By Lura Lunkenheimer, Ed. D., and Carin L. Reeve
As we prepare for multiple contingencies of reopening school buildings, we know school leaders are thinking about how to best support the social and emotional needs of students returning from prolonged isolation, uncertainty, and the routine and structure of classroom learning. While some students may take these sudden and dramatic changes in stride, other students will struggle – acting out or acting in, depending on their own personalities.
Within this set of challenges lives an opportunity for school leaders to consider how their biggest resource – the master schedule – can promote and develop resilience within a vibrant school community.
Schools will need a multi-prong approach to supporting the intensified needs of students as they return from at least six months away from the structures of school. Research on the children of Hurricane Katrina indicates that we can predict up to 60% of the students will need mental health intervention. To build capacity to meet this demand schools should consider rethinking the structure of the school day in order to build in opportunities that foster resilience.
Making time for resilience in a master schedule gives teachers permission to focus on the social and emotional development of a healthy classroom community, but it does not eliminate academics. Putting “Maslow before Bloom” allows teachers to acknowledge that students can only learn when they have that sense of safety and belonging that is found in vibrant classroom communities.
Here are some ways that school leaders can foster the development of resilience within the master schedule and purposefully build a school community where all students can thrive.
- Start the day with Play: Open Gym, Outdoor walk and talk, Free Art Spaces, Choral Sing-Along. Research supports the ways that play and being in nature reduce anxiety and promote a sense of happiness and well-being. By building these opportunities into the school day, particularly in the beginning of the day, schools can provide positive interactions from the start, giving students and staff a better foundation for any academic learning.
- Build in movement breaks throughout the day. Whether these are building-wide or in classrooms, giving just 3-5 minutes for dancing, stretching, cheers, chants, stepping, or even jumping rope will allow the positive endorphins to flow and bring everyone back to a positive place. Purposeful planning of these activities supports resilience by providing opportunities to build self-efficacy and positive social relationships for all students.
- Use yoga and mindfulness to decrease anxiety and promote a sense of calm. Mindfulness and yoga help support trauma and anxiety by slowing down and becoming aware of sensations in the body without judgement. Taking a few minutes to become centered in both mind and body can promote a greater sense of well-being as well as supporting self-awareness and emotional regulation.
- Prioritize community building to transition into academic instruction. Classroom teachers understand the importance of building community on the first few days of school, but to structure a learning community that is deeply rooted in belonging requires community building and purposeful planning on a daily basis. Because all learning includes social and emotional components, teaching the social skills that students will need when grappling with more complex content should start from the first day of school.
- Use circle practices to create new norms and introduce skills that support grief management and anger management. Teachers do not have to have a counseling degree to help students develop skills with identifying and naming feelings. The beauty of using circle practices is that each person is able to find their own connection within the circle. Using circles as a daily component of a school or classroom community builds the structure so that when difficult feelings or situations arise, the circle practice and expectations are already in place.
- Practice affirmations in school wide announcements – modeling how to recognize what is going right, what is keeping us safe, or what we have to celebrate – even during a time of uncertainty. Research supports the use of positive affirmations for adults who are focusing on self-improvement efforts, and that positive self-talk is an essential skill for young people as well. Learning that we don’t have to be controlled by our inner dialogue is very important in healthy emotional development, and modeling that on a school-wide level will have a large scale impact.
- Invest in hands on minds on active learning – train teachers to reduce the traditional lecture and respond with active project-based lessons. Students show up for what interests them and the people who matter to them. We don’t have to compete with video games to get students engaged – we have to let them think, experience, ask questions, be curious, and create.
Peter Drucker said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” And there is so much truth to that statement. As we plan for the reopening of schools, after at least six-months of emergency remote teaching, school leