As we transition from the days of the pandemic and into what will become a “new normal,” it is important to support students and help them heal from the trauma they endured over the past couple of years.
While on the surface some students may seem okay, not all have adjusted so well. We also do not know all of the challenges that students may have experienced due to changes to family job and income status, the loss of loved ones to COVID, and the mentally draining experiences of students of color dealing with heightened racial attacks.
As educators, we cannot solve all of these concerns, but we can do the five things listed here to support student healing and restoration.
1: Be Mindful of Cognitive Load
Yes, academics are important, and students must meet certain standards in order to move to the next grade. However, learning and growth is more than academics, and includes social-emotional well-being and growth. Consider the workload of students during and after the school day. Students, as adults do, need time to clear their mind and think. Too much content and required assignments can overload students’ brains. Also, consider having scheduled mental health days to help combat potential cognitive overload.
2: Utilize Strength-Based Approaches
Nothing is more stressful than always hearing from teachers about deficits in performance, thinking, and lack of contributions to the class. Instead of focusing on what students aren’t doing, show them that they matter and what they bring to the classroom is welcome and worthy. Draw on students' strengths when teaching and focus on their assets. Feeling and knowing that you are an important member of the class community, especially in these unstable times, can support student healing and provide a renewed sense of excitement around school, and contribute to creating dynamic equitable learning environments.
3: Collaborate with Families
Families are an extension of students. Likely, if students need support in healing, so do families. By working in concert with one another, teachers and families can collaborate to create robust systems of support for students as they heal. If your school does not have a formal opportunity to engage with families, check out the National Parent Teacher Association’s website, which offers a wide variety of toolkits to get started.
4: Engage with Communities
As teachers, we are all familiar with Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological System. While students’ experiences within the school environment is one of importance, there are also other spaces that students connect with beyond the in-person and online learning environments. To support student healing, find out about the students’ neighborhood and communities, and other layers of their ecological system that impact their world. There may be issues that students are dealing with beyond the classroom for which your school’s counselor or family services coordinator can provide resources. Leverage community organizations, leaders, and members who can consult with you and provide additional support. Here are a few other ideas on engaging community members.
5: Give Grace and Continued Compassion
It has been a long two years. Stress, illness, civil unrest, and uncertainty about the future has impacted us all. In order to support students in healing and moving beyond the remnants of the pandemic, we must give them grace and consistently show compassion. Grace can come in many forms, including being flexible with assignment due dates, celebrating small wins, and having the chance for “do overs.” Similarly, teach with compassion always, be kind to students, and show them that above all else, you care about them and their well-being. Another way to show compassion is to make time for students to center calmness using mindfulness apps and websites.
We hope that you try some or all of the suggestions above to help support your students as they heal and restore. You may want to even start by creating virtual healing spaces that can be accessed by students, teachers, families, and the larger community.