As educators, we have a unique opportunity to provide our students with a sense of safety, connectedness, and hope during the month of May and beyond. Through our positive relationships and support, we can help students cope with possible mental health issues, such as anxiety.
Anxiety is one of the words you hear frequently used to describe the individual and collective reactions to the coronavirus pandemic. Kids may be anxious, as well as parents, school staff, friends, and elected officials. For those people who were anxious before covid-19, the sense of apprehension may have intensified. While many educators have, and continue to build strong relationships and resilience with students, the following reminders may provide additional ideas for planning and interacting with students.
Relationships and well-being can take priority over assignment and behavioral compliance.
Educators should let relationships be the focus; however, it is important to ensure students have structure and to hold high expectations. Students will fare best if they know their teachers care about their well-being just as much as their behavior and assignment compliance.
Educators can display their investment by creating relational rituals before checking on distance learning assignments with students. For example, students and educators can share one tough moment and one hopeful moment of the day, or educators and students can share one new lesson they learned about themselves. Participating in these shares can help educators build and maintain connection despite the distance.
Here are a few key points educators need to understand about stress, trauma and their effects. Fortunately, there are specific approaches to student support we can prioritize during this crisis. Stress and difficult life circumstances can particularly affect three areas: a sense of safety, feelings of connectedness, and feelings of hope. In each of these areas, educators can make an impact!
A sense of safety
A sense of safety is the belief that your needs — and the needs of those you care about — will be met. It is a belief that you will be protected from harm and that those around you will be safe. Educators can expect that many students’ sense of safety will be compromised right now. None of us have ever seen a time like this, when institutions that provide safety and structure are closed, and the news talks about death rates and hospital bed shortages. For the many families that are experiencing or will experience significant income loss. This crisis may also mean food insecurity or an inability to pay rent and bills — all of which can severely damage a student’s sense of safety. There are steps educators can take to support a sense of safety in children.
- Reach out and encourage students to connect with them or another trusted adult or counselor to talk about their safety concerns. Offer students a way to connect if there is something that they need help with or are worried about.
- Encourage students to talk to friends or family members on the phone.
- Help students plan some virtual playdates to distract them from their worries.
- Recommend, or include in lesson plans and packets, fun home activities.
- Encourage families and caregivers to avoid watching the news in front of their children (as that can be upsetting), keep as much of a regular family routine as possible, and plan activities such as going for walks or playing board or video games together.
Connectedness refers to having relationships with others who can understand and support you. As we are practicing social distancing and have closed most public places, educators will need to get creative to help students feel connected. To foster a sense of connectedness, educators can:
- Make time to ask students about something fun they are doing right now.
- Greet students by name and create a touch-free or virtual routine (similar to a handshake, a hug or a high five) to invite connection, either online or at meal pickup.
- Consider putting students together in small groups to work on projects or activities and encouraging students to work together online or by phone. These activities may include virtual puzzles or scavenger hunts. The key is to help the student feel connected to others in the class by sharing an important part of themselves that helps the class get to know them better.
- Foster a sense of community by highlighting each student’s contribution to the group activity.
- Plan activities through the use of web-conferencing sites that allow students to see, hear and interact with each other and their teacher.
- Talk directly about the importance of connecting with others.
- Incorporate time for play and fun activities into online lesson plans or take-home packets.
Hope is the expectation that everything will work out and the feeling that things will be alright. Right now, many people may be feeling discouraged, hopeless or angry. Adults and students may be feeling a great sense of loss for activities that will not be taking place as usual. Students may be disappointed in missing out on sports, competition, performances, and other important rituals of the spring semester. To encourage a sense of hope, educators can:
- Have students connect with someone in their family or community to ask how they stayed hopeful in troubled times.
- Teach about other historical times of crisis, including how these ended and communities rebounded.
- Encourage students to get fresh air and to move when possible.
- Share some of the many stories of hope and helping that have come out of this current crisis.
- Share a positive affirmation or a strength of the student — it can go a long way right now.
- Facilitate virtual meetings or phone calls with trusted adults who can show students a different perspective, help to identify their talents and strengths, list their options and resources, and encourage and support them.
Adapted from The Washington Post (Valerie Strauss March 26, 2020). For the full article visit: Washington Post Article