Five ways to support students during the COVID-19 crisis

Never has there been a more crucial time to improve wellbeing at home, in the workplace, and in our schools.

A guest blog by Professor Victoria Masters, Sector Specialist in International Management.
31 March 2020


Imagine you’re 18 and have just started university, living away from home for the first time in another country where you don’t speak the language(s) and you suddenly find yourself living alone in isolation because of the coronavirus.

Or whilst traveling back to your home country, you get stranded halfway where you have to self-isolate for two weeks in a hotel or hospital.

Or you bought a flight ticket home at ten times the normal cost only to have it canceled when you arrive at the airport due to the latest travel ban.

Or you arrived at your new business school late due to visa issues only to be told that it’s closed and you cannot return home; instead you’re isolated in student residences.

These are just some of the situations my students have found themselves in during the last couple of weeks.

It reminded me of the start of my university days when I was off sick with the flu for two weeks during Freshers’ Week which negatively impacted my ability to settle in and make friends. At least I was at university just 40 minutes away from home and I spoke the language, but still, I got off to a bad start and never quite felt part of the friendship groups that were formed at the beginning of term.


No wonder your students are feeling anxious and overwhelmed.


Is this the time when our students need us more than ever?



A recent Cigna survey, the 2020 Loneliness Index of more than 10,000 adults aged 18 and over, showed that younger people aged 18-22 tend to be lonelier than people over 72.

According to the survey, lonely workers are less engaged and less productive.

Never has there been a more crucial time to improve wellbeing at home, in the workplace, and in our schools.

There is a need for empathy and compassion and above all extra support, both academically and with student welfare.

My priority over the last two weeks has been my students’ wellbeing. They needed help with how to adapt to working remotely and staying mentally and physically fit. This will also serve them in the future when they become managers and leaders.

Here are my five tips to help keep students healthy and motivated:


1. Let students know it’s natural to lack motivation and focus during difficult times

Deliver both synchronous and asynchronous classes to give students flexibility over their schedules. If they find themselves lacking motivation one day they can follow a class when they feel more energized. Being able to follow a class asynchronously may lessen the stress and overwhelm.


2. Teach them the strategies to deal with this testing time

Help them understand that although they cannot control the current situation, they can control their response. Give them the tools to problem-solve and to enhance their critical thinking. My students found Sakichi Toyoda’s 5 Whys method particularly useful to work out what they can and can’t control.
Our students will learn how to be resilient and survive challenging situations, essential skills in any business.


3. Give them the tools to connect

It’s especially important that students feel connected with their classmates right now. Use small group chats and for those that are having wifi problems, record messages or do it the old-fashioned way and get classmates to give them a call to make them feel included in the class.
Make sure no-one feels left out.
Be sensitive to the fact that some students may struggle to participate for varying circumstances.


4. Keep classes and activities dynamic to engage students

Last week we did breathwork in class and this week we’ll start with a quick energizing exercise. Other ideas could be class yoga, art therapy, mindfulness, or even online cooking with organizations like the wonderful Abrazo Cultural whose cookery classes foster cultural awareness and team building.
Find out students’ interests. Adapt your syllabus accordingly.
In class, change it up every fifteen or so minutes to keep students focused using slides, videos, quizzes, discussion etc.
Never has there been a better time for peer teaching in a flipped classroom. My students are organizing webinars, which encourages them to take ownership of their learning in addition to building their online professional networks.
Equally, let them know that disconnecting from the online world is very important.


5. Reach out, be kind

Let students know that it’s okay to ask for help and talk about how they’re feeling. Talking about feelings isn’t a sign of weakness. Talking about feelings makes you feel listened to and encouraged which helps teachers and managers alike support their teams better.
If you know a student is feeling particularly isolated, you can put in place measures for extra support, for example offering them a class buddy or a one-to-one meeting.
Kindness builds trust and solid relationships with your students.
Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been impressed to see students stepping up to support and encourage those who are struggling. Who knows, it might be them needing the support next week, or indeed me!


Final thoughts

Most importantly, as teachers, we also need to take care of our own emotional wellbeing to ensure we can cater to the needs of our students.

What are your thoughts? I’d be interested to hear from you and if you have other tips, please share.

Now, time to follow my own advice and do some yoga!


Guest post by Professor Victoria Masters, Sector Specialist in International Management at Geneva Business School
First published on LinkedIn on 30 March 2020