The reopening of schools is on everyone’s mind and the subject of meaningful and passionate debates. On behalf of my fellow educators, I implore school leaders to address issues of emotional wellness of the school community dealing with individual and collective emotions brought on by the pandemic Coronavirus, COVID-19, and possible uneasiness seeing crowded streets of protestors’ calling for an end to systemic injustices.
Emotional distress will impact productivity and erode morale. Therefore, individuals and groups should get time to process emotions in a safe and caring environment. How can this be done?
- Hire mental health professionals on an ongoing schedule to help students identify and verbalize feelings then provide coping strategies.
- Request services from district teams responsible for crisis management teams as needed.
- Allow students to use age-appropriate ways to journal feelings.
- Provide students opportunities to share positive thoughts about themselves and their peers.
- Provide a safe, supervised room or area in the classroom where students, with permission from teachers, can de-stress.
- Provide classroom and school libraries with books like, How Big Are Your Worries Little Bear and Hey There! What’s your Superpower by Jayneen Sanders, Hey Warrior by Karen Young, The Huge Bag of Worries by Virginia Ironside, When My Worries Get Too Big by Kari Dunn Buron, One Year Wiser: An Illustrated Guide to Mindfulness by Mike Medagalia, Start Where You Are by Meera Lee Patel, and Keep Calm and Carry on by Mark Reinecke.
- Take a few minutes each day to allow students to practice deep breathing exercises.
- Encourage students to express gratitude at the beginning of class or during class morning greetings.
- Grownups should model personal behaviors when faced with stress and anxiety.
- Have students write letters to school families directly impacted by the virus.
- Have students develop posters to be displayed at school and local businesses highlighting virus safety precautions.
- Hire mental health professionals, on an ongoing schedule, to help teachers and staff to share stressors and develop coping mechanisms.
- First day/week create group sessions geared toward identify causes and generating solutions centered on stress and anxiety,
- Create a schedule for non-classroom professionals to provide teachers with stress breaks as needed.
- School administrators should visit classrooms to offer relief teachers as needed.
- With the possibility of expansion to virtual education, teachers should have opportunities to critique the unpredictable spring implementation and offer research-based ideas for improvement.
- Organize peer support groups to aid as needed.
- Principals should participate in group discussions.
- Principals should establish an open-door practice; creating a safe space for faculty and staff as needed.
- Principals could work with local businesses to fund yoga or exercise sessions for staff.
The superintendent of schools and members of the cabinet should work with middle management staff to implement strategies like ones I suggested for teachers.
Embracing the notion that “We are all in this together” strengthens community, shatters barriers, and decreases anxiety. Enjoy the school year.