We’ve learned a lot about health and hygiene in the past 20 months, from how important it is to wash our hands, to avoid touching our faces after contact with possibly unclean surfaces and objects, to cough and sneeze into our elbows…not to speak of the protection masks and physical distancing can offer in preventing infection. We’ve also learned a lot about how to keep ourselves mentally strong in the face of uncertainty, the need for social and emotional support to maintain our composure and hope, and the power of networks in keeping the world going. From YouTube tutorials on home sanitization tips to family WhatsApp forwards about the effectiveness of turmeric chai, we’ve probably never spent as many hours and words on the topic of health as we did since the COVID-19 pandemic hit us.
But if you think about it, many of our “new” realizations are not so new at all. Public health specialists have been for years telling us about the power of prevention, about how it’s better to focus on staying healthy than on figuring out what to do when we become ill. Preventive health – whether to do with our physical, psychological or emotional selves – requires a little bit of planning and forethought, but can have significant financial benefits and reduce suffering. Many of the behaviours and practices advocated by public health professionals are just small, everyday acts that shape the ways in which we manage our bodies, our minds, our environments and our interactions. These are habits that can be built at home, at school, and in our communities. Some of course need an investment in infrastructure, but there are many things we can do as individuals and as small groups – all it takes is a change in mindset and a bit of mindfulness.
In putting together the cover theme for this issue, we asked the contributors to think about what it means to make the school a healthy space, in the broadest possible terms. How can we take the learning from this past year of preoccupation with disease and wellness and put it into the way we run our lives? What should we do to create a climate that not only educates about but also promotes wellbeing? What can this look like not only for the children but also for the rest of the school community – teachers, support staff, all others who form this large network?
We’ve all learned how to do this for our family units, and we’ve survived a challenging year. It’s time now to put that learning to use for our workspaces and lifespaces as well.