What’s Most Important Upon a Return to School? Social and Emotional Learning
By Adam Parker, School Psychologist
In the middle of March, 2020 schools across the world closed their doors to stop the spread of Covid-19. What came next was the balancing act of parents having children at home, remote learning, and trying to manage our fears and emotions. Days before state assessment would begin we had to shift our thoughts from state standards to social-emotional wellbeing and that lens needs to be the focus moving forward.
Job loss, fear, illness, closed borders, anxiety, and death are the words that have been surrounding our lives for the last four months, and that affects children just as negatively as it affects adults.
It’s important to understand who can help, how to help, and what can be done at both school and home. Let’s look ahead to the first two weeks of school and beyond.
Who Can Help at School?
As Mr. Rogers said, “Look for the helpers.” In school, psychologists, social workers, and counselors are wonderful resources. Mental health professionals in each building will be available to check in with students. They will be using a combination of social-emotional lessons, games, and activities to make sure students are doing well and are able to transition back to the building.
What Can It Look Like?
There will be some big skills to focus on including resilience, perseverance, expressing feelings, and being positive. As teachers are leading their daily classroom meetings, conversations about each of these topics will be helpful.
Expressing Your Feelings
There have been some difficult experiences and setbacks over the last few months. Perhaps a parent lost a job, a loved one got sick, birthday parties, graduations, and big life events were missed, and visiting our friends hasn’t been an option for months. We have every right to feel sad, mad, scared, or frustrated. Being able to express that appropriately will be valuable moving forward.
Teaching students to use I-messages like “I have been feeling frustrated that I can’t practice soccer with my friends” can lead to a conversation about how to solve that problem.
Here is a link on I-Messages you could share with students:
Asking for Help
Teaching students to ask for help will be another valuable skill as we return to school. Not being in the school building for such a long time will leave many with gaps in their learning and routines, and being able to ask for help is how we can all get back in our groove.
Kahlil Gibran once said, “No matter how long the storm lasts the sun always shines behind the clouds.” The only way we can get through the past is to look forward and that is exactly the message that should be ringing through classrooms.
Thinking about positives that came out of this time off, like practicing a new skill, more time with family, and realizing we don’t need to constantly be GO GO GOING are all important lessons. We have had a gift of time these last few months and we can use what we have learned to be even better moving forward.
Encourage your students to share things they learned during this time. Have a discussion about the new habits they established and express your own optimism for the future.
Here is a link to share with students about optimism.
Resiliency is defined as our ability to bounce back from a difficult life event. How we bounce back from Covid-19 will set the foundation for how we move forward. Having conversations with your class around ways you’ve shown resiliency will help model what being resilient can look like. Open the discussion around how we show resiliency in our daily lives, why it’s important, and how your class will be resilient moving forward.
Doing Kind Things for Others
Compassion and empathy will be helpful tools in making school feel safe again. As a school community, we need to show caring and kindness for others. We have all been through a traumatic event and showing that we are there for each other on the other side will truly build our strength. It can be as simple as remembering to say good morning to a friend, setting a time for a zoom call with someone you don’t often talk to, or providing an ear to listen when someone is upset. After months of isolation from our classmates a little compassion, empathy and kindness will go a long way.
Here is a link to share with students around compassion and another around empathy.
Upon returning to school, peer interactions and connections will be a huge focus. One helpful idea is for teachers to create a buddy system so that students always have someone to turn to and check-in with. It will have been 157 days since students were in a classroom together and having a buddy or support system will make this difficult transition easier.
The First 10 Days
Getting back to school will be filled with many emotions, some of which we won’t be able to control like happiness, fear, anxiety, and excitement. What we can control is the supports we have in place for students and children. We can have powerful and meaningful conversations around feelings, friendships, and the future.
We can help ground our students by sharing our experiences and growths, by working with our mental health providers, and by being present for our class every day.
The first days back in the building will make our hearts race and our nerves feel tense, but you can choose to look at that like fear or excitement. Will you be afraid and frozen, or use the adrenalin to promote change and move forward?
As you step back into your schools remember that social-emotional wellbeing should be our biggest focus. It is easier to connect with our peers and classmates if we know that we are in a safe and loving environment. Remember to the world you are teachers but to your students, you are a hero.
My name is Adam Parker and I am a School Psychologist who has a passion for making learning fun. I’ve used music, sports, and nature to help students feel comfortable to share their feelings. Lately I have been creating daily social-emotional videos and songs for students during these uncertain times. I like to bring fun back to school!
To be reminded why your work is so very important and for more stories and advice, visit our collection of teacher perspectives at The Art of Teaching.