Social Emotional Learning has been an initiative in my district for the past two years and administrators were very aware of the fact that social emotional learning increases when the staff also has the social emotional support they need. Several months ago, the instructional coaches in my district were asked to send out weekly blog posts to district staff related to self care. We saw the need to support our educational leaders with encouragement on ways they could take care of themselves first. We know that when we feel cared for and at peace, we can be more emotionally available for others.
So, we initiated “HDH” (Hump Day Happiness) every Wednesday. Quick posts through a google doc were sent out to the entire district staff. These posts could be commented on and some amazing dialogue has ensued. Some topics have been:
Saying No/Asking for Help
And much more . .
I think the best way to describe the response to this simple weekly implementation of self care is to liken it to a “deep breath” in the midst of a frenzied week.
Last month I sat down to write this blog post centered around the idea of SEL and how my school and district has written their story of success. Now, in light of the recent COVID-19 situation, my reason for writing this post takes on a new light. My role as an instructional coach in my building has been more about building relationships than it has been about improving lessons and teaching practices. The latter are results of strong relationships. We see this with our students as well. We know that tapping into the whole learner and working on social emotional well being becomes a conduit to creating a successful learner.
Now we are faced with the recent closure of schools for the next six weeks and we ponder “how will we help our students learn?” But, we also ask, how will we meet the social emotional needs of our students while they are out of our care? For so many students, our buildings are their safety net; a place to meet many basic needs as well as emotional needs. While scrambling to put in place online instructional resources, disseminate learning packets for home, provide meal distribution, and childcare, how do we also put in place emotional support resources for our students, families and staff? This question has me holding my breath.
What I am aware of, given the understanding that has evolved from our SEL work at school, is that our own stress has a direct effect on others. How do we manage our own stress at this time? How do we communicate to our families ways to manage stress? How do we help coach those in our community with resources and support for the fears and anxieties that they are experiencing as a student and family? How do we offer those “deep breath” moments in our time of need?
The CDC offers some helpful tips and guidelines for managing stress and anxiety in the midst of this crisis. Here are a few to keep in mind:
Isolation can breed additional anxiety. It is important that we find ways to connect socially with others and in so doing, keep conversations upbeat and encouraging while being available to listen and allow others to ask questions or share concerns. As educators how do we stay connected with each other, our students and their families? Amidst conversations about getting educational resources into the backpacks of our students on Friday, I heard teachers chatting about ways they would be connecting with parents and students through a variety of tools. Our middle school shared the idea of assigning students to staff members who would be calling the students and families on a regular basis to check in (not on how they are doing with academic tasks, but purely how they are feeling, what questions they have, etc). Another teacher had set up her Flip Grid classroom topic and shared login codes with families as a way to do quick video check-ins with her 2nd graders. Other teachers chatted after school about setting up daily Remind messages that included positive quotes of the day or daily ideas for writing journals to help families keep a home-school connection.
Physical Well-being supports Emotional Well-being
Students and families are now faced with less order and routine to their day. Being mindful to communicate the importance of maintaining a schedule for sleep, exercise and nutrition will help balance the emotion that can spike with the uncertainty of change. How might we communicate to families ways that they can stay healthy physically during this time? A recent journal article stresses the importance of mitigating the effects of prolonged home confinement. How might we work as educators to communicate to families ways that students can stay physically active, maintain consistency with daily routine and prioritize physical health?
Limit Your own Exposure & the Exposure Students have to News Media
We can find ourselves ramped up with anxiety by constantly being exposed to television or social media posts related to COVID-19. I don’t know about you, but I have felt myself go down that “rabbit hole” of overwhelming information as I am confronted daily with television, radio, twitter and other social media information about the coronavirus. Just yesterday, I decided to ask my family to put their phones away, get in the car with me and drive to the beach. We did not turn on the radio. Instead we talked about childhood memories and laughed about sibling rivalries. We played the “alphabet game” with the sights we traveled by along the way. And, when we made it to the beach, we bundled up and walked. I felt the ocean breeze (yes it was cold), listened to the crashing waves and marveled at the sunlight as it sparkled on the water in front of us. It was a necessary escape. What are some other tangible ways we can help others pull away from the “drama” of the situation around us?
I am not sure I have enough answers . . . so I am seeking them. I am writing this post as a way to reach out to the educational community at large and find ways we can brainstorm and work together to meet this need. How can we reach each other and our students and families with the information and support they need to cope emotionally during this time? How can we help each other come up for air?