5 Strategies to Help Traumatized Students

By MB (Marybeth) Mitcham

“She’s standing too close to you. She’s standing too close to you. She needs to go now. She needs to go now.”

Fists clenched and eyes firmly fixed on the floor at his feet, my student bellowed the same phrase again. My other students stood in the hallway, frozen, unsure of how to handle the situation. Their eyes were wide open, alternating between staring at their classmate who was obviously distressed and then at me.

“It’s okay,” I calmly said. “Why don’t you all go back to the classroom, and I will follow you in a minute.”

I smiled at my students as they quickly retreated to the classroom and then turned back to my distraught student, keeping a smile on my face. Still speaking calmly, I told him that it was okay, that I was not upset with him, and that I was glad he wanted to make sure I was okay. He quickly raised his head to look at me.

“Really? You’re not mad at me?”

Still smiling, I shook my head no and repeated that I was glad he wanted to make sure that I was okay.

At this, he burst into tears and began to speak about the hard things at home—pain, hurt, and anguish pouring out of him—as he finally felt safe enough to share what he had previously been too ashamed to let anyone know.

In the many years I’ve been teaching, I’ve learned that extreme behaviour exhibited by students, whether overly helpful, disruptive, or downright combative, often is borne out of some trauma they have experienced (Schunk, 2016). Although some traumas might be easily discernable, such as students who have battled with cancer or who have lost their home in a fire, many traumas are much harder to identify. And, even if identified, they are still extremely challenging to address without inadvertently causing more pain or shame for the student.

Here are five strategies I’ve found to be helpful, both as a formerly traumatized student and as an educator, in creating a safe and supportive learning environment for all students, but especially for those who are struggling with trauma.

  1. Be consistent in your expectations. This is beneficial to all students, but even more important for students who have experienced trauma. Many traumatized students may currently live in very unstable home situations, remaining on high alert at all times. Consistent expectations will provide sorely needed stability and allow your students to lower their guards and hopefully gain some emotional respite.
  2. Value everyone equally. It is very difficult to not show favoritism toward your students. Those who are easier to work with, are more compliant, or simply tug at your heartstrings often get extra smiles, encouraging words, and praise. Although teachers often do this unconsciously, we need to be aware that it happens and actively remain consistent and comprehensive with our praise and attention.
  3. Speak the truth in love. One thing that I love most about young children is their lack of artifice. If you want to know if your outfit is ugly, just ask what they think. They’ll tell you! Traumatized students may struggle with separating reality and fantasy. They also may believe that they need to avoid speaking about certain things or hide the truth. If your classroom expectations are that everyone will speak the truth in love, then no topic is taboo. This provides a safe place for all students, including those who have been traumatized.
  4. Exhibit and promote integrity. Educators, by nature of our roles and responsibilities, are also leaders. We are watched by our students, colleagues, and community members for how we conduct ourselves. For traumatized students, who may witness situations where people in authority exhibit hypocrisy, it is imperative for them to witness integrity in a leader. When you model integrity in the classroom, you set a high standard for the rest of the class to follow, creating a safe place and helping all students, including traumatized ones, to develop their own good leadership skills.
  5. Create classroom traditions. My second-grade teacher was known for her love of butterflies. Every student entering her classroom knew that they would have monthly activities relating to butterflies and, in the spring, would raise and release butterflies. That tradition gave me something to look forward to and value, a truly priceless gift that helped me feel like I belonged. By creating classroom traditions—something completely unique to your class—you will help traumatized students feel like they belong.

By implementing these strategies in your classroom, you will provide sorely needed stability and safety that will help all your students thrive, including those suffering from trauma.

Dr. Mitcham holds graduate and doctoral degrees in public health nutrition and public health-focused curriculum and instruction. She spends most of her time working as an Extension resource educator and adjunct professor. However, she would much rather scamper up and over mountains, munch on eggplant bacon, or do zoomies with her shollie, Sig.

References

Schunk, D. (2016). Learning theories: An educational perspective. Pearson.

Solving the COVID-19 Conundrum: Using Maslow’s Hierarchy to Meet Students’ Needs

By Leonard Newby, Kimberly Stormer, and Desmond Delk
SPRING 2021

Over the last year, we’ve witnessed first responders, doctors, grocers, and other essential workers valiantly respond to the COVID-19 crisis that is ravaging the globe. Teachers and university faculty have adapted virtual-learning experiences to ensure continuity of instruction, in addition to addressing the social, emotional, and physical needs of our students. Here we highlight how three faculty members found technological tools that focused on the importance of relationships as a tenet of social–emotional learning, which insists instructors position Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs as the underlying framework for their instructional practices rather than Bloom’s Taxonomy to engage students who faced a double pandemic (Bloom, 1956; Maslow, 1954). 

