In all of my years in education, I have never had a time where I was so consumed by the emotional welfare of the students, and families, whom I serve. That is not to say that I never cared in the past about my students. Quite the contrary actually; I have always taken home the heartaches, struggles, and celebrations that my students have endured in their time with me and beyond. I was the type of teacher who dug deep in an effort to connect with my students and to assure them that no matter what life threw their way, I was always there for them. While I am no longer an actual classroom teacher, as a building principal, I have an entire school of learners (both the student learners and the teacher learners) to whom I am feeling a tremendous responsibility to ensure that they are feeling supported during this time.
There are many aspects of supporting social and emotional learning (SEL) and wellness during our current crisis education model. I intentionally refer to it as crisis schooling, because that is exactly what we are doing for our students. This is not homeschooling; this is crisis schooling. I read an excellent article a few weeks ago about how a homeschooling parent chooses to educate their child(ren) at home, spends months/years preparing to deliver instruction to their child(ren), builds in conscientious social interactions to support the emotional welfare of the child(ren), and oftentimes makes the education of their child(ren) their full time role. None of that is true of our current circumstances. We are educating children in the home, often with working parents or parents who are under great duress because they have lost their job due to the circumstances. These parents have not chosen to homeschool their child(ren), many of them never aspired to be educators nor are proficient in instructional practices or content. Our children are not participating in social interactions beyond a screen and many are feeling the fear and uncertainty associated with this massive shift for which they had no preparation. This is not homeschooling, this is crisis schooling. This is a critical consideration when we determine how to best serve the SEL needs of our students; we are in a time of crisis and crisis requires great support and attention to emotional wellbeing.
How can we support both our students and their families during this time of crisis? The first recommendation is to ask them how they are doing. Sometimes just asking how someone is promotes a strong sense of being supported. There are several ways we can go about asking how our students and families are doing. We can offer a survey that invites feedback on the social and emotional well being of the students and their parents. We can make phone calls to the homes or reach out via email. Once we know how they are doing, we can begin to address the needs that exist and also celebrate the strengths that are helping to get them through these trying times. I like to refer to this as showing we care.
Another critical step we can take in supporting the emotional well being of our students is to maintain a sense of connectedness. By creating ways for our students to connect, both with each other and with their teachers, we are able to continue to foster the critical relationships that exist in schools. Often the general perception of a school is that it is a place where children are educated. While this is very true, and is the core purpose of school, there are so many other elements to school that are easily lost in the transition to distance learning. One of the most critical of those elements is the relationships that drive a child’s day while at school. Relationships with peers and with teachers are important aspects of a child’s development. For some children, the most trusted person in their life may exist within the walls of their school. When we take away access to these people, it can be very traumatic for many children. We must strive to maintain connections via video conferencing, phone calls, tools like FlipGrid, or, when all else fails, good old fashioned postal mail. One way to another, we must find ways to stay connected to our students.
Another important aspect to supporting the SEL needs of our students is to manage our expectations, thereby offering them reassurance that they will succeed. While we strive to know all of our students on a personal level, it is sometimes impossible to truly know what a child goes home to each day. We must be mindful that each one of our students has their own story once they enter through the doors of their homes and that the “classroom” that exists inside that home most likely looks nothing like the classroom in which we are accustomed to teaching our students. We need to be flexible, understanding, lenient within reason, and creative in our approaches so that we are supporting students regardless of their circumstances. Through a compassionate and flexible approach, we are more likely to engage learners and find success in the distance learning model.
The Ready Learner One team is proud to offer you the following focused compilation of resources to assist you with identifying the best practices in SEL to support your learners, not only during distance learning but also once we are able to return to the classrooms.
Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post in the Ready Virtual Learner One Series focusing on Spanning the Whole- EdTech for Everyone. Wishing you good health!
About the author: Christine Lion-Bailey is the Chief Strategy Officer for Ready Learner One LLC and a Director of Technology & Innovation in New Jersey. She is also is the coauthor of Reality Bytes: Innovative Learning Using Augmented and Virtual Reality. Christine is an advocate for innovative thought and practices in learning, both through instruction and leadership, across K-12, higher ed, and corporate spaces. Follow Christine on Twitter at @clionbailey.