Many students are experiencing high levels of stress as schools close due to the coronavirus pandemic. They’re separated from friends and stuck at home. They might be worried about getting sick. Students whose families are experiencing financial worries or illness are especially vulnerable. But there are ways you can help support students socially and emotionally during distance learning.
School—whether it’s done online or through other kinds of distance learning—can give students a sense of normalcy. But it’s important to acknowledge the anxiety students might be feeling.
Chronic stress and trauma can interrupt the learning process. You can help by incorporating
social-emotional learning (SEL) in your teaching. SEL can help students learn better.
SEL can help you as a teacher, too. It can help you better connect with your students and help them work on five core competencies: self-awareness, self-management, responsible decision-making, social awareness, and relationship skills. Here are some tips to help you focus on these areas during distance learning.
1. Schedule regular check-ins with students and their families.
Use these individual check-ins to talk with students about how they’re feeling. Before you start scheduling the check-ins, see if your school district has recommendations for tools to use to communicate with families. Then consider what format and frequency will work best for your students. Students who are falling behind on assignments might need more frequent check-ins. Finding out where they’re struggling can help you suggest new strategies.
Family engagement is also critical for student learning. Many families are struggling with stress, financial instability, or illness right now. On top of that, they’re trying to keep their kids on track academically. Schedule time to check in with families and offer support, but remember that they may not have time to respond.
2. Teach strategies for organization, planning, and self-regulation.
Strategy instruction is all about teaching students how to learn. It can be helpful at any time and in any grade. But it’s especially important when asking students to do something new like distance learning.
Keep in mind that students who learn and think differently will need more
explicit instruction and frequent check-ins to develop these strategies.
3. Read and discuss current events.
Teaching current events like the coronavirus pandemic gives students age-appropriate, factual information. For example, students can read about how health care workers and scientists are tackling the coronavirus. Or they could learn about how people are
coping with stress.
Current events also give students a chance to talk about their feelings. This can help them feel less alone. Many families are experiencing a variety of challenges due to the outbreak. Learning about these challenges can help students build social awareness and empathy.
4. Assign a project that encourages students to be “helpers.”
Taking action can ease anxiety and depression. It also gives students a way to build their social awareness and relationship skills.
Have students learn about a group of kids,
Helping Ninjas, who started a campaign to connect youth with senior citizens who are quarantined. Then, let students identify their own project area based on the need they see in their home or community. Give students some age-appropriate examples of projects they could do:
Read to younger siblings or help them with schoolwork
Make a video that helps other kids have fun while stuck at home.
Help with cooking meals or snacks.
Call or send a card to someone who might feel isolated.
To meet curriculum standards, have students do a reflection project afterward. For example, students can research how people or groups have taken action in the past. Incorporate
Universal Design for Learning practices by allowing students to choose how they want to present their learning. Some students might want to do a written report, while others might prefer to make a video or a comic strip.
5. Share stress-reduction and mindfulness strategies.
Many students need help developing strategies to reduce stress and cope with strong emotions. Explain or model strategies for students to try. One strategy to consider is
mindfulness practice. Studies have shown that mindfulness can be helpful in managing stress and emotions. It can also help students focus better. Learn more about
mindfulness apps for kids. Many apps are offering free services for kids and adults during this stressful time.