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs identifies a person’s motivation as fulfilling needs in five areas: physiological, safety, social, esteem, and self-actualization (Maslow, 1954). Traditional settings allow teachers to detect students’ met and unmet needs. However, in an online environment where some students are already disenfranchised, it may be difficult to assess their needs and respond appropriately. Our team provided an online community that recreated the safety and security of traditional class and office settings. While remaining in contact with one another via Zoom, texting, and email, we discussed the methods each of us used as our students continued to express their frustrations with their new contexts. We found that much of the technology we used fit the tiers of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

  • Physiological needs refer to the essentials of everyday life, such as food, sleep, and shelter. In the online environment, we moved to attempting all methods of contact through their phones. Given our students’ varied access to computers and wifi, we expanded our perceptions of making learning accessible rather than adding to their drought of essential technology needs. 
  • Safety needs refer to one’s personal security. Our original synchronous learning platform resulted in students being inundated with downloading software that either took up too much space on their hard drive, or they didn’t understand, regardless of tutorials, how to download it. So we tried to find applications that enabled students to video chat, text chat, or dial in to participate in synchronous sessions. Zoom became our go-to source . They felt proficient with it because it integrated well with their phone. We also moved beyond our need to enforce strict assessment practices on overburdened students by opting not to use lockdown browsers. 
  • Love and belonging refers to the human interaction that all social creatures crave. As we spoke with students who were having difficulties engaging with content during the COVID hiatus, many of them expressed their dismay with asynchronous learning. They often felt like instructors put up “busy work” for them to complete. Some of the nontraditional students expressed they not only had to do the mounds of work from their online classes, but they also had the same issue with their children’s teachers who made a Google Classroom but never showed up to class. Students were missing the emotional connection from being with their peers and us. We explored the use of GroupMe and Houseparty. Both of these free social networking services, one via text and one via video chat, enabled students to communicate with one another, hold each other accountable for completing assignments, collaborate in study groups, and talk with instructors who experienced the same anxiety and assured them we were there to support them. 
  • Esteem refers to the feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction. There were times when students needed quick assurance while completing assignments. When we were unable to be at our computers, students contacted us through Google Voice. The ability to provide feedback and solutions after-hours allowed us to reassure our students when they struggled with concepts or when they needed praise for correct answers. Furthermore, Zoom Breakout Sessions enabled social learning and knowledge validation when students worked together to complete projects.  

COVID-19, although an anomaly, will have lasting effects on the field of education. This impact, however, doesn’t excuse teachers from creating learning experiences that place students’ social–emotional needs before academic achievement. Modeling these techniques for our preservice teachers equips them with skills to become self-actualized teachers in traditional and online environments. 

Dr. Newby is an Assistant Professor of Special Education at Langston University. Dr. Newby specializes in theoretical and applied aspects of learning and dedicates his expertise to elevating student motivation to excel and thrive in and outside of educational settings.

Dr. Stormer is the Department Chair of Education and Professional Programs at Langston University. Her research agenda includes the writing habits of underrepresented populations and preservice teachers’ culturally relevant teaching dispositions.

Dr. Delk is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Health, Physical Education, and Recreation at Langston University. His research focuses on diversity in kinesiology graduate programs, physical activity engagement of HBCU students, and multicultural physical education.

References

Bloom, B. S. (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives, handbook I: Cognitive domain. David McKay Co. 

Maslow, A. (1954). Motivation and personality. Harper. 

Reframing Rigor and Reinforcing Relationships in the Time of COVID-19

By Joshua C. Tipton
SPRING 2021

In the time of COVID-19, educational organizations have, once again, proven to be irreplaceable institutions of public good and service. School leaders from the elementary to university level led the way in making difficult decisions to care for their students, staff, and community while state and federal leaders at times hesitated. All 50 states experienced school closures, impacting more than 55 million students nationwide (Education Week, 2020). Though schools are the most important communal setting for children aged five to 17, closing the school doors has been a meaningful mitigation strategy to address widespread transmission of illnesses since the flu pandemic of 1918 (Carlo & Chung, 2009). Social distancing, rather than shared experiences and celebrations, marked the conclusion of the 2019–2020 academic year. The loss of both instructional and social opportunities for students and teachers was prevalent and palpable.

As a new teacher, reference to the importance of rigor, relevance, and relationships was frequently interjected into professional development and faculty training. The associated framework was viewed as crucial to student engagement and achievement (McNulty & Quaglia, 2007). Though the catchphrase has perhaps gone out of style, these concepts remain vital to effective teaching. But as district leaders, school administrators, and classroom teachers prepare for the possibility of the continued vacancy of schools due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a reframing of rigor and relationships is especially needed. Both require a different approach in the virtual classrooms that many of our students logged into when the 2020–2021 academic year began.

