Most teachers are heading into one of the most challenging school years they will ever have to face in their teaching careers. Whether teaching in a virtual classroom or navigating the school year in person, our educators are being forced to adjust to meet the ever-important needs of students, which will be made especially difficult to achieve with distance learning.
The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), a trusted source for knowledge about high-quality, evidence-based social and emotional learning, suggests personal connection and relationships are especially critical in being a culturally responsive educator and as a gateway to engagement in learning. Educators leading a single class should plan to connect with each student individually during the first few weeks of school and periodically throughout the year, while those with multiple classes should divide and conquer the students with fellow teachers/administrators.
The primary purpose of these conversations is to hear about your student’s experience and perspective so you can understand them as an individual, be responsive to their needs, learning from them for the benefit of the class and school, and build trust.
How to Have these Conversations:
In a virtual or in-person group setting, communicate to students that you’ll be connecting with them individually. Have students sign up for a time for a call or reach out through a school and parent-approved messaging app that allows for easy back and forth exchange.
“I’m working on connecting with everyone in this group to get a better sense of what everyone is feeling and thinking about and how I can best be supportive.”
Show them you care and be as personal as possible.
“I’m glad to have the chance to chat one on one with you.”
“I’m excited to have you in my class/group this year – I can tell you’re going to add a lot to our community.”
Ask a question that invites the student to comfortably share. “How are you?” is great but try to be more specific. And don’t hesitate to probe.
“I know things have been unusual lately; how have you been keeping busy lately?”
“What has been on your mind lately?”
Communicate with student that you value their perspective and feedback and open to making changes.
“What would you like to see happen this school year?”
“What do you think our school/class should be doing differently?”
End on an optimistic, positive note.
“What’s keeping you going/giving you energy/making you happy right now?”
“I’m making a class playlist – what song(s) have you been listening to the most lately? I would love to add them.”
Additional tools and tips to engage students:
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced schools, community organizations, businesses and more throughout the state of Alabama to adjust and enhance their individual capabilities to better serve the community. In March, the team here at ACE put our minds together to brainstorm ideas to continue our mission of making social and emotional learning an integral part of education in K-12 schools and community organizations, as well as to provide teachers and administrative staff with the necessary tools to properly respond to and care for students this fall.
We came up with two additions to our existing, evidence-based programming – virtual capabilities and expanded program topics specific to the pandemic.
ACE GOES VIRTUAL
Virtual SEL and Professional Development programming will be accessible through the organization’s website with login credentials provided by ACE. ACE team members are busy crafting videos and offering live professional development workshops covering a number of SEL-specific topics according to need.
ACE has added new, relevant topics such as racial differences, protests, trauma resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, trauma-informed care training, healthy friendships and more, in addition to traditional programming covering SEL Core Competencies: self-awareness, self-management, responsible decision-making, and relationship skills .
“In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for social and emotional learning for youth, families and educators is greater than ever,” said ACE Co-Founder Matthew Smith. “Our ACE team has worked tirelessly to adapt our programs to meet new and emergent needs of families and youth related to this ongoing global crisis.”
Since 2015, ACE has successfully integrated social emotional learning curricula in K-12 schools throughout Central Alabama through three individually tailored, in-person programs, according to need:
Well-implemented social emotional learning programs teaching empathy and emotional regulation are proven to have a significant positive impact on suicide and homicide numbers, bullying and violent behaviors both in and out of school, and higher learning and academic achievement. These transformational programs increase social cohesion in communities by fostering safer environments and establishing a healthier youth who value lifelong learning and academic achievement, all of which leads to a prosperous and unified region where young Alabamians are empowered and supported to reach their full potential.
For more information or to speak with an ACE team member about partnerships, please reach out via email.
It’s no surprise that a vast majority is feeling some kind of stress at the moment. It could be stress from juggling work and childcare, stress from food and financial insecurity, or stress from an unsafe home environment. Whatever it is, we’re all feeling it. The trouble starts when the stress response is constant, which can then elicit health problems such as high blood pressure and immune suppression, making you more susceptible to colds and other illnesses. Moreover, the buildup of stress can contribute to anxiety and depression.
