The holiday season was stressful for many of our students and families who struggle with finances, family dynamics, food insecurity, housing issues, amongst other things. Then there is the added stressors of winter weather, recent events in our country, changes to school attendance plans, and the pandemic. What can you do to help?
Before you can reach a student’s head to learn, you have to reach their heart and earn their trust. Educators should strive to be that support, especially during this pandemic and amid the civil unrest we are experiencing.
Pre-pandemic, nearly a third of teenagers had experienced a trauma or were in a chronic state of trauma such as abuse, homelessness, foster care, hunger, bullying, substance abuse in the home and even human trafficking. Traumatized children who learn to thrive have someone in their life who encourages them and believes in their success. Here are seven key principles from EdSource educators can implement now:
Recognize your own feelings first. Just like on an airplane, you must put on your air mask before you can help others. That starts with acknowledging the grief and dislocation we are all experiencing. Take the self-care actions required so you can offer calm and empathy to students.
Create a sense of stability with flexibility. In times of change and uncertainty, consistency with flexibility is important. Some teachers are setting appointments with their students in the evening so communication during the pandemic occurs regularly but on the student’s schedule.
Listen and validate honestly. Adults often want to “fix” things, when a student just wants to be heard and supported. Instead of saying, “don’t feel bad” or “be strong,” acknowledging their feelings is the best way to earn trust and build a relationship.
Encourage students to ask for help. Be there when they reach out for support but know when you need to refer the student to another professional. A crisis situation may require involvement and collaboration with child/adult protective services, a mental health response team, law enforcement or community mental health agencies. Let students know that you will support them throughout the process, and then follow through.
FCS: Don’t forget to “Clue In” Your School Counselor when…
You hear of a traumatic event that happened in a student’s life.
You find out a student’s family member/close friend has passed away or is very sick.
A student has been missing from your class for several days.
You have noticed a significant change in the student’s mood, behavior, and/or hygiene.
Someone reaches out to you regarding a student they are concerned about.
School Counselors serve as a first line of defense in identifying and addressing a student’s social/emotional needs. They have unique training in helping students with social/emotional issues that become barriers to academic success. They know and utilize counseling theories to provide both direct (classroom curriculum, group counseling, and individual counseling) and indirect (collaborating or consulting with staff, families, or communities) services. School Counselors also serve as a referral source for students when social/emotional issues become too great to be dealt with by school staff, including crisis interventions.
School Counselors are here for students, families, staff, and communities when traumatic events happen, so please remember to “Clue In” Your School Counselor!
Set appropriate expectations. Recognize each student’s abilities and circumstances or barriers before setting expectations. Be clear about what you expect and your confidence in the student’s ability to rise to the occasion. Notice and celebrate each success, no matter how small.
Remind them they are not alone. Everyone could probably use that kind of reassurance these days. Students are not alone in their struggles even though they may sometimes feel they are. Research shows that when adversity feels like a shared experience, we cope better — not only emotionally, but neurologically. Creating opportunities for peer support allows students to help each other, sharing their strength and giving them a sense of purpose.
Use a personalized approach. Students don’t all learn the same way, and they don’t deal with trauma the same way. Many of our students reach high school reading at a fifth-grade level. And many others have never received counseling to deal with stress and grief. It is important to develop a program for the student that deals with their social-emotional concerns while tailoring curriculum to their instructional needs.
Also, remember to schedule time in your day for the TIC Tip of the Month from December 2020: Five to Thrive from EnvisionEdPlus: 5 Steps to Better Breathing; 5 Senses Grounding; 5 Minute Stress-Relief Scavenger Hunt; and 5 Foods that De-Stress. Practice the strategies yourself, and teach the strategies to your family, friends, and students.
The January TIC Tip of the Month is modified from an EdSource article titled 7 things teachers can do to address student trauma – especially during distance learning (Caprice Young, July 13, 2020).