skills for collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, and problem-solving. Many schools around the world still design and implement curricula with the premise of “one-size-fits-all”, with a disproportionate emphasis on subject excellence alone. 

The central tenet of this mindset is often that we are so hard-pressed for time to complete the subject content that we do not have the liberty to invest in any additional activities. 

This often leads to focusing on the transmission of theoretical knowledge but misses out on the development of vital capacities like empathy and creative confidence.
Change happens when design thinking is perceived as desirable and almost indispensable skill-set. 

By intentionally time-tabling on a weekly basis for DFC activities, our partner schools have been able to seamlessly integrate it into their mainstream curriculum. 


How DFC is Impacting Children 


  • FIDS helps to develop much-required skills and attitudes in children, builds their social and emotional competencies, and promotes employability skills.
  • DFC’s tool was evaluated by the Harvard Graduate School of Education and documents clear improvements in student empathy as well as in enhancing problem-solving abilities.
  • Research conducted by The GoodWork Project has reaffirmed the impact of the DFC curriculum on the development of skills like collaboration, creative thinking & empathy.

Our future will depend on how much we believe in the power of our children today. The only thing that we have realised is that sometimes we need a little help, a little magic formula to ensure that every child can! 


Thoughts to share about this article? Let us know below.



Kiran Bir Sethi is an Indian educationist, designer, and thinker. She founded the Riverside School in 2001 and since then has infected millions of students and educators with the ‘I CAN Mindset’ through her design thinking framework of ‘Feel-Imagine- Do- Share’ (FIDS). Learn more about the Riverside School.

At-risk affluence & school culture

Dr. Tara R. Campbell, Senior Manager, Jostens

“Extracurricular activities aren’t fun anymore; it’s just something that we do to get into college.” That statement was shared with my husband and colleague by a high-achieving high school student. Hearing this articulation repeated multiple times from multiple students in multiple countries elicited a journey into understanding how the pressure placed on adolescents affects the culture and climate in schools. Perhaps the most surprising realization from these investigations is that affluent students are now considered ‘at-risk’, a term no longer reserved only for students living in abject poverty. 


First, it’s important to understand that ‘at-risk’ does not mean an inability to achieve academic success, but instead signifies a student is less equipped to be successful which can result from a myriad of factors. In a recent report, The Robert Wood Foundation positioned adolescent wellness as not the absence of problems, but as having voice, thriving, and being socially aware and self-accepting. The report went on to name the top environmental conditions harming adolescent wellness – included in the list alongside poverty, trauma, and discrimination was an excessive pressure to succeed mostly tied to affluence (Geisz & Nakashian, 2018). 


Once we drop the preconceived notion that an abundance of material wealth brings forth wellbeing, it is easy to see how affluent students can be ill-equipped to thrive socially and emotionally. Affluence can bring about isolation, stress, and skewed competitiveness (Osherson, 2017).  Affluent students in environments placing importance on academic excellence experience a lack of connectivity that results in higher rates of mental health and emotional problems (Wallace, 2019).   


The intense expectation to perform and to be the best creates a pressurized environment where students are driven to out-compete their classmates, leading to a school culture ripe with peer envy, anxiety, and depression. The social isolation and self-comparison epidemic bolstered by the prevalence of social media only confounds the problem. Add in other issues present in international and privately-funded schools for affluent children — such as parents who either blatantly or subtly use their wealth to influence school policy, disciplinary reactions, or teacher autonomy; the frequency of student mobility making it difficult for students to forge and maintain lasting and supportive relationships; and the lack of organically grown resilience and self-reliance resulting from exposure to ‘problems’ that cannot be fixed by familial wealth and influence – one can see how school culture could easily become toxic. 