Reframing Rigor

Academic rigor in the classroom is intended to provide students with the opportunity to engage in work that requires not only awareness and comprehension but also application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. Unfortunately, rigor is often confused for workload, and students are inundated with simply more assignments rather than rigorous assignments that inspire intellectual growth or build 21st-century skills.

This misconception of rigor poses more potential pitfalls for teachers and students in the virtual classroom. Some helpful tips from digital learning experts include:

  • Avoid panic-gogy. Focus on practicality rather than attempting to fully convert an on-ground course to an online format (Kamentz, 2020).
  • Emphasize the quality of class objectives and assignments over the quantity of completed work (Davidson, 2020).
  • Engage students through assignments and assessments that promote 21st-century skills, such as problem-solving, collaboration, adaptability, analysis, curiosity, imagination, and creativity.
  • Utilize backward design. Clearly define what learning objectives and skills students must master, and scaffold assignments and assessments to support them (Dimeo, 2017).

Reinforcing Relationships

All teachers should understand that relationships are critical to supporting student success and establishing effective classrooms. Positive relationships and interactions between teachers and students can impact student engagement, achievement, and overall educational experience; however, establishing strong teacher–student relationships can be more challenging in virtual classrooms. Darby (2019) offers the following advice:

  • Utilize technology to infuse the class with opportunities for collaboration and feedback to prevent feelings of isolation and disconnection.
  • Offer both synchronous and asynchronous options for class meetings.
  • Offer virtual office hours to increase your accessibility for students and parents/guardians.
  • Allow students to see your face and hear your voice on the screen to create a warmer and more welcoming online environment.

View the virtual classroom as an opportunity rather than an obstacle to positive classroom relationships. As Darby (2019) stated, “When you teach in person, you do a lot of things to help students feel welcome and comfortable in the classroom. You greet students. Smile. Make eye contact. Apply that same principle to your online classes” (para. 54).

Concluding Thoughts

Summer break was different last year. The time that school leaders and teachers typically take to rechargewas instead needed to revise traditional back-to-school plans. Though any presumption of what is to come would be projection at best, the coming spring and summer will certainly still present challenges for schools and students. We must prepare to continue engaging students in virtual classrooms. Online learning doesn’t have to be dumbed-down and distant. Reframing rigor and reinforcing relationships will engage students, energize teachers, and produce success.

Dr. Tipton is an Assistant Professor of Education at Lincoln Memorial University. He teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in instructional leadership, classroom management, and social studies education and has served as a middle and high school teacher, administrator, and district supervisor.

References

Carlo, J., & Chung, W. (2009). Review of school closure as a pandemic mitigation strategy. Texas Medicine, 105(7), 21–26.

Education Week. (2020, September 16). Map: Coronavirus and school closures in 2019–20. https://www.edweek.org/ew/section/multimedia/map-coronavirus-and-school-closures.html

Darby, F. (2019, April 17). How to be a better online teacher. The Chronicle of Higher Education. https://www.chronicle.com/interactives/advice-online-teaching

Davidson, C. (2020, May 13). Quantity is not rigor. Inside Higher Ed. https://www.insidehighered.com/advice/2020/05/13/academics-should-rethink-way-they-assign-homework-opinion

Dimeo, J. (2017, November 15). Peer advice for instructors teaching online for the first time. Inside Higher Ed. https://www.insidehighered.com/digital-learning/article/2017/11/15/peer-advice-instructors-teaching-online-first-time

A Day After

By Jody Googins
SPRING 2021

In the wake of the Capitol Building riot on January 6, 2021, I was “doom-scrolling,” the term for how we get sucked into social media in the wake of tragedy or stress, pulled down into the abyss of endless, mind-consuming information-gathering (Fitzgerald, 2020). I had been at it for over 24 hours at that point, stopping only to eat, sleep, and (kind of) work. I was spending far too much time at it, especially following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020.

Like many others, I was having difficulty turning my brain off. I simply couldn’t stop thinking about all that was happening in our world and in our country, and the endless scrolling was an unwanted but addictive side effect.

Then I came across the following tweet from @JustinAion (2021): “A first year teacher asked me a question today. It shook me deeply. I will ask you. In your teaching career, how many times have you had a ‘day after?’”

I felt my heart skip and my breath catch. A day after. My thoughts immediately went to February 15, 2018, the day after the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida. I was teaching high school in Southwest Ohio and had watched the events unfold on the 14th. To put it mildly, I was wrecked. And angry. When I walked into school on the 15th, I felt like I was in a fog—but my students jolted me awake. They were angry, too. And motivated. In class that day, we talked and cried and hugged. We plotted and planned in the safety of our classroom community, grounded and secured by our common humanity. It was cathartic, and it was powerful.

