How to ease back to in-person learning

5 ways to help students—and staff—have less anxiety about returning to school buildings
By: | January 11, 2021
Getty Images, LeoPatriziGetty Images, LeoPatrizi

The unpredictability of COVID-19 means that while many districts have returned to full in-person learning, many also have retained either a fully remote or hybrid learning schedule. Still others returned to in-person learning and then had to pivot to remote learning due to positive cases in the building, and then pivot back again.

In any of these cases, students and staff may be apprehensive to return to the building. “There’s a lot of unknowns and this unprecedented uncertainty,” says Timothy J. Callahan, director of mental health services at Greene County Educational Service Center in Yellow Springs, Ohio. “Be gentle. Move them in slowly.”

Here are a few actions to help ease everyone back into the school building.

  1. Use personal protective equipment. Screens, masks and plexiglass divisions were purchased at Callahan’s school, and masks are required for students and staff when they returned to in-person learning. “Interestingly, we were worried they’d make kids feel unsafe,” he says. “But it’s like TSA. No one likes taking their shoes off, but it makes you feel safer.”
  2. Spend time on stress management. “The beautiful thing about stress management is that it works when you use it,” Callahan says. “We recommend a variety of things depending on the ages of the student.” Yoga and meditation are two, though meditation is a skill that takes time to perfect.
  3. Provide fun activities. Children learn by playing. Things that people may think are just playful are actually integral to education. Bring in more art and music therapy to the classroom, for example. Or get students outside to do activities like disc golf, he suggests.
  4. Foster relationships. Greet students out front or meet them at the bus when they return to school. Having several relationship connection points gives students reassurance. Read their expressions to try and ascertain how they are doing.
  5. Think outside the box—and your boundaries. Look to other states to see what experiments have worked for them. Then, think outside the box. For example, Callahan plans to set up canopy tents outside to serve as socially distanced outdoor therapy offices.

Florence Simmons covers Section 504, paraprofessionals, and transportation for Special Ed Connection, a DA sister publication.