Schools around the country welcomed their students back into the buildings. After long breaks, teachers were in front of students once again. School teams front-loaded the professional development needed around social-emotional and academics. I didn’t speak to anyone that wasn’t excited yet nervous about the return to school. We thought the pandemic was over and then we heard that the variants are spreading and there are heavy concerns. In other words, it’s not over.
As we continue to navigate through these trying times, we need to focus on our students and how they are being impacted. Through TV and other social media, they see adults protesting mask mandates while they hear that Covid cases are increasing. Many students are torn from what they see on their social media to what they really want to do. Students are eager to come back but the ongoing feedback they receive which can be inaccurate can cause students to question coming to school. Schools need to be ready for the anxiety all of this is causing and be ready for them to really come back to school.
We must not lose sight of the fact that students were out of buildings for 18 months. Although schools provided opportunities for students to return, it’s not until now that they are back in the building on a full-time basis. We’re now asking them to sit in desks, move from class to class, pay attention, wear a mask, and engage with new friends. This week was a great week, but the social emotional impact on our students needs to be at the forefront. Although schools might have extra mental health support and teachers that are dedicated to supporting their students, the emotions are high. I heard from one staff member that “We did not get a honeymoon.” The first week was exhausting because kids that are used to sitting at home are finding ways to express themselves in person.
As we move forward, we must focus on being empathetic and understanding with every student in the building. All of us experienced the past 18 months differently. For example, some students created make-shift classrooms in their rooms, while others weren’t able to complete schoolwork until late in the evening because they were taking care of their siblings. We must have the same level of empathy for every staff member that is working with our kids. Similar to the healthcare workers, though in a different capacity, our educators need support so that they can continue to be there for our students as we get used to the new normal. There are things that we can do as a society and should be considered.
Students need time to play and hang out in a school setting with friends that they haven’t seen in person. In order to achieve this, we still need to provide proper supervision and activities students can participate in. Do we put in the same amount of time for an academic lesson as we do in recess? It’s something to consider.
During remote learning, students experienced agency and voice in new ways. They could easily turn off their camera, or even their computer if they were disinterested or needed quiet space to complete the work. Behind the scenes, many of them were working independently and some were multitasking. The learning goals were set and if students were online, many of them would complete their assignments and meet the overall task on their own time. How do we take that learning into regular classrooms? Let’s give our students options and structures that are driven by them through their curiosity.
School schedules should be built around the needs of the community, not transportation. If there are shortage issues, the schedule should not be created at the expense of students or teachers. We need to prioritize funds that support students getting home safely and at reasonable times.
It’s easy to go back to what you knew in the classroom. Teachers and school leaders must be given time and professional development that is driven by them to make themselves better and to adjust to the new normal. Not only are we looking at academics, but, more importantly, we need to focus on equity in and out of the classroom. We need to take a close look at how equitable our teaching has been and what impact it’s had on students, especially our black and brown students, and then we must put the time and effort into making it more equitable.
Counseling Support for Staff
All districts have counseling services that teachers can reach out to if needed. Unfortunately, that is an old system and does not address the immediate need. Why not have a school counselor dedicated to adults? The counselor can be trained to listen and provide support. Many of the frustrations that educators feel are not necessarily coming from their classroom. Let’s think and support differently.
When you visit some successful organizations you always get the same level of high-quality service or greeting. As educators, we must celebrate our students and create positive environments regardless of how we are feeling. Students should be recognized for being in school, completing their work, and modeling the values of the school, and they should be rewarded for their efforts. During celebrations, empathy should be interwoven in the way school leaders and teachers shout out the hard work of the students. We have to remember that it’s not just the educators who are working hard, the students are doing their best as well.
School environments should be set up not to herd students into class, but to create an environment where students have opportunities to engage. Therefore, there should be seating in the hallways for small discussions and the cafeteria should be set up in a safe manner so that students can interact. Structures need to be set and explained to students so they understand the rationale. And although safety is the number one priority, the first thing that should come to mind when you walk through any building is that it feels welcoming. Finally, educators should be in the hallways greeting students with a smile as they are scanning for students that might need additional support.
Granted, education is hard but let’s not go back to the old normal. Let’s move forward with a new normal. It’s going to require systemic changes that have prevented students from learning in the past but will help our students for the future.
Let’s meet them where they’re at.
Be. Involved. . . .Be. Intentional. . . .Be. Generous. . . .Be. Innovative. . . . Be. Beacon. . . .