Earlier this year, a nationwide survey of high-school students revealed that the majority of them had negative feelings about school. This survey was conducted before the wave of school closures, which have resulted in less socialization, new challenges in their learning and at home, and canceled extracurricular activities and rites of passage. With no real idea of when life will return to normal, many students are likely experiencing feelings of stress, anxiety, and even grief, in addition to any negative feelings they already had. Likewise, adults are scrambling to find alternative resources to support students while also balancing their own feelings of loss and confusion. So what can we do to help care for students’, and our own, social and emotional health during the pandemic?
Because everyone is facing different struggles, worries, and concerns, there’s no easy answer to that question. But there are a few things that educators, parents, and students can do to help manage additional stress they may be experiencing right now, and they start with prioritizing your own well-being.
Prioritizing Social and Emotional Health during the Pandemic
- To begin, assess your own needs, and do your best to meet them.
Think of this like the airplane mask rule—if you don’t first take care of yourself, you won’t be of much help to others. So take stock of what you need to maintain your social and emotional health during the pandemic. Are you getting enough time with loved ones? Enough exercise, fresh air, and sleep? Are you working too much? Whatever the case may be, check in with yourself to make sure you’re taking care of your body and mind so you’re able to help your students, colleagues, and loved ones when needed. And be willing to make adjustments as the situation and your response to it will change over time.
- Set a schedule that includes established routines (with breaks!) and reasonable expectations.
Doing this can be helpful both with your students and your family. Right now, it can be difficult to even remember what day of the week it is, and following a routine can help keep everyone going even at home. Having an established schedule that includes your availability and set office hours gives your students some sense of normalcy and the reassurance that someone is available for them when they need it. Make sure students understand what’s expected of them and reiterate it often to help ensure success during distance learning.
- Prioritize connecting with your students as much as you can.
Social interaction has drastically decreased for everyone, which can be particularly difficult for young kids and those with challenges at home. Though you may not be seeing your students as much, many still value the virtual face time they get with you. Many elementary-school teachers have increased their video time with students after seeing how important it was to them, and the same thing can be true of older students and even adults. This also gives you an opportunity to check that students’ basic needs are being met while they’re at home.
- Be present and open with your students.
A lot of people are leaning on loved ones to help deal with all the changes and disruption to their everyday lives, and this is true of children as well. Be open with your concerns and worries, but keep them appropriate to the child’s age. Teachers are invaluable role models in their students’ lives, and simply knowing that we share many of the same thoughts and feelings they do can do a lot to validate their feelings and concerns. But be sure to also share positive stories, ways to give back, and helpful coping mechanisms. Open and clear communication is key for helping your students continue to see you as a trusted support for them.
- Keep an eye out for behavioral changes and other signs students are struggling.
These will be different by age group, but not all students will make it clear that they’re having a hard time. By regularly checking in, you’ll be more likely to pick up on changes that could indicate they need some help. If your student has suddenly stopped attending synchronous lessons, is no longer submitting coursework, or seems otherwise “off,” it can be a signal that they need help. This is particularly true with older students, who may already have been working hard to be more independent and forge their own path.
- Keep up with your social and professional connections.
Share what’s been working well for you with your colleagues. Doing so can help you build a stronger support system both for yourself and your students, and clue you into what practices have been most successful and why. Plus, there’s no reason for you to be doing this work alone.
Lots of other resources can help you care for your own and your students’ social and emotional health during the pandemic, including the following:
- CDC Guidance for Coping with Stress During the Pandemic
- CASEL CARES: SEL Resources During COVID-19
- Purpose Prep Coronavirus Resources for Families, Students, and Educators
- Common Sense Media’s Resources for Families During the Coronavirus Pandemic
- National Child Traumatic Stress Network’s Taking Care of Yourself
In addition to those resources, more formal social and emotional learning resources exist for students of all ages and educators, which can help in prioritizing everyone’s social and emotional health during the pandemic.
And remember—all of this can be applied both now and in the future. When schools reopen, they may look significantly different for both educators and students. Not to mention the fact that students will be playing catch-up for a while and readjusting to life at school after nearly half a year away, so keep these and other helpful resources in mind as the situation continues to evolve.
Badalamenti, J. (2020, April 22). 6 ways to bring calm to distance learning in a pandemic. eSchool News. https://www.eschoolnews.com/2020/04/22/6-ways-to-bring-calm-to-distance-learning-in-a-pandemic/?all
Bologna, C. (2020, March 31). How To Care For Your Kids’ Mental Health During The COVID-19 Pandemic. HuffPost. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/kids-mental-health-coronavirus_l_5e81fb57c5b66149226b540e
Pearson, C. (2020, April 21). Coronavirus Anxiety Is Seriously Affecting Teens. Here’s How To Help. HuffPost. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/teens-coronavirus-anxiety-help_l_5e9f3f15c5b6bd3a71eb78b4
Tate, E. (2020, April 16). For Educators, Being ‘Always-On’ During COVID-19 Can Lead to Burnout. EdSurge. https://www.edsurge.com/news/2020-04-16-for-educators-an-always-on-mentality-during-covid-19-can-lead-to-burnout