Although September went by too fast for my liking, it also sparks the return of a new academic year which, to be honest, I always found myself looking forward to. For new students entering the diverse world of Early Childhood, “you are very much welcome!” To returning students and colleagues, “great to see you again!”.
Ranging from that new stationery smell to unboxing new books (these are mostly linked with developmental psychology and research in ECEC), I’m finding it difficult to decide what area of research I want to focus on for the year. Attachment generally comes up quite a bit in dissertation proposals, as do Adverse Childhood Experiences… but I can also see the role of positive relationships and interpersonal interaction being an important one. Amidst this thinking, I decided to walk from my office to the canteen to clear my mind and grab my third coffee of the day (it’s 11am). The canteen was full of tables and chairs, fitted with plastic sheets, the floor had arrows pointing in the directions we should be walking in, and some colleagues and students sitting scrolling on their phones, reading the paper, pulling at notepads, or milling through a coffee and scone before the next class. As I sat there, I parked these thoughts, and wrote this message for educators:
Back in July 2020, colleagues in the Psychological Society of Ireland released a document “The Relaunch: Back to School After COVID-19 Restrictions” that contains a list of 10 tips to support Primary and Post Primary school communities in returning. While not directly third level, the sentiments are almost the same. You may also notice some familiar theorists, Bronfenbrenner and Dewey, for example. There are also some supports and links to documents related to areas such as Resilience and Self Care. Kotera et al (2021) discuss resilience and how it can be a term to describe the ways we “overcome adversity, and expand themselves from such experiences”. Continuing, the authors discuss one of the many factors that may contribute to lower perceptions of wellbeing; a hesitancy to ask for help. Although I saw (and experienced myself) this in the past, I am hopeful that we are better able to seek supports or at least know where to turn.
This academic year is going to be different to previous years – how? A few ways, I think. While I could highlight some operational aspects of some courses, a hybrid model of face to face and remote classes, I wanted to be a stereotypical psychologist and instead focus inwards. What have you learned about yourself over the last number of months, and how can you bring this forward? Through your studies and reading of Bronfenbrenner, for example, you may recall the multiple influences on the development of an individual. Applying this to yourself for a moment, and putting yourself at the centre, you may soon remember all of the influences on your behaviour and development that you may not be able to control. You may also remember how some of these influences may seem macro systemic and somewhat untouchable. What we know from countless studies and hours of thought, is that there are some aspects of life that we are unable to control directly, but what the philosophers of an age gone by, and the growing number of papers are advocating for is that we can control how we respond. For example, one of the many occupational hazards that may sound familiar is being continuously switched on and aware of how others are feeling, that perception of the growing number of assignments that may need to be written or graded, that feeling of guilt at the end of a day when we finally sit down but keep thinking of “just one more article”. While any number of these can be accompanied by racing thoughts, fatigue, borderline burnout, I do think that last year has taught many of us a great deal about ourselves, our capabilities, and what our limits may be. As someone who needs to actively try and switch off after classes or meetings, I made a conscious decision to try and better control to how I responded to unexpected influences. At the same time, it can often be challenging to recognise them and, if needed, to ask for help.
Looking at previous Scéalta blog posts, there are some amazing points made by Dr Maeve Hurley back in August who mentions the importance of managing time and boundaries, and the post in June, from Paul Gilligan that highlights taking stock of our own mental health. It’s important to remember that what works for one of us in managing and maintaining ourselves and our emotions may not work for another. If you feel as though your thoughts are starting to race, congratulations, you are human! And on the point about being human, we thrive through connections with others – if there is ever something you are unsure about, pull from and talk to the people you surround yourself with, be it face to face or virtually. There are so many things I could mention, tips for self-care, tips for getting to sleep, how to brew an amazing cup of coffee – but, you know yourself better than anyone – use that to your advantage and take stock as often as you can.
Dr Dean McDonnell is the Membership Secretary of the Psychological Society of Ireland and an Assistant Lecturer of Psychology within the Department of Humanities, at Carlow Institute of Technology. Working on a range of modules, including the Psychology of Mental Health and Neurodiversity and the Psychology of Social Cognition, Dr McDonnell also supervises final year research projects. Having broad interests in developmental psychology, Dr McDonnell’s research involves the role of interpersonal relationships and interaction with technology on human development.