While many students are excited to head back to the classroom, most are sharing their worries and concerns about how the school will keep them safe and what will be involved in adjusting to a new normal. There is much anxiety in the unknowns that accompany a transition back to the physical classroom—not only for students, but also for their parents, their teachers, and school staff.
Let’s talk about how we might help each other address the anxiety of anticipation. How might we help address parents’ fears when they are not allowed into the classroom? How might we help students feel safe in the classroom? How might we support teachers as they manage classroom and community responsibilities, the emotional well-being of their students, and their own concerns? And most importantly, how might we intentionally create restorative circles for each group, for the purpose of reconnecting, reestablishing trust, and collaborating?
Join us this week as we talk further with Cherie Spencer, a Social and Emotional Learning Coordinator from Galveston, Texas, about how we might manage these transitions, while also providing care and support structures for all those involved. Managing transitions is hard, and during a pandemic, transitions become even more complicated. However, rest assured that transitions can be planned with intention, grace, flexibility, and compassion.
Times of transition are strenuous, but I love them. They are an opportunity to purge, rethink priorities, and be intentional about new habits. We can make our new normal any way we want.
Kristin Armstrong, Olympic gold medalist
The following are resources available on AVID Open Access to explore this topic in more depth:
Preparing for the Transition Back to the Classroom
As schools and families prepare for their students to return to the physical classroom, teachers, staff, students, and parents are wondering what to anticipate. School staff will need to support students’ emotional health, while simultaneously managing their own transition back to the classroom and the related anxiety. Below are suggestions for how to support this transition for your community.
- Plan ahead. The more that you plan ahead as school staff and as a family, the more that it will help alleviate worries—your own and your students’. As school staff, share safety precautions with students and their families. Seeing is believing. Consider filming A Day in the Life of a Student Back in the Classroom to share what classrooms, hallways, and public gathering spots will look like, as well as the new procedures that will be in place to keep students and staff safe. A video will help settle the nerves of both students and their parents.
- Share worries. Plan staff meetings where teachers can share their concerns, struggles, and worries about the transition. By focusing on restorative circle practices, teachers can share what is happening to them, reconnect with their professional learning community (PLC), and purposefully plan for how to manage the contingencies that come with the transition. The same is true for families. Have a family meeting and talk to your children about their worries, their fears, and their excitement. What are they looking forward to the most? What makes them worry? Create a safe space for the conversation and help manage fears by labeling emotions to help children hone awareness of their own feelings.
- Anticipate anxiety. Many students have been out of the classroom for more than a year. Being around others may come with some anxiety. Help by providing students and their families with the reassurance that comes with new protocols that respect the restrictions associated with gathering during COVID-19. Practice reframing negative thoughts and provide students with examples of positive affirmations and self-talk to help them manage their stress. For school staff, provide opportunities to visit schools that have already transitioned back so that staff can ask questions and experience the school day for themselves. For everyone, find moments to practice mindfulness activities—such as deep-breathing techniques—to send signals to the brain that are calming and can lower stress.
- Proactively check in. We know from past pandemics that the impact on mental health lasted years after long periods of isolation. To address the collective trauma, we need to proactively check in to provide coping mechanisms and support. During this time, we need to look out for one another and be aware of signs and symptoms that something may be wrong: difficulty sleeping, lack of motivation, lack of enjoyment in normal activities, or concerns for safety. When in doubt, ask a professional at your school or check in with a pediatrician or physician.
- Stay flexible and adaptable. As with any transition, we can’t be assured that we have come up with the perfect reentry plan. Protocols may continue to change. Timelines for reopening may shift in your community. Try to stay as flexible as possible and be ready to adapt as the situation continues to evolve this year. Our students need us to be present and consistent during times of change, and your compassion, warmth, and calm will provide them with the necessary foundation as we adapt to our new normal.
Extend Your Learning
- Six Strategies to Help You Focus Better (KQED)
- How to Manage Feelings of Uncertainty About the Future (KQED)
- 4 Relationship-Building Strategies to Help Finish the School Year Strong (Edutopia)
- How Can Teachers Nurture Meaningful Student Agency? (KQED)
- What Are California Teachers Seeing as the Early Grades Go Back to School? (EdSource)
- The Pandemic’s Remote Learning Legacy: A Lot Worth Keeping (The Hechinger Report)
- More Schools Are Reopening. Here’s How to Prepare Kids for The Return. (The Washington Post)
- 5 Tips to Center Student Wellness During School Reentry (Edutopia)
- Why Setting Boundaries Is Helpful for Teachers and Their Students (KQED)