The Not-Quite Post-Pandemic School Year

Many educators are still reeling from the past year of virtual, hybrid, then virtual, no wait, hybrid-again learning. Students, parents, and teachers have had to pivot so often during the 2020-2021 academic school year that we all deserve to be validated for our struggles (and give ourselves some space for our heads to stop spinning). This wasn’t easy, in fact, it was traumatizing. We have all had to deal with the shifts in routines, along with the fact that we were functioning beneath the luminous cloud of Covid-19. And it is not over yet. We are still trudging the murky waters of this pandemic as the Delta variant continues to rise.

As many states begin the return to school and many educators in the Tri-state area have hit the mid-way mark of summer, there is no way around thinking about what the 2021-2022 academic school year will look like. One aspect of the upcoming school year that is taking up a lot of my mental space is the social-emotional well-being of my own children and students. For many students this has been over a year of virtual learning. 16 months and counting where children were suddenly taken out of their routines, thrust into a new, virtual reality. Many children have lost loved ones, grandparents and parents. In the United States, more than 40,000 children have lost a parent due to Covid. Globally, more than a million children have lost a parent due to Covid.

“Children who lose a parent are at elevated risk of traumatic grief, depression, poor educational outcomes, and unintentional death or suicide, and these consequences can persist into adulthood,” authors wrote in a research letter published today in JAMA Pediatrics.

AAP News

Separation Anxiety

In addition to the grief students may have experienced, separation anxiety is a phenomena younger children often face, however, due to COVID it seems this will be more common in school age children opposed to toddlers. The pandemic has given adults anxiety, we have all had to learn to navigate the fear of the unknown as children watched. Now imagine saying to kids we have to stay home because it is not safe outside, all of a sudden sending them back into their school buildings. While some families were able to keep their children in school, 65% of Americans received online instruction during the pandemic. Shifting gears and going back to school will be yet another transition to make.

Data map of the US on virtual learning during Covid

Emotional Well-Being As a Top Priority

The pandemic is ongoing and whether educators like it or not, a huge portion of this burden will be ours to carry. The virtual/hybrid debacle was tough but the upcoming academic year where we are constantly untangling the complexities of an ongoing pandemic will be just as difficult. The only way to overcome these difficulties or at least cope with it all in a responsible manner is to create a safe, stable environment in the classroom on a daily basis. Often, classroom teachers are under pressure to meet academic deadlines. However, if we do not establish a trusting, safe environment where students can enjoy their time in class and feel safe, teaching only becomes an uphill battle. This is true in an ordinary year and will be more relevant in the upcoming academic school year.

“If you feel safe and loved, your brain becomes specialized in exploration, play, and cooperation; if you are frightened and unwanted, it specializes in managing feelings of fear and abandonment.”

The Body Keeps The Score, Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D.

Teacher Tools

Morning Meetings are the way to go for elementary students. I know it becomes more complicated in the middle and high school level but journaling time for middle to high school students at the start of class really helps set the tone for the rest of the session. Here are some general ideas, however, I often like to integrate the prompt to reflect student life as well as the unit we have been studying. This looks different in all classrooms.

60-Second Strategy is an end of class activity that I implemented prior to Covid and students loved. This linked version is an appreciation, apology, or aha! moment at the end of class. This can also be used as a brain break to check in with students when you have block periods to help check in and refocus.

In essence it is about giving students the language necessary to communicate their ideas and needs. Particularly during a not-quite yet post-pandemic school year.

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