In the days leading up to Thanksgiving, I’ve been reflecting upon what it means to celebrate the holiday this year. For many of us, Thanksgiving will look and feel very different from past years. We are unable to come together to celebrate with family and friends as the nation is suffering from a widespread and deadly pandemic that has created economic devastation. As a country, we have collectively awoken to and are reflecting upon our role in the systemic oppression that people of color continue to face on a daily basis. We are experiencing turmoil during a transition of presidential power unlike any we’ve witnessed before. And, as I re-read Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, I feel shame that the origins of this holiday include the mass murder of indigenous people that has yet to be atoned.
Forgiveness, acceptance and flexibility. Three little BIG words I have spent countless hours instilling in six-year-olds over the past 15 years. I never would have imagined simple lessons taught in my first-grade classroom would become so meaningful during the COVID-19 pandemic. “I get to see my mom today! She’s picking me up!” Evan would shout as he entered the classroom. Evan would talk all day about mom and the fun things they have planned to do, only to realize at dismissal as time passes and each friend gets picked up; Evan’s mom is not coming.
Now more than ever, Superintendents, School Directors, and Principals recognize and understand the need for social-emotional learning for both students and teachers. The uncertainty of COVID - 19 has affected everyone in many ways, and its effects may have long-lasting impressions in education.
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.
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.
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.