February 15, 2018, was not my first day after; by then I had experienced many of them. Events like 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, the Newtown school shooting, the tragic deaths of students and parents and community members—each was followed by a day after, when emotions and opinions ran high. As a young teacher, contending with these days was difficult. I was not prepared to tangle with the emotions of my students; I was not fully able to create a safe environment where we could dialogue and process their emotions and feelings. I wasn’t warned about a day after in my teacher preparation program, and I was often overwhelmed. All these years later, I feel more prepared, more ready, but it is still daunting and draining and scary and hard.

The day after the Capitol riot, which followed several years of increasingly polarizing rhetoric culminating in the election of Joe Biden in November, would prove to be especially hard for teachers across the country. This particular day after was so politically charged, so messy, and its timing in the midst of the pandemic, on top of incredible fatigue on the part of teachers, was harrowing.

My two best friends—both incredible high school teachers—began preparing for the day after on the night of the Capitol riot, before the events were even clear or understood, if that was even possible. Our group text came alive as we exchanged ideas and writing prompts, warnings about what we could and should say, and what we definitely could not and should not say. We feverishly exchanged texts, giving advice and input on plans for the next day. They both planned on creating a space for their students to ask questions and engage in dialogue, mostly through image analysis, writing, and reflecting. They were readying themselves for what the day might be like, preparing for yet another day after.

One of my friends received an email from her superintendent in the late evening, reminding teachers that, although facilitating conversations is important, they must always follow Board of Education policy, which states that teachers are forbidden from promoting a “partisan point of view.” A partisan point of view? Our immediate thought was that, in these times, it seemed like the truth had become partisan. Regardless, a veteran teacher could easily ascertain the meaning: Don’t talk about what happened. Adding more confusion, the next day my friend received several emails from various building administrators who were incredibly supportive and encouraging, providing resources for dialogue and also for teacher self-care and care for students.

My other friend received a similar email from her superintendent, perhaps slightly less censoring, but no less consequential. She was encouraged to provide a safe environment for her students to dialogue, but to remain completely unbiased and calm. She said the email was accompanied with resources about remaining unbiased. It was laughable, really. The notion of remaining completely unbiased and calm was a big ask, an ask that we weren’t sure was even possible. After all, this wasn’t our first day after, and experience had taught us well. Young people are not stupid, nor are they walking blindly through the world. They are not self-absorbed, and they are not incapable of critically assessing the events unfolding around them. They are also incredibly attuned to the hypocrisy that adults around them practice, and they are quick to call us out.

When we touched base that next evening and debriefed on our days, I learned that their lessons had gone as well as they could have. Some of their students were so angry at the injustice that it was palpable; some of their students were clueless. Some students turned on their cameras for the first time in awhile; some kept them off, breaking from their norm.

These teachers were practiced in the day after. I was relieved that they had navigated their own emotions, the expectations of their schools and districts, and their students’ varying degrees of angst. I knew they would. But I could not stop thinking about how many teachers had struggled that day, and how many teachers were not prepared for a day after.

What are we doing to prepare our new and veteran teachers for the complexities of their classrooms, schools, and communities? How are we preparing them to contend with everything that students are bringing into the classroom? How are we preparing them to connect their classroom lives to all that is happening outside of their walls? How are we teaching them to look deep inside themselves for biases that might upend their ability to love and embrace their students and their experiences, experiences that might differ immensely from their own? I do not have quick, succinct, “a-ha” answers to these questions. But I do intend to keep asking them, to keep pushing my own pre-service teachers to consider what a day after might be like, what challenges might await them in their classrooms. Many people believe there should not be space in schools to talk about divisive events like the Capitol riots of 2021; that children and young people should be kept in the dark about the realities and complexities of the push and pull of democracy. I disagree. The kids are not in the dark. There will be another day after soon, and another after that. And those days will be hard. To pretend not to see the world around us and the ways our students are contending with their emotions, some of them suffering so deeply, would be turning a blind eye to what it is that calls us back into the classroom every day. I, for one, will continue to work with my friends and colleagues to meet the next day after with resilience, respect, and resolve.

Dr. Googins is an Assistant Professor of Secondary Education at Xavier University, where she teaches education methods and foundation courses at the undergraduate and graduate level. Her research interests include culturally responsive pedagogy, curriculum, and critical discourse analysis.

References

Fitzgerald, S. (2020, July 30). The internet wants to keep you ‘doom-scrolling.’ Here’s how to break free. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/wellness/coronavirus-doom-scrolling-stop/2020/07/29/2c87e9b2-d034-11ea-8d32-1ebf4e9d8e0d_story.html Justin [@JustinAion]. (2021, January 7).

A first year teacher asked me a question today. It shook me deeply. I will ask you. In your teaching [Tweet]. Twitter. https://twitter.com/JustinAion/status/1347309286888779778

Empathy and Flexibility in the COVID Era

By Dorota Silber-Furman and Andrea Arce-Trigatti
SUMMER 2021

We cancelled classes last Tuesday and Wednesday to serve and volunteer. More than 1,000 students, faculty, and staff joined the 2,500 plus volunteers over those two days and since to help in any way possible. (Office of the President, 2020, par. 4).

