2020-2021 School Year, 1st Edition
Yes, another school year has arrived! Regardless of how students are learning and where we are working from, we are excited for the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year! This will be an adventure, for sure, but we are all on this roller coaster together. The more together we can be (even while socially/physically distancing), the more confident and empowered we will be to engage and teach our students during virtual learning!
In this first edition of Get Psyched! for the 2020-2021 school year, we will welcome the newest members of the school psychology team, look at impact of COVID-19 on students and teachers, and offer some strategies for helping students and teachers adjust to the return of school. Click on images below to enlarge and on the links provided to access related videos and resources.
The Newest Members of the School Psychologist Team!
Sara Grayson- Hall's Cross Roads Elementary
Taylor Jones- Magnolia Elementary
Carli Kazal- William Paca/Old Post Road Elementary
Lindsey Harbert- Aberdeen High School
Toni Badura- Joppatowne Elementary, Patterson Mill Middle and High
Emily Dietz- George Lisby Elementary, Bakerfield Elementary, Bel Air High
Alex Fiore- North Harford Elementary and Middle, STRIVE, Child Find
Bailey Gibson- Youth's Benefit Elementary, C. Milton Wright High
Jenna Guglielmini- Churchville Elementary, John Archer School, Prospect Mill Elementary
Sara Rosen- Deerfield Elementary, Edgewood Elementary, Fallston Middle and High
Adam Schenning- Bel Air Elementary and Middle, Forest Hill Elementary
Adrianne Turner- Aberdeen Middle, Roye Williams Elementary, Harford Tech High
Jason Carberry- William Paca/Old Post Road Elementary, Nonpublic Programs
Emily Keller- Churchville Elementary, Jarrettsville Elementary, Child Find, Infants and Toddlers
Returning to School: Impact and Recovery
Each student and staff member has experienced the COVID-19 pandemic in their own way. As we begin this school year, we must be mindful and aware that each person is arriving for the start of virtual learning with their own unique perspective, mindset, and impact of the COVID-19 closure.
Student Impact and Recovery
As we open this school year we must acknowledge that everyone has had a different experience during this closure due to COVID-19, so not everyone in each school will be in the same place in recovery. Validate that some are disappointed, some had fun, some are grieving, some are exhausted from added responsibilities at home, some are scared, etc. It may be difficult for students to understand why their lives have changed so drastically for something they can’t even see, making it hard for them to conceptualize the risk in this situation. Many students may have been dealing with, or are still dealing with:
- Academic regression due to lost instructional time
- Uncertainty due to recent changes in racial relations/protests
- Possible illness or death in family
- Difficulty concentrating or learning new info. b/c of stress/anxiety associated with pandemic
- Displacement from their home
- An unsafe home environment
- Feelings of anxiety, sadness
- Loss of social opportunities/social isolation
- Anxiety about returning to school
- Food insecurity
- Decrease in physical activity
- Increased screen time
- Lack of structure and routine
Because of differences in experiences, not every student will respond to returning to school in the same way. In a virtual setting, it will be even more challenging to build rapport and learn your students' feelings and behaviors than when we are face to face, but even more important to be able to support them. It is important to know that their responses during this pandemic and afterwards may not be what you expect. Students may express their sadness or anxiety as anger, fatigue, resistance, zoning out, boredom, or misplaced frustrations.
Closing the academic skills gap that may have resulted from the closure will be a major focus; but we must remember that students are not able to fully participate in academic learning until they feel safe--both physically and psychologically. Due to the ambiguity and ever-changing nature of this pandemic and school closure, it may take weeks or months for students to feel safe. Even though school is resuming, some individuals may be continuing to deal with factors that are threatening their sense of safety. Focus on reconnecting as your first priority; staff to staff, staff to student, and student to student connections are all important. Spend the first couple of weeks (and ongoing) with time built into the schedule to PROCESS and CONNECT and HIGHLIGHT the things we learned about ourselves over these past months.