School culture is the shared behaviors, beliefs, and norms within a school or organization. Because school culture shapes the relationships between and among all school stakeholder groups and can affect learning and student wellbeing, school culture is not something that should be dismissed (Johnson et al, 2015; La Salle et al, 2014 


When thinking about school culture, it is important to first assess the current climate on campus. What do your school norms express as valued on your school’s campus? Is that fostering a sense of wellbeing in your students? Numerous studies on school climate have revealed a positive correlation between healthy and supportive school cultures to student motivation, feelings of connectedness, and student self-esteem (Hopson et al, 2014; Hoge et al, 1990). 


In order to foster a supportive and connected school culture, systems should be created that allow for dialogue among students, among faculty, and between students and faculty. Each of these stakeholder groups need to feel as if they have an avenue to express their emotions, concerns, life events, and be able to share coping strategies and dialogue about what affects them.  To help maintain a sense of balance and buffer against stress in high pressure environments, social down time should be built into school operations and schedules (Wallace, 2019).  


To equalize the pressure placed on academic excellence, schools should create formalized systems for recognition and reward for non-academic values such as citizenship, grit, compassion, leadership, advocacy, etc. Additionally, things such as how people are welcomed onto campus, how new faculty and students are embraced into the school community, and how support personnel are treated and respected by school stakeholders, all contribute to the overall sense of connectivity and wellbeing on campus, thereby setting an undertone to the school’s culture. 


Creating and sustaining a positive school culture can seem daunting, but assistance is available. The Educator Services division of Jostens has dedicated the past 36 years to creating resources proven to improve school culture through their Renaissance program. Jostens offers its schools access to over 168 episodes of character education and social emotional video series, titled The Harbor™. Through the Jostens Renaissance Leadership Curriculum, Jostens offers schools more than two years’ worth of classroom leadership curriculum that ties leadership principles to overall school culture and school stakeholder connectivity. Through Jostens’ scientifically validated Pulse survey, schools can capture stakeholder perceptions of student recognition. To assist schools with the professional learning offerings for faculties, The Green Room Professional Learning Series by Jostens provides school administration with professional development content that leads to more connected school cultures. Finally, through Jostens’ Idea Exchange, schools can access a database of best practices for building strong campus cultures, all submitted by other schools from multiple countries. Jostens makes these and other school culture resources available to its partner schools. Schools can contact their Jostens sales representative for access to these complimentary culture building resources. 


Geisz, MB & Nakashian M. (2018). Adolescent Wellness: Current Perspectives and Future Opportunities in Research, Policy, and Practice – A Learning Report. The Robert Wood Foundation. 


Hoge, D. R., Smit, E.K., & Hanson, S.L. (1190). School experiences predicting changes in self-esteem of sixth and seventh-grade students. Journal of Educational Psychology, 82, 117-127. 


Hopson, L.M., Schiller, K.S., & Lawson, H.A. (2014). Exploring linkages between school climate, behavioral norms, social supports, and academic success. Social Work Research, 38(4), 197-209. 


Johnson, S.L., Pas, E., & Bradshaw, C. P. (2015). Understanding the association between school climate and future orientation. Journal of Youth and Adolescence. DOI 10.107/s10964-015-0321-1. 


La Salle, T. P.L., Meyers, J., Varjas, K., & Roach, A. (2015). A cultural-ecological model of school climate. International Journal of School & Educational Psychology, 3(3), 157-166. 


Osherson, Sam (2017). The Influence of Affluence. Independent School, Fall 2017. National Association of Independent Schools. 


Wallace, J B (2019). Students in high-achieving schools are now named an ‘at-risk’ group, study says. The Washington Post, September 26, 2019. 




Dr. Tara R. Campbell is a veteran educator. She started her career as a high school teacher and has since served the field of education as a professional learning and development coordinator, a curriculum designer, an At-Risk Prevention Specialist, and a Career and Technical Education program manager for the Tennessee Department of Education in the United States. Dr. Campbell currently serves as Senior Manager of the Educator Services division of Jostens where she and her team create school culture and climate resources. She is the co-author of the book “Make It Reign: A Collection of Proven Ideas to Fund Renaissance in Your School.”