Navigating the spring 2020 semester was challenging. Not only was the unprecedented situation of the COVID-19 pandemic on the forefront of our professional and private lives, but our community faced tremendous devastation from a Category 4 tornado just weeks before. It was a time of heightened stress, trauma, and grief for not only our students and their families, but also for faculty and staff at our university.

As faculty in the College of Education, our primary work responsibility is to prepare preservice and in-service teachers. During the spring 2020 semester, many of our students were working with their own students at the Pre-K to 12 level and facing the same challenges of the online teaching transition that we were facing at the postsecondary level, while also processing new experiences of stress, trauma, and grief.

In our shared struggles, instructors and learners had to develop mutual empathy and flexibility to successfully navigate the new reality of our academic worlds. Below, we reflect on a few of these cases and how strategies of empathy and flexibility supported student learning as well as facilitated effective teaching during difficult times. 

Surviving the Storm

Eighteen fatalities, 88 injured, over 500 buildings damaged, over 100 families lost homes. Five families lost precious children and some children lost both parents. The numbers are staggering. The stories of survival are moving; the stories of loss are heartbreaking. The numbers are staggering. The stories of survival are moving; the stories of loss are heartbreaking (Office of the President, 2020, par. 1).

The effects of the storm were evident in the trauma, stress, and grief experienced by our students and their students in the aftermath. Many of them not only lost belongings or access to technology and electricity, but also lost a loved one or had someone close suffer an incredible loss. This feeling of emotional chaos led to decreased engagement and motivation, which increased the need to open venues of communication to continue learning.

Surviving COVID-19

On Monday, we all begin teaching and learning online together (Official University Correspondence, 2020, par. 1).

After the storm, the COVID-19 pandemic hit our community, requiring a massive transition to online learning in the Pre-K to 16 grades. It’s safe to say our students’ level of stress, trauma, and grief were exacerbated; they lost contact with one another and the on-campus support that they relied on after the tornado.

Many were also still without access to electricity and Internet, which heightened the anxiety associated with not only online learning, but also that of their children via homeschooling. Meanwhile, the virus became a reality as it began to infect our local population, students, and their loved ones.

Surviving Teaching and Learning

Students, let me reassure you that some things haven’t changed. Your faculty members are ready to help you through the challenges. They will deliver the quality education you expect. Plus, they stand ready with patience and understanding (Official University Correspondence, March 28, 2020, par. 2).

In the midst of these tragedies, it is important to remember that we are only human. Through empathy and flexibility, we can better serve students’ needs while still attending to our families and communities.

Empathy: Not everyone is an online learner, and not everyone has the bandwidth to be attentive (let alone awake) in the few hours they can dedicate to schoolwork while juggling five other jobs. Acknowledging this reality, it was OK to let the beginning of courses become pseudo group therapy sessions. It was OK to have family members come in and take notes in an online session for a relative still without electricity. It was OK to extend deadlines and work with our students’ proposed schedules.

Flexibility: For our teaching, this translated to a departure from the norm and a large overhaul and re-adjustment of several items, including homework, deadlines, project formats, course content, and collaborative expectations. Critical questions were asked: What topics rise to the surface? What lessons will resonate with our students? How can we give them tools that have immediate benefits?

Concluding Thoughts

Take care of each other and finish strong (Official University Correspondence, March 28, 2020, par. 5).

At times our students disengaged (due to lack of electricity, technology, or motivation) but we did not give up on them. Through multiple modes of contact, community “grapevines,” and rallying our College’s resources, we tried to create an avenue for success that worked for them and provided a space to cater to an ever-changing reality. With all of our actions, at the forefront was the mantra that in teaching, there is care; and where there is care, there can be learning.

Dr. Silber-Furman is a Lecturer in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at Tennessee Technological University (TTU). She currently teaches courses related to multicultural education, culturally relevant practices, and ESOL. Her research interests are connected to literacy, international education, culturally relevant practice, multicultural education, ELLs, and critical theory. She was the co-advisor of the Eta Nu Chapter of Kappa Delta Pi at TTU.

Dr. Arce-Trigatti is the Director of Institutional Assessment and Accreditation for the Office of Institutional Effectiveness at Tallahassee Community College. Her research interests are interdisciplinary and connected to cultural studies, social justice in education, educational policy, innovation-driven learning, and engineering education. She was the co-advisor of the Eta Nu Chapter of Kappa Delta Pi at TTU.

Back to School 2021: Grieving Students, Transitions, and COVID-19

By the Coalition to Support Grieving Students

2021 is a different kind of back-to-school year. As schools move toward full in-person learning, students and educators alike continue to adapt.

