Ask anyone who has studied Bloom’s Taxonomy and they’ll tell you that just because students learn something once does not mean they have internalized that learning, can connect it to something else they know, or apply it to new situations. By “learning,” we refer to anything that children learn, like how to tie their shoes, multiply fractions, or recognize and label their emotions.
Educators across the nation are now faced with the unique challenge of distance learning, all while living through a global pandemic. Are my students healthy? How is their mental health? How do I do this distance learning thing? How do I support my colleagues or staff? Why am I washing dishes again?
During the COVID-19 pandemic, many district leaders are grappling with the new challenges of social emotional learning, among other things, in a virtual learning environment. Particularly when teachers, administrators, and counselors are not accustomed to remote learning, several questions emerge on exactly how to continue cultivating relationships and environments that support social-emotional skills and mindsets.
At the beginning of the year, I asked my students - a group of 7th and 8th graders - to write about their bilingualism. Given that I teach English as a Second Language, I was expecting all of my students to dive easily into the activity. My students, however, sat in silence. After a few moments, one student shyly raised his hand and said, “Miss, I am not bilingual.” I asked him to tell me more. He replied, “I can’t read in Spanish and English is my worst subject…I am not bilingual.” Other students in the room nodded in agreement. The students who most vehemently agreed were those who were born in the United States.
Right now, it is more important than ever that we maintain open communication with our students and their families. I will admit that calling the parents and guardians of my students is a challenge for me. It’s not that I don’t want to. Honestly, once it’s over I’m always glad that I did. Maintaining open communication with parents is essential to meeting a student’s needs, to understanding where they’re coming from and what kind of support they need. But just getting on the phone with someone that I don’t know makes my heart race.
A few months ago, scrolling through Twitter, I saw a post from former Minnesota Teacher of the Year (and great Twitter follow), Tom Rademacher, highlighting a Facebook post (it’s always a Facebook post!) in which an educator was advocating for a routine for connecting with “difficult” students - that routine is to commit with that student for a 60-second hug.
I drove down the end of my street a few weeks ago, and I looked ahead to see a bunch of lanky, awkward middle school students waiting for their bus. As I slowly got closer and closer to the group of students, I began reminiscing on my own bus stop experience. The merger of the bus stop brought so many different kids together who wouldn’t always mix by choice, so it was always a time that was a bit uncomfortable for me growing up, particularly because I was forced to congregate with one particular kid who would be legally classified as a bully in today’s world. Although he never bullied me specifically, I remember the brutal uncomfortable moments in which all of us at the bus stop had to navigate those cruel words often directed at the younger kid who didn’t quite fit in or know how to defend himself.
Every day, students across the country attend school, where they are expected to perform to their best abilities. There are clear standards for what constitutes the “best,” and that often leaves children who are struggling with emotional regulation or the impacts of trauma behind. How to help these students who are clearly struggling with emotional regulation and executive functioning skills remains a challenge even for the best teachers. Often, these students are labeled as “disruptive,” “bullies,” or “behavioral problems”. In reality, these students are searching for stronger connections and meaning without knowing the best strategies to find them. Even if only a small portion of the student body has experienced trauma, the entire school will be impacted by the effects. For this reason, it is important that a trauma-informed school takes a school-wide, collaborative approach.
Leaders from Rumi to Grace Lee Boggs to Whitney Houston have all reminded us that we can’t achieve love, liberation, or transformation externally without first loving, liberating, and transforming ourselves. We have to start by looking in the mirror, loving ourselves, and being the change we wish to see in the world.
It’s no secret that winter in the Northeast does not generally bring the blue skies and sunshine that so often fill me with energy and excitement. However, as the winter solstice drifts closer and the hours of daylight get shorter, I am reminded the season of gratitude is upon us and during this season, I strive to take a few moments of each day to pause, reflect on the beauty in my life, and express gratitude for all the things that bring me hope and joy.