Why slower school supports students’ social-emotional health
The experiences of educators who’ve dealt with tornados, hurricanes and other natural disasters can provide some guidance as schools reopen in the “uncharted territory” of the continuing coronavirus pandemic.
Educators may be inclined to speed up instruction to tackle learning loss but that would be a mistake, says Mylien Duong, a child psychologist and senior research scientist at Committee for Children, which created the widely used Second Step SEL program.
“Students and teachers need to be regulated as they navigate these new challenges,” Duong says. “Teachers and administrators have to be prepared to slow down the pace of instruction so students can be successful.”
Educators should recommit to what they know about building connections with students. Holding a morning meeting each day before instruction starts gives teachers and students time to get to know each other.
It also gives students dealing with stress and anxiety a critical opportunity to express their emotions.
“Students are going to feel like they’re not in control of their lives and they’re going to act out in ways that are going to be challenging,” Duong says. “One way to prevent that is to give them more voice and choice over things like assignments and who gets to lead the morning meeting.”
SEL applies to teachers, too
Building this sense of community will also help students cope with being separated from friends and other familiar faces in schools that have been sectioned off to reduce interaction between groups.
“They won’t have the opportunity to mingle and mix with people they’ve been most comfortable with,” says Juliet Kandel, the implementation and training manager for Second Step.
When school begins, Duong and Kandel urge educators to be honest and up-front with students if they ask about whether schools will have to close again. Teachers are allowed to say “we’re not quite sure” and point out that schools remaining open depend on how rapidly COVID-19 is spreading in the fall.
The level of detail teachers give should be age-appropriate as they try to reassure students that the adults in the building are working to keep them safe, they say.
For example, elementary school students can be told that staying six-feet apart and washing hands is important because there is no medicine yet to treat coronavirus, Duong says.
It’s also critical for educators to be aware of their own anxieties and take steps to regulate their emotions.
“Children look to adults to decide how freaked out they should be,” Duong says. “So it’s especially important for educators to focus on their own self-care.”
DA’s coronavirus page offers complete coverage of the impacts on K-12.