The COVID-19 pandemic has been a difficult time for all of us. It’s a time of uncertainty, isolation, and loss. As adults, we have some control over how we grapple with this situation and take steps to proactively or reactively protect our mental health. We read articles, discuss what is happening with friends and families, take breaks, walk, meditate, exercise, or even just sleep. We can also step back and reflect on our emotional and mental health.
Now imagine what this must be like for children. Even the most sheltered child can tell when things are “off” with the adults around them and the world is certainly “off” right now. Their routines have been disrupted, the adults in their life are likely stressed or scared, and unlike adults, they don’t always have the agency or ability to self-sooth. It’s likely frightening. Children, unlike us, are less equipped to manage their emotional response to this new reality and it’s up to us to help them through.
So, while we don’t yet have all the answers and are still learning each day how to support our most vulnerable, let’s take a look at some of the best practices and resources to support the behavioral and emotional wellbeing of our students:
Building Behaviors that Support Remote Learning
Set a strategic schedule
As you get to know more about scholars’ life outside of school, you’ll build a better understanding of when throughout the day they are better able to concentrate on academics. Work with them and their parents to set a routine that prioritizes a consistent learning time when the student is most focused and least likely to be disrupted.
Check Your Assumptions
The reality is that this pandemic is affecting each of us in vastly different ways. A family might be facing an entirely different set of challenges and their perspective on what is or isn’t a priority might differ from yours. Students (and people in general) become verbally combative or emotional when they feel unheard or misunderstood. When students aren’t exhibiting the behaviors you expect from them, first ask yourself if you made those expectations clear, or if you simply assumed that everyone would be on the same page. Then, ask students clear, objective, and concise questions about why they chose to do what they did and what they were hoping would be the outcome. Only then is it effective to focus on next steps.
It’s completely reasonable for us and our scholars to struggle to perform at our optimal levels during this time. While we, as adults, can reflect on our performance and reason with ourselves, children often haven’t developed these skills. So, one failure, one misstep, one technology issue, can easily send them over the edge and into a downwards spiral of poor choices. Help students set realistic expectations and goals over the phone or virtually during a break. Use the acronym S.M.A.R.T (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely) as a blueprint for goal creation.
Just like you would in a normal classroom-context, acknowledge students’ progress. During remote learning, this might look like, “I see Serah tracking the screen with her pencil in hand, let me see who else is ready to learn like Serah.” Acknowledging a student in a remote learning platform (just like in the classroom) can help the student and teacher shift their mindset from previous undesired behaviors and contribute to a growth mindset that allows the student to feel successful.
Get creative with incentives
Online learning can make it difficult to implement incentives that were simple in the classroom. So, it’s time to get creative! Virtual field trips to museums, Minecraft playgrounds, Kahoot, livestreaming aquariums, and positive phone calls/messages home are fun incentives for both the families and teachers to do with students.
Supporting Scholars Emotionally During a Difficult Time
Assume the best
We all win when we assume the best in each other. No matter how many times students and parents struggle to login to a session on time, call you back, or submit digital assignments, it’s important to assume that they are trying their best. Approach conversations (particularly difficult ones) with compassion, understanding, and humility. When you can support students and their families by advising on how to organize their learning space (lighting, utensils, quiet space, etc.) or set reminders for classes and assignments.
Provide Strategic Breaks
If your schedule allows, schedule strategic breaks to check in with students you know have less structured home lives and thrive off personal relationships. You may still be the person they interact with more than anyone else, giving your time to simply connect with them on a personal level can go a long way.
We’re all in this together and the more we can support each other, the better off we will all be. These are just some tips and tricks to help support scholars during a particularly stressful time. For more advice and to access other third-party resources, check out the links below.
Emotional Support Resources
Crisis Text Line – This resource offers 24/7 crisis counseling to those who text HOME to 741741.
Talking to Children About COVID-19 (Coronavirus): A Parent Resource — National Association of School Psychologists. This site offers guidance for talking to young people about the coronavirus in a way that is factual and anxiety-reducing.
COVID-19 (Coronavirus) Information and Resources — National Alliance on Mental Illness. This thorough resource includes tips for how to deal with anxiety caused by COVID-19 news and special considerations for people experiencing homelessness, people with vulnerable family members and people who feel isolated.
Care for Your Coronavirus Anxiety – A website with resources for addressing anxiety that educators may be feeling, including that induced by xenophobia, financial fears, isolation and more. It also includes a special portal for parents.
Parent/Caregiver Guide to Helping Families Cope With the Coronavirus Disease 2019 — The National Child Traumatic Stress Network. This printable resource, available in several languages, includes information for families and caregivers that educators can use and share. Particularly helpful is the section outlining common reactions to stress and recommendations for supporting children that are broken down by age group.
This post was contributed by the Deans of Classical Charter Schools. As a non-CMO charter network, we rely on the thoughts, opinions, and innovations of our staff to move our mission forward and provide an excellent academic option to families in the South Bronx. To hear more from our staff, check out the next post! Or, click here to learn more.