Teenagers and their families have been grieving the loss of many traditional rites of passage after schools closed unexpectedly in spring of 2020. And studies indicate that young adults are feeling the social and emotional impact of the pandemic most acutely—42% of people aged 18–29 who were surveyed reported experiencing anxiety, and 36% reported experiencing depression. How can educators help?
In May, then high-school senior Sidney Preator and her mother, Stacey, joined Purpose Prep and Edgenuity to discuss their experiences and provide insight to educators. The major takeaway? Prioritizing empathy in the classroom is the path to connection during these uncertain times.
Celebrate the Small Victories
Without a graduation ceremony, Sidney and Stacey found other ways to celebrate her graduation. As Stacey’s youngest child, Sidney and her whole family were looking forward to her graduation, and without the official ceremony, they dealt with significant feelings of loss. However, the family found other ways to celebrate, like having photoshoots, designing the traditional graduation cards, decorating their front door, and planning graduation drive-bys. By accepting that there are things they cannot control, Sidney and her mom reevaluated to discover what was possible and make the best of the situation. “Sidney has handled it with such maturity,” Stacey said while becoming emotional. “But there is a sense of grief and loss at the celebrations and what should have been.”
Sidney has some advice for educators after her experience with remote learning in the spring. “There are some things you can do in a classroom that you can’t do online, so don’t try to transfer everything over because it may not make sense,” said Sidney. She also emphasizes that it has to be easy to turn things in because if it’s not, “kids just aren’t going to do it.”
Additionally, she talked about how important it is for teachers to develop routines that promote empathy in the classroom and be understanding of situations outside of their control. “Keep in mind that we are not in the same environment at home as we are in the classroom, so some weeks we may not be able to do schoolwork.” Many of her teachers gave flexible deadlines, which made things easier when she had a bad day.
Developing Empathy in the Classroom
From emotional days to technology glitches, Sidney and her fellow seniors had plenty of excuses to check out, but having teachers who communicated and connected with her helped her to reengage. In particular, her English teacher understood that “not everything is going to work exactly how it did in school,” and she was able to focus on students’ emotional health.
Their first remote learning assignment was filled with personal questions like, “How are you doing?” and, “How is your family?” which meant a lot to Sidney. This teacher reached out directly about 10 minutes after Sidney submitted the assignment to offer her support and go over some of the expectations of remote learning.
There are some things you can do in a classroom that you can’t do online, so don’t try to transfer everything over because it may not make sense.
“We’re all craving connection,” Stacey said, whether it’s a wave from across the street or a personalized email, text, or call. Knowing that someone is there and going through something similar can be powerful. And sometimes, “we just need someone to talk to instead of trying to fix things,” said Sidney. Having conversations and admitting vulnerabilities and fears had a huge impact on the Preator family and helped them connect throughout this time.
Moving Past What Should Have Been
“There is nothing we can do to replace the things we lost, and I’m trying to be positive where I can because everyone has something in their lives that has been taken away from them. That helps in the grand scheme of things to know we’re all dealing with losses. But replacing those losses with other things to make this time special in the way that we can and focusing on those little things helps me to stay positive,” says Sidney, indicating a level of maturity beyond her 18 years.
“I keep my dreams weekly,” says Sidney, and she goes on to compare this experience to setting time goals for herself like she does with track (which was also canceled in the spring). “My dreams haven’t changed,” she says, “And my dreams for her haven’t changed,” finishes Stacey. The steps to get there may just look a little different right now.
View the full recorded webinar here.