All Students Have Not Settled In To The “New Normal”
While the country continues to battle Covid-19, school leaders are monitoring a growing crisis: students struggling with stress, isolation, and uncertainty related to the pandemic. Recent surveys of high school students reveal that since the pandemic started:
75% feel stressed “most of the time”
66% have a hard time focusing on school
40% feel “worried about their life”
Some might argue this data is nothing new because high school students are notorious for their transient emotional reactivity. But the trend line suggests otherwise: as the pandemic continues, the changing set of circumstances brought on by Covid-19 are attenuating human connections and chipping away at the resilience needed to overcome this challenge. Indeed, one high school site reports an increase in the same group of students “worried about their life” from 15% in October 2020 to more than 40% in December 2020. The same trend pattern is observed for feelings of stress and inability to focus during that same time period. It is fair to say that while some students may be settling in to the new normal, others remain in survival mode, desperate for information and resources necessary to function at school, as a person, and in relationship to others.
According to Kandace Forrester, Phd, LEP, “the data, broadly speaking and as it specifically relates to COVID-19, continues to highlight that there is a very important relationship between socioemotional factors and learning. Between lost instructional time, the struggles in accessing and adapting to online learning, and the various other educational challenges that our students have experienced, we simply can not afford to fail at supporting their socioemotional learning, growth, and skill-building. At some level, we are all continuing to experience the impacts of COVID-19, and the more that we can support students in identifying and communicating their feelings, learning and using effective coping skills, and creating prosocial behavioral patterns, the better off our students (socioemotionally and academically) will be as we get through this time. Tier 1 supports have never been more important.”
The data thus tells a story and compels us to not only listen, but to act. Asking students for their opinion on an issue without the intent or ability to use that opinion in practice offers limited benefits for students and no benefit to the educational system as a whole. Here, they are telling us loud and clear: we need additional support to navigate this national crisis.
Many LEAs have answered the call, implementing hotlines for mental health and to answer questions about Covid19, connecting families and students with resources in their communities, offering webinars for mental and emotional health, providing resources for daily life and coping skills, staffing on-line wellness centers, conducting (distanced) knock and talks, and the list goes on… and on. The millions of educators across the country deserve our thanks and praise, even as we acknowledge we must do more.
To minimize the social emotional and mental toll caused by the pandemic, we must continue to vigilantly maintain a focus on building student morale, keeping in mind our most vulnerable populations. Here’s a short list:
- Help students set a routine which schedules in time for physical and emotional health, fun, creativity, social connection, and stress relief.
- Hold space for students to talk about how they are feeling, what they need, and the politics and reality of the moment
- Integrate mindfulness into instruction
- Reflect on the notion of rigor and continue to challenge and support students
- Emphasize strengths, hopes, and positivity
- Use optimistic language, such as, “When you come back to the classroom …”
- Let your students know you are there for them and that if they need help to reach out to you.
- Let your students know counselors can help them should they need to speak to someone.
Clearly, this is not an exhaustive list, and we invite you all to add to it in the comments section below. In addition, Direction Survey provides a bank of resources and activities for students, families, and educators in many areas, including school climate, connections, inclusion, family support, and mental health. Check us out at Direction Survey.com.
- This data was collected with Direction Survey which allows educators to check the pulse of their school community on a regular basis. With Direction Survey, educators can create unlimited surveys relevant to their local school site, collect and analyze data quickly and efficiently, and leverage a bank of resources specific to the needs reflected in the survey findings. For more information go to Direction Survey.com.
- Dr. Kandace Forrester is a licensed educational psychologist and the CEO of California Institute for Educational Progress (CALIEP). Her work focuses on addressing inequities related to academic opportunities and outcomes, school discipline, and the socio-emotional experiences of students of color and students with disabilities.