In the transition back to in-person learning, schools may need to reach out to students who have not returned to school or re-engaged in learning. They may also be making contact with families that have suffered multiple stressors and losses caused by the pandemic or exacerbated by the isolation of shutdowns.

Many students and educators are grieving what they have lost during COVID-19 closures—chances to socialize with peers, be a senior in middle school, start kindergarten, participate in sports or performing arts. Most have been affected by ongoing issues in the broader world as well—social justice, racial inequities, bitter political divides, the financial impact of the pandemic.

Students who are grieving the death of a family member or loved one are part of this mix. Even before the pandemic, student grief was surprisingly common. About 1 in 20 students will lose a parent during their school years, and virtually all students will know someone who has died by the time they complete high school. During the pandemic, students have lost loved ones to many causes, including COVID-19. Some communities have been especially hard hit by the virus. Students are also still grieving losses that occurred before the pandemic.

Students who experienced a death of someone close from a cause other than COVID-19 may feel the attention focused on tragic losses due to the pandemic means they are somehow less entitled to grieve openly and request support. This may prompt them to try to keep their feelings private. They may have had to begin to grieve the loss while separated from extended family and friends, and without the usual support of peers. This would further heighten their sense of isolation.

Times of transition and change can be particularly challenging for grieving students. Educators are positioned to offer valuable support that can make a profound difference in students’ lives academically, socially, and emotionally—often through simple gestures that help these students feel affirmed and understood. The Coalition to Support Grieving Students has a collection of free video and written materials that offer guidance designed expressly for educators, including content specific to COVID-19.

Transitions Can Be Difficult for Any Student

Transitions are times when children and youth may face a range of challenges. The following steps will support both grieving and other students.

  • Address apprehensions. Students are excited to be with peers and start a new year. They may also have lingering fears about risks of illness or death. Provide honest, realistic reassurances about measures being taken to protect students and educators.
  • Be honest. Students know things are not “normal.” It isn’t necessary to pretend that everything is okay when it clearly isn’t. Provide opportunities for students to discuss their experiences and concerns.
  • Introduce subjects sensitively. Educators cannot know every student’s experiences. When a history, literature, or other lesson addresses topics such as death, loss, trauma, severe illness, racism, or other serious matters, provide some background before the lesson. Give students the opportunity to discuss any concerns with you privately. Make accommodations for the student when indicated.
  • Offer options for activities involving family members. Many students do not have a parent to turn to for family-based classroom or homework activities. This may be due to death, illness, divorce, military deployment, incarceration, or other reasons. Be sure to offer options: “For this essay, I’d like you to write about your mother or another woman in your life who has been helpful to you.”

Reach Out to Grieving Students

All children grieve in unique ways. There are also common characteristics for most grieving students. Over the past year, these students have been especially affected by the consequences of the pandemic—isolation, academic challenges, worry about their own and others’ health, feeling overwhelmed. If you know a student is grieving the death of a family member or friend, the following steps can be especially helpful.

  • Reach out personally early in the year.Acknowledge that grief creates challenges. Let the student know you are available to talk, or listen, if any concerns arise. For specific guidance on what to say, see these Coalition materials.
  • Remember that grieving children experience secondary losses. Many things can change for a child after a death. The family may need to move in with relatives or find less expensive housing. The child may have to attend a new school. During the pandemic, with its associated financial challenges, many families have had to make exactly these kinds of changes.
  • Make adjustments in academic work. It is difficult to concentrate and learn during acute grief. Extending deadlines and offering alternative assignments can help grieving students experience academic success as they readjust to their life after a loss.
  • Support college and career aspirations. After a death, some teens hesitate to move forward with plans to go to college, join the military, or attend trade school. They may feel a need to stay close to their family or provide financial support. Concerns about COVID-19 have added further distress to these decisions. Although there may be no “correct” solution, the support of a trusted educator who can listen to a student’s concerns can be invaluable.
  • Recognize that grieving children are often more vulnerable at times of transition. This can be the start of the school year (new teachers, new classmates, new classroom). It can involve a change in schools or a change in the family—someone moving in or out. It can include the changes of puberty, the start of dating, or a breakup with a romantic partner.
  • Offer to assist in future transitions. Ask the student and parents if they would like you to notify a new school of the student’s circumstances. This can create a safer and more welcoming setting for the student.

Take Care of Yourself

Educators have also been affected by the pandemic, experiencing loss, stressors, and other hardships. Children depend on important adults to help them feel safe and secure. If an educator is anxious, sad, or angry, students are more likely to be affected by that emotional state than by the words they hear. The Coalition offers a module on steps for self-care for educators supporting grieving children.

Self-care is not an “add-on.” It is an essential step, allowing educators to offer powerful support to worried and grieving students. Educators generally experience many personal rewards when they join in this vital effort.

