The upcoming school year is full of uncertainties. Many of us are wondering if we’ll be in buildings or if school will be virtual. We can’t imagine how we’ll manage social distancing with children. We’re also thinking about how different each child’s learning experience has been over the past few months. These thoughts can be mind boggling.
One of the strategies I use when I’m feeling overwhelmed is to separate the things I have control over from the things I don’t. In this case, I can’t control decisions made at the state or district level about how school will look. I can’t change how much each child has grown academically during their time in quarantine. What I can control is how I choose to support my students’ emotional needs during the upcoming school year. No matter where we are or how school is structured, there are some things I am certain my students, co-workers and I will need moving forward.
Patience with children and each other: Everyone is in a different place emotionally right now. It’s easy to fall into the trap of making assumptions about how others are feeling. When we’re not careful, it’s easy to project our own feelings onto others. It takes constant effort to remember we’re each bringing different baggage to this pandemic. All our past experiences change how we manage our current situations. We need to trust everyone is doing the best they can. Children don’t have the tools or strategies to constructively manage their stress and anxiety. My plan is to view misbehavior as a sign my students are feeling uncomfortable and then brainstorm ways to help them return to a comfortable state.
A desire to understand: We’re going to experience anxiety from our co-workers, our students, and our students’ parents. It’s a given and it’s going to show up in ugly ways. Let’s take time to listen and use open-ended questions to find out what others need from us. How can I help you? How are you feeling? What would be helpful right now? What would things look like if they were as you’d like them to be? And sometimes our quiet presence is enough. It’s going to take some practice to determine how to support each person in each unique situation.
Routine and structure – Many kids (and teachers) have lacked routines for several months. Routines help us feel safe and secure. Predictability eases anxiety. Sometimes, when we think about routine and structure, we imagine squeezing in a lot of work, being efficient and getting many tasks accomplished. It’s going to be important for us to ease up on academic work expectations the first couple weeks of school and, instead, focus on helping kids feel safe, secure and connected. Think about ways you can stick to a schedule while reducing the academic demands that tend to trigger anxiety. Partner work, games, music and table top activities can serve as both relationship builders and low-stress academic tasks. We’re going to need to move slowly to move fast.
Joy – During an uncertain time, we’re all on edge. Joy can ease tension and help everyone feel relaxed. Brainstorm ways to bring laughter into your classroom. One great strategy is to laugh at yourself. If you’re anything like me, you make plenty of silly mistakes. Those mistakes serve as wonderful opportunities to model appropriate reactions to messing up, while also making your students laugh. Fresh flowers, a clean, uncluttered, welcoming environment, and fun, hands-on activities also add joy to the classroom. We can be certain that the world outside our walls will still be pretty serious. Let’s provide some relief by bringing a little happiness into our students’ lives.
This is my plan for both my students and myself this upcoming school year: “The goal is to grow so strong on the inside that nothing on the outside can affect your inner wellness without your conscious permission.” Marc Chernoff