We obviously can’t avoid all stresses in life, but we can seek out healthier ways of coping. One helpful technique to utilize is the relaxation response, a state of profound rest that can be evoked in a number of different ways, such as meditation, yoga and progressive muscle relaxation. Practicing breath focus is a common feature of each of these techniques.
Deep breathing, otherwise known as diaphragmatic breathing, abdominal breathing, belly breathing and paced respiration, can often feel somewhat unnatural. In American society, a flat belly is considered attractive, so women (and men for that matter) tend to hold in their stomach muscles. This interferes with deep breathing and gradually makes shallow “chest breathing” seem normal, which increases tension and anxiety.
Deep abdominal breathing encourages full oxygen exchange (the beneficial trade of incoming oxygen for outgoing carbon dioxide) and can slow the heartbeat and lower or stabilize blood pressure.
BUT HOW DO I PRACTICE BREATH FOCUS?
This practice allows you to concentrate on slow, deep breathing, thus disengaging you from distracting thoughts and sensations.
Find a quiet, comfortable place to sit or lie down and place your hand on your belly. First, take a normal breath. Then, attempt a deep breath by breathing in slowly through your nose, allowing your chest and lower belly to rise as you fill your lungs. Let that belly fully expand! Now breathe out slowly through your mouth (or nose if that feels better to you).
Breath Focus in Practice:
Once you have mastered the first step, you’re ready to move on to regular practice of controlled breathing. As you sit or lay comfortably with your eyes closed, blend deep breathing with helpful imagery or a word or phrase that helps you relax.
Creating a Routine:
Other techniques to achieve the relaxation response:
ACE hosted the 3rd and final SEL Summit Series last week, bringing educators from around the state of Alabama together for a round table discussion about student mental health as we embark on a different kind of school year. Three themes emerged from this series – how to bolster communication, community and a sense of belonging while working virtually?
With many schools starting the year virtually and others forging ahead with in-person instruction and the potential to go virtual, we’re heading into a state of unknowns, so ACE has pulled together a number of resources to help educators successfully navigate throughout the year and keep students engaged.
Explore your platform to see if students are allowed to create their own profiles. If so, allow them to personalize them as they see fit.
CHECK IN WITH STUDENTS AND CAREGIVERS REGULARLY
TUtilize a communications platform like Seesaw to communicate with students and caregivers. Even short phone calls or texts with the student/parent can establish a sense of belonging and support. But don’t forget to make it personal!
When students enter the virtual room, always greet them by name.
HOST SOCIAL GATHERINGS FOR STUDENTS
Start with hosting an interactive social gathering for students to build community. This is also a great opportunity to introduces them to their new online platform that will be used throughout the school year. Facilitators should communicate to students that it’s okay if they don’t want to show their whole face or that they have the option to turn the camera off until they’re comfortable. These gatherings should be fun and light-hearted. Encourage students to introduce family pets or members or to show off something from their “new classroom.”
CREATE A PLAYLIST TO PLAY WHEN STUDENTS ARRIVE IN ROOM
And make it available on Spotify for students to access.
BEGIN EACH MONDAY WITH A CHECK-IN
Ask students how they’re doing each Monday using the “rose/thorn” format or have them express their week with a meme or an emoji.
ARRANGE A VIRTUAL SPIRIT WEEK
Arrange a virtual spirit week and encourage students to dress up by theme each day. This is a great opportunity to teach rules, expectations and online learning etiquette, like turning your mute button on.
MODEL VULNERABILITY AND SHARE UNCERTAINTIES
Educators should model vulnerability and be open with their own uncertainties as a way to encourage students to do the same.
INCLUDE CAREGIVERS IN THE TEACHING/LEARNING EXPERIENCE
eEncourage caregivers to be as involved as they possibly can in the learning and teaching experience and to share what they’re doing. This really solidifies the online community.
END EACH CLASS DAY WITH A CLOSING
Have students express a takeaway or a question via chat or a Google doc if time is short.
Pulled from the following resources:
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.