Remote Learning and Mental Health: Preparing for Back to School

remote learning and mental health
(Image credit: Unsplash: Anna Kolosyuk)

In this unprecedented period of extended remote learning, the mental health and well-being of students has been a concern. From students feeling isolated and dealing with depression to handling social-emotional challenges and experiencing long-term trauma, it's been a challenging time for everyone.

Tech & Learning recently discussed remote learning and mental health with Dr. Peter Faustino, a school psychologist for a public school district in Westchester County, New York, and Shawna Rader Kelly, a school psychologist in Bozeman Public Schools, Montana. Both are members of the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP).

Key Takeaways

Expect a range of responses. Returning to physical buildings will look different in different districts, and crisis response protocols need to be in place to help screen students who may be at-risk for mental health difficulties. Remote learning has looked and felt different for every student, so recognizing that in terms of social-emotional behavior, and responding properly will be critical. Expect students to be anxious about returning to a social setting, their physical health, and their academic performance. Keep in mind that kids can be resilient and some kids may not have been as affected by the crisis, so being able to differentiate responses will be key.

“We don’t have the answers yet.” With such an unprecedented event, no one can for certain say what’s going to happen, but districts will have to prepare multi-tiered systems of support to identify and support those students who are resilient versus those who are at-risk versus those who are in crisis. Trauma-informed care and support needs to be shared across schools systems. While returning to class after large-scale traumatic events, such as 9/11 and natural disasters, can provide somewhat of a road map for planning, this is still uncharted territory.

Stay nimble. With so much unknown ahead, it’s critical that schools stay nimble and flexible to deal with students’ mental health needs. Best practices and basic needs are good to start, but going down a rabbit hole of what-if scenarios without more information may be counterproductive and increase anxiety. 

Mind the gaps. The expertise of school mental health professionals will possibly be needed now more than ever to help guide students and educators through this crisis recovery. As educators, this situation can provide an opportunity for self-reflection, and also a reminder of the inequity that many students deal with every day, which has been exacerbated during the pandemic. Hopefully, this new awareness will help to address the achievement gaps going forward. 

Silver linings. Maintaining some of the lessons learned from the remote teaching experience, such as assignment flexibility and willingness to work beyond the traditional school schedule, could provide a good opportunity to shift the education paradigm upon the return to schools. This is also a chance to discuss how public education fits within our communities, and the importance of mental health within that. Kids and parents are missing schools, and the normalcy that comes with that. 

Ray Bendici is the Managing Editor of Tech & Learning and Tech & Learning University. He is an award-winning journalist/editor, with more than 20 years of experience, including a specific focus on education.