What social-emotional needs will students return with?

Teachers may see more emotional and behavioral outbursts in their classrooms
By: | May 6, 2020
Social-emotional learning will be important when schools reopen because students are missing out on critical activities and connections with friends and educators.(GettyImages.com/FatCamera)Social-emotional learning will be important when schools reopen because students are missing out on critical activities and connections with friends and educators.(GettyImages.com/FatCamera)

Social-emotional learning supports will be key when schools reopen because students will return with varying degrees of anxiety and stress.

Right now, most students are missing out on critical activities and connections with friends and educators.

Teachers, therefore, may see more emotional and behavioral outbursts in their classrooms, said Katie Rosanbalm, a senior research scientist at the Duke Center for Child and Family Policy.

Before schools reopen, teachers and adults can learn breathing skills and other mindfulness techniques for calming themselves down, and pass these skills on to their students and children, Rosenbalm said Wednesday during a Duke University webinar series on the pandemic’s impacts on education and society.


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“In order for kids to be in a mindset where they can learn and absorb information, they have to feel calm, safe and secure,” Rosenbalm said. “Not all kids are in safe environments at home, and child maltreatment is a growing concern.”

Social distancing guidelines will make classroom management an issue, particularly in the early grades.

Schools should consider dividing students into smaller groups within kindergarten and first-grade classes, Rosenbalm said.

“Social distancing isn’t something small children are going to be able to do—they just don’t understand it,” she said. “I don’t see a likely scenario where we have our youngest kids not coming into contact with one another.”

Attendance will be another source of stress, particularly if some families are afraid to let students return to classrooms, said Kristen Stephens, an associate professor of education.

“What weighs on teachers’ minds is they’re worried about students they haven’t been able to contact,” Stephens said. “For a lot of kids, schools are a haven and teachers understand that some of their students may be struggling and it’s hard because they can’t go and visit.”

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