I’m not the first to say it I know, but our teachers are heroes.

In the ‘brave new world’ of social distancing, class bubbles, online learning, year group quarantines and now a second national lockdown, teachers up and down the land must be counting bottles of hand sanitiser in their sleep.

And yet, as schools grapple with a myriad of complicated COVID-19 rules and still manage to deliver a worthwhile curriculum, the numbers of teachers completing Young Citizens’ online training courses on social action has been increasing week on week.

I’m not amazed because I think the value of social action is any less during a pandemic. If anything, the importance of acknowledging and tackling feelings of isolation and disconnect within communities at the moment has never been so crucial. As a primary school teacher completing our Introduction to Social Action course last month put it, “social action helps to bind people together". No, what amazes (and humbles) me at the moment is the number of teachers and other practitioners who are determined, despite all the current barriers, to support children and young people to deliver change in their communities, and the ingenuity they are using to ensure this can still happen in COVID times.

How? Repurposing a face-to-face school visit from a local charity into a zoom call between the class and the CEO so that children can still hear first-hand about the effect their fundraising will have on the lives of homeless people. Refocusing a planned school-wide litter campaign into family-led litter picks that can take place within the ‘rule of 6’. Sending boxes of written postcards to a care home to ensure the residents still have contact with the outside world when everyone is shut out to protect them. With a few tweaks to the original plan, children are still making themselves heard with the support of talented teachers who understand the importance of connecting with the community now more than ever.

At Young Citizens we’ve long known that social action is good for your soul. Being able to see how you’ve helped a group of people or a situation improve is hugely beneficial to your own mental wellbeing. Feeling in control and able to influence a positive outcome for others improves your own self-confidence and self-esteem at the same time. At a time when children’s mental health is being talked about constantly, group projects which enable them to be part of something bigger than themselves, to connect with their peers for the good of others, are proven to help reduce anxiety as children look beyond themselves and their immediate needs.

In late 2020 we know that teachers are conscious of gaps in a recovery curriculum that doesn’t address these pressing needs in children. They recognise that children feel lost, anxious, and need time and space to find themselves again, but acknowledge that devising models of delivery that are manageable and compatible with ever changing COVID restrictions is yet another ball to juggle.

That's why we're launching a free new resource for primary teachers in Jan 2021 called Make a Difference in a Day which supports teachers in delivering a manageable, self-contained, one-off social action project in a single school day.

Based on our tried and tested Make a Difference Challenge, the Make a Difference in a Day initiative is designed with children's mental wellbeing in mind. The activities remind children that they can make a difference to the world around them, and that their contribution to communities, however small, will be felt even now during this turbulent period of our history.

The teacher's pack comprises a day's length of lesson plans and activities leading children through a mini social action project focused on one of the following areas: bringing communities together, raising awareness/fundraising, or protecting the environment. It is designed to be used as a drop down day, with either the whole school, a year group, or a single class. The social action activities suggested can all be completed inside the school gates and are COVID safe.     

A recent report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission warns ministers that the COVID-19 pandemic is having a "devastating" impact on children's rights and wellbeing and is "exacerbating existing inequalities". If you’re a primary school teacher interested in supporting children’s positive mental health through taking community action in 2021, please do register you interest in the Make a Difference in a Day initiative here to join us on the road to recovery.

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