Trying to figure out how to teach during school closures has been incredibly difficult for teachers for a number of reasons: navigating new technology, accounting for inequitable access to devices and internet connections, adapting to changing messages around whether to teach new content or review, etc.
Yet, beyond our concern for academic instruction, teachers are also concerned about student well-being—and rightfully so.
In the US, 22 million students depend on school-provided lunches. Students and their family members may experience increased stress and anxiety due to the outbreak, and struggle to find effective coping mechanisms. Without being able to leave an unsafe home and go to school, students (and family members who might be home from work) may be at an increased risk for domestic violence. Asian students and families may be dealing with the added stressors of racism and xenophobia.
As educators, we understand our job is to support the whole student. We know that when students are in survival mode, trying to teach them new content is impossible. We’ve acted on this knowledge to support students throughout our time as teachers. Now that we’re not physically in the same room together each day, it is just as important (if not more important) we continue to support the well-being of our students.
So, how might a teacher do this?
Address the racism and xenophobia
Educate yourself on what’s happening, and address it with students. Interrupt xenophobic comments within your virtual classroom if they arise. Check out the article, “Speaking Up Against Racism Around the New Coronavirus.” Despite being written before most schools closed, the suggestions remain relevant.
Make the coronavirus part of the curriculum
Teach about the facts of the coronavirus and its impact by connecting it to your content area. Check out ideas for how you might do this in history or science, math, or (media) literacy.
Share mental health tips with students
UNICEF shared 6 tips for “How teenagers can protect their mental health during coronavirus (COVID-19).” You can share breathing exercises with students. Stop Think Breathe is an awesome app you can use for free—there’s an older student/adult version and a younger student version. You can also encourage students to take brain breaks or movement breaks. Suggest a resource like GoNoodle for guided breaks. (This resource is aimed at younger students, but teenagers and adults can enjoy them too!)
Share additional resources (e.g., hotlines, support chats) with students
You can’t always provide the help students may need, nor should you be available 24/7 for students. You must take care of your own needs so you can show up for your students as your best self. Also, there are professionals for this. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has put together a list of resources including websites and numbers for talking or texting with people who can offer support.
This list is certainly not exhaustive, but hopefully enough to support you in supporting your students’ well-being. If nothing else, even a message to students that shares you are thinking about them and their health as fellow humans (not just your academic students) can go a long way.
However you choose to support your students during this pandemic, I am confident students will appreciate having you in their corner as a champion for their success and a resource to turn to if they are in need. Keep up the incredible work, amazing educators. You are truly inspiring. Thank you for all that you do.
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Lindsay Lyons (she/her) is an educational justice coach who works with teachers and school leaders to inspire educational innovation for racial and gender justice, design curricula grounded in student voice, and build capacity for shared leadership. Lindsay taught in NYC public schools, holds a PhD in Leadership and Change, and is the founder of the educational blog and podcast, Time for Teachership.