During these first few weeks some important tips to build a strong classroom community include:
- Establish and reinforce expectations/norms for your virtual classroom
Address questions in a developmentally appropriate way
Stick to predictable routines and procedures
Check in with students frequently to show you care
Incorporate structured and unstructured breaks; include mindfulness activities
Increase support in areas of need--academic, social, emotional, etc.
Utilize activities that encourage coping and problem solving skills
Ask students directly what they need to be successful
Consider a weekly wellness check using Google or Microsoft Forms
Establish a method for students to request support from the counselor
Be flexible as students and staff are adapting to changes in home and school
Allow students to share their thoughts and feelings in a safe way
Avoid using assignments that focus on the current situation, such as "What I did on my summer vacation..."
Find activities in which students can connect with each other
Keep in mind that students may feel loss because they cannot participate in various activities that are important to them (e.g., sports, performances, traveling)
Be sensitive to students who may be private and not wish to show their video screens with the class
Staff Recovery and Support
All educators, community partners, parents, and others involved in the lives of children and young people are also experiencing disruption in their own lives caused by COVID-19, which may results in stress, anxiety, uncertainty, and feeling overwhelmed. Teachers are returning to a realm of teaching they may not be familiar with (virtual learning) or feel confident in, while also balancing their home lives and personal impact of COVID-19. We need to pay close attention to our own social emotional needs in order to best serve our students. Teachers should be aware of signs of stress/anxiety in themselves that may show up and impact: social interactions, work performance, physical responses, cognitive functions, and mood. Teachers may be paying more attention to the signs of stress/anxiety in their students than themselves, but the attention should be on yourself first. It allows for a better mental head space, which means you can better attend and be present for others. It's the oxygen mask rule: put your mask on first before you help others. Continue to practice self-care strategies, including healthy eating, getting enough sleep, exercising, and finding time to take breaks. If you find that you are overwhelmed by negative thoughts, find ways to reframe your thinking and if needed, seek out mental health support for yourself or loved ones.
Foster supportive adult relationships to process emotions, shared challenges, and offer support. Everyone is adjusting to new and sometimes difficult ways of working and taking care of family. Adults benefit from feeling connected with their peers (as do children). Build in space/time for personal connection and mutual support, whether it's a five minute chunk of time for response to a question at the beginning of a virtual meeting, breaking into smaller groups to share thoughts, feelings, or ideas, setting up optional online social events, or creating random staff pairings so that everyone has a specific partner to check in with for a virtual "coffee break" once a week.
Trim Your List - Start by making a list of your top 10 priorities. Next, rank them in order of importance. Finally, circle your top three and cross out the bottom seven. What you circled is what you will focus on. Give 95 percent of your focus to the top three and leave the remaining 5 percent of your energy to check in on the other seven items. You will get more accomplished, have more time for yourself, and worry less about getting everything done.
Allow Yourself to Stop - As you go about your day, look for times when you can stop and relax your brain, even if it's only for a few minutes. It will be a good use of your time. And, if you don't make the habit of pausing once in a while, your body and mind might just do it on their own—whether you choose to or not.
Reach Out to Experts - There are days when you won't know what to do and—at the same time—you have colleagues who possess certain skills and knowledge that you don't. There are two choices: pretend and fail or ask for help. Choose to ask for help. Why not? You'd want your colleagues to do the same if you could help them in some way. Normalize help-seeking and be less stressed, while recouping the time you would have spent fumbling in search of a solution.
Create communication norms and expectations — for yourself, colleagues, students, and families. Create clear and consistent messaging to students and families. Elicit feedback from students and families and ensure that communication is reciprocal. Be clear about when you are and are not available, especially given that emails from students and parents can arrive at all hours. Don’t feel compelled to reply to emails immediately. Even if you are working from home, you can still set official work hours.
Examples of Virtual Learning Rules and Expectations
Be bold, be brave, and be kind to yourself and others. Wishing you a wonderful start to the school year!
*various webinars provided by NASP, OSEP, Peason, Education Week, Frontline Education*