If Not Now, When? Making Time for Wholeheartedness and Wellbeing

By Sharon McDonough and Narelle Lemon

This post is by the authors of the article “If Not Now, Then When? Wellbeing and Wholeheartedness in Education,” in the current edition of the KDP journal The Education Forum. You can view the article here for free during the month of August.

Dr. Sharon McDonough is a researcher in teacher education with advanced disciplinary knowledge of sociocultural theories of teacher emotion, resilience and wellbeing. Sharon brings these to explore how best to prepare and support teachers for entry into the profession, how to support the professional learning of teachers and teacher educators across their careers, and how to support wellbeing in education and in community. Sharon’s research expertise lies in methods of phenomenology and self-study.

Associate Professor Narelle Lemon is an interdisciplinary researcher in her fields of education, positive psychology and arts located at Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne, Australia.  She is a researcher who focuses on translating theory and evidence into practice to enhance engagement and participation for teachers and students across all fields of education. Recent research has investigated mindfulness in education, self-care and wellbeing to empower educators, arts and cultural education, and her award-winning scholarship of learning and teaching in the integration of social media for learning and professional development.

“But why did it take a virus to bring the people back together?”
“Well, sometimes you get sick, my boy, before you start feeling better.”
—Tomos Roberts

In his picture storybook The Great Realisation, author Tomos Roberts creates a hopeful and optimistic vision for how we might all begin to live in meaningful and thoughtful ways in the time after the pandemic. His book suggests that the pandemic becomes the catalyst for the “great realisation,” and in our article in The Educational Forum we, too, suggest that the pandemic provides the perfect time to pause. Additionally, we invite you to embrace this pause as a time to consider what are the key principles and practices that we should seek to instill in education.

The global pandemic has brought shifts to remote and flexible learning across the globe as schools have faced temporary closure of face-to-face classes. These shifts have provided both opportunities and challenges. Teachers have innovated their practices, young people have found ways to actively participate, and parents have communicated and worked with teachers to support young people through these uncertain times. But alongside these positives has been an intensification of some existing inequities, the challenges of intense workloads, issues of access, isolation, and questions of how to support wellbeing for teachers, students, and the community more broadly. In our research with Australian teachers about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on their work and wellbeing, teachers expressed that the pandemic highlighted the need to provide care and support to their colleagues, students, and their families. They expressed frustration with systems, government, media, and policy that seemed to suggest that teachers were ‘cannon fodder’ on the front lines of the pandemic.

The need to privilege wellbeing as a central endeavor in education seems more timely than ever in light of the current contexts in which we live and work. But has this happened? In our article, we draw on our data and Brené Brown’s guideposts for wholehearted living to create a series of poems that highlight the need to place wellbeing and wholeheartedness as core principles of the educational endeavor. For ourselves as teachers, for our students, and for our communities, now is the time to support collective wellbeing and to critique systems and structures that do not work to support this. In the light of all that has unfolded across the globe in the last year, we ask, if not now, when? We invite others to join us in this collective call for the prioritizing of wellbeing. You can join the conversation by reading our article in the Educational Forum. Will you join us as we seek to foster and support a wholehearted approach to education?

Click here or below for a live storytime reading of The Great Realisation by the author, Tomos Roberts.

Mental Illness Among College Students: Would a Gap Year Help?

Today’s blogger is William Beaver (Robert Morris University–Pittsburgh), author of the article “Would a ‘Gap Year’ Reduce Mental Illness Among College Students?”, which appears in the July 2021 issue of the Kappa Delta Pi Record. Get free access to the article through the month of August.

I first became interested in mental illness among college students a few years ago when a dorm counselor at the college where I taught told me that the number of students on Prozac was higher than anyone would suspect. I then thought back to my years as an undergraduate. Depression, often referred to as the common cold of mental illness, obviously existed. Yet, I don’t recall anyone talking much about it, and no one ever told me they were depressed. Most likely, that was because my peer group was mostly male, where admitting any weakness rarely occurred. I do remember one time sitting around a table in the student union when someone said that a male student, whom we all knew, had tried to commit suicide. No one at the table said anything, and the subject was quickly changed.

That said, my generation certainly had things to be stressed about. A couple of days before classes started in our freshman year, the president of the school informed us that one-third of our class would not be returning for their sophomore year because they had less than the coveted 2.0, which, as I recall, turned out to be fairly accurate. For males, there was a serious penalty for getting poor grades: Vietnam. If students didn’t have a C average after two semesters, they had to sit out a semester, which also made them eligible for the draft. (I knew of two students who did end up in Vietnam.) No one talked much about that either, perhaps because the consequences could be so dire.

From my own experience, I concluded that my generation was under a lot of pressure, and depression and anxiety were probably common, but we just chose to suffer in silence. Hence, the higher rate of mental illness among today’s students was simply tied to the fact that people were more open about it. Some of the research literature agreed with my conclusion. However, other studies were finding that although people were more open about mental illness, other factors were involved, and the increase in mental illness among college students was real.

What could these factors be? Fear of school shootings, concerns about finding a good job to help pay off school loans, snowplow parents, grades, and the increased use of social media are commonly cited. In recent years, social media has garnered the most attention and has raised some intriguing questions. For instance, does the use of social media cause depression, or do students who are already depressed turn to it? One can certainly understand how cyberbullying could be harmful. On the other hand, a study conducted at the University of Pennsylvania found that students who agreed to limit their smartphone use reported lower levels of depression, suggesting that use alone is associated with depression.

Doing something about student mental health has proved to be difficult. Schools have increased the size of their counseling departments, but we appear to need other strategies to ensure better mental health for new students. That’s where the idea of a gap year comes in—taking the year following high school graduation and engaging in some meaningful activity before starting college.

I soon discovered that, in the United States, taking a gap year is rare. Only about 3% of students do so. But in some countries, like Norway and Turkey, up to 50% of high school graduates take gap years. There hasn’t been a lot of research on the impacts of a gap year in the United States. However, the research that does exist is encouraging. For instance, in one survey, more than 90% of students taking a gap year reported they had developed as a person and were more mature and self-confident.

The question then becomes how to increase these numbers. Certainly, teachers and counselors can help get the word out and engage students who they feel would benefit from a gap year. Schools could provide information about gap year fairs held in various parts of the country. Parents also need to be informed about the potential benefits involved and that taking a gap year can help ensure an eventually successful college experience. Gap years can be international, where students experience a different culture, or can take place close to home, perhaps simply gaining experience in working and independent living. Unfortunately, no one is predicting a decline in mental illness among college students, so it’s time to try different strategies like gap years to help lessen the problem. For a closer look at these issues, see my article “Would a ‘Gap Year’ Reduce Mental Illness Among College Students?” in the July 2021 issue of the Kappa Delta Pi Record.

Building Positive Behaviors Through Social-Emotional Learning

By Rashmi Khazanchi

Today’s blogger is Rashmi Khazanchi, who was the lead author on the article “Incorporating Social–Emotional Learning to Build Positive Behaviors” (coauthored by Pankaj Khazanchi, Vinita Mehta, and Neetu Tuli), which appears in the January 2021 issue of the Kappa Delta Pi Record. Get free access to the article through the month of April.

The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted many sectors, including education. Suddenly, students across the globe were required to adapt to online/remote learning, which came with many challenges. Many students struggled with limited or lack of adequate space, technology, Internet connectivity, and resources. Families struggled to provide a quiet environment conducive to learning and devices for every child in the house—or to decide who gets the devices when children are at different grade levels. Safety concerns, social distancing, isolation, and loneliness posed a serious concern to the health and well-being of the students, families, teachers, and stakeholders. The feeling of uncertainty and ambiguity caused anxiety, nervousness, and distress among everyone facing the pandemic. Students and their families were challenged emotionally by the loss of family members, relatives, or friends. The biggest challenge from this abrupt transition to online learning for students was that they had to engage and maintain their concentration when learning, despite facing various challenges and feeling strong emotions such as anxiety and loneliness. In these times, it is vital to learn the skills of managing emotions and social interactions to maintain everyone’s safety and well-being.

In writing the article “Incorporating Social-Emotional Learning to Build Positive Behavior,” which was featured in the Kappa Delta Pi Record, I was fortunate to work with three coauthors who provided great insight into how social–emotional learning is being implemented in India and the United States. We discussed the five types of social and emotional learning (SEL) competencies: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. These SEL skills include learning to be aware of emotions, managing emotions, understanding things from other perspectives, maintaining positive interactions, and making informed decisions (CASEL, 2020). The article also highlights practical examples that teachers and parents can implement to build and maintain positive behaviors through the SEL activities and strategies described. One of the authors is the Director of Mom’s Belief Vatsalya Special School in India. Ms. Tuli eloquently described how she implements SEL activities for students with disabilities, who often express their emotions through negative behaviors. Students of Mom’s Belief Vatsalya do daily yoga, among other SEL activities, to balance their emotions.

The article examines why SEL skills are necessary and what challenges teachers face in implementing SEL. Teachers and parents play important roles in implementing and promoting SEL skills in the classroom and the home environment. Teachers need to demonstrate responsible behaviors, show genuine interest in students’ learning, establish positive social norms, teach self-reflection, and consistently reinforce positive behaviors. Parents can support their children at home by displaying positive behaviors and promoting SEL skills by reading stories with moral values, collaborating with their teachers to reinforce SEL lessons/activities taught at school, and building positive behaviors.

Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning. (2020). CASEL’s SEL framework.
https://casel.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/CASEL-SEL-Framework-10.2020-1.pdf