This week’s guest blog post was written by Michael E. Creekmore, Jr. LPC, CPCS. Michael is currently a Professional School Counselor for 4th and 5th grades, and has been a Licensed Professional Counselor for 16 years.
It’s March 2022, and COVID-19 has been here for roughly two years. Those two years will undoubtedly leave a long-lasting effect on students, teachers, administrators, and everyone else involved in the world of education. While school districts across the globe attempt to push forward and combat learning loss, students and educators share the increased demands, stress, and expectations associated with such a daunting task.
The idea of combating “learning loss” has been a source of contention within the education community as it compels educators to do a little more, push students a little harder, and add more pressure to an already high-stakes testing environment. The reality for many educators and students is that school is no longer fun.
As an educator, what can we do to help students — and ourselves — navigate these seemingly perilous times for K-12 schooling? Here are a few ideas that I think are both attainable and powerful.
Prioritize Time to Take Care of Yourself
Although self-care conversations are needed and essential during these times, educators may feel like the utterance is lip service. For some, self-care seems like a comfort afforded to those outside of the education profession. However, consistent time and attention to take care of yourself is essential to managing these unprecedented times. Students and educators require the same staple ingredients in their respective self-care recipes — activities that support mental, emotional, and physical health.
A great way to learn a little more about your students or colleagues (in class or during a staff meeting) is to ask participants to share their self-care practices — sometimes we hear excellent ideas that may be a perfect fit for our own care plan. During the week, intentionally set aside 10-15 minutes to engage your students in a class discussion about self-care. It can be an introductory, “What do you do when you feel stressed?” conversation. That conversation organically leads to the importance of self-care, and how you and your students might implement similar practices in your own lives.
During staff or committee meetings, you can challenge colleagues to share self-care plans. Be intentional in leaving time for colleagues to discuss further and inquire if necessary. Building a community that promotes wellness means providing opportunities to engage in self-care. As a school district, try to place as much importance on educator wellness as you are in combating student learning loss. Failure to do so will create an even greater educator exodus than currently exists.
Offer Praise and Appreciation
In the midst of challenging times, praise and appreciation can be powerful tools. Take a moment to recall a time you received praise for something. Do you remember how you felt? Now think about how you felt the last time someone showed appreciation for you. How did that feel? Praise and appreciation typically have a positive effect on students and educators alike. When we’re at our lowest, praise and appreciation often serve as the fuel to drive us through those tough times. Harken back to those elementary school days when your teacher gave you a gold star. Somehow those days were the best.
Take time to show your appreciation to your students and administrators. It’s time to acknowledge how challenging this has been for everyone involved. Regardless of the circumstances and feelings surrounding the current state of the world and education, we’re in this together. Words of affirmation are a great way to show appreciation and boost someone’s mood, and it costs you absolutely nothing. Additionally, there is a bit of a contagious quality to praise and appreciation; when we feel appreciated and receive praise, we oftentimes perform better and are more likely to reciprocate those positive feelings.
Since March 2020, some of the easiest tasks have become far more arduous. So even if it’s a mandatory or a mundane task, take that opportunity to praise and/or show appreciation for that colleague or student. On some days, simply getting out of bed and arriving at school is challenging. A simple “thank you” to your student or colleague can go a long way. As previously stated, teachers appreciate the same pleasantries. Stop by a teacher’s classroom or an administrator’s office today and let them know that you appreciate the hard work that they are doing.
Provide a Safe Space
Amid the ongoing anxiety, unresolved trauma, increased academic demands and decreased face-to-face social gatherings, students and educators are in desperate need of a safe community. You can build that safe community in your classroom or office. Sometimes it’s about letting your students and colleagues know that you care, you see them, and you’re trying to understand them.
Most importantly, let them know that they are safe in your space — whether you’re a teacher or administrator. And by all means, please continue to follow CDC guidelines regarding masks and social distancing. Students and educators should feel physically safe as well as emotionally safe in your classroom or office.
Normalize Student and Educator Check-ins
Set aside time to regularly check in with your students. Make this as informal as possible. You can use phrases like, “Hey, just wanted to check in with you to see how everything is going. I know it’s been a different type of school year than any of us are used to. What has been different for you this year?” This is a great way to find out which students may require some additional attention or a check-in with the School Counselor.
Let’s face it: we’ve been presented with a rather unique time in education. We have the opportunity to reimagine all the systems and make them more effective. For a moment, imagine those unannounced or unexpected observations as being something else. Maybe it becomes more of a check-in to see how you’re doing — not a counseling session, but how you’re handling the never-ending demands. Educators need meetings like these more than routine observations of a classroom.
Encourage Important Conversations
Students are innately capable of discussing current events in a way that resonates with each other. Some of the best classroom discussions are led by students. Give students the autonomy to have an organic conservation about the world around them. Invite students to write or draw about their experiences and feelings. Some students are less likely to verbally express their feelings but are more comfortable with written expression.
Educators understand that certain mandates, protocols, and stipulations are often put in place at the district and state level; however, there are often opportunities to adhere to policies while allowing educators to implement them in a way that works for their classroom. Much like students, educators want to be heard. We want the opportunity to provide sensible solutions to the issues we are facing. While this might not be possible in every meeting, it’s important for school districts to dedicate time for listening to solutions.
Working Through This Together
The times in which we are living will undoubtedly go down in history and possibly be remembered in the same breath as pandemics of centuries past. Even though history has a way of repeating itself, we can choose to work through this very difficult time TOGETHER. Hopefully, some of the strategies provided will help you overcome the challenge of COVID fatigue. As always — please stay safe, stay healthy, and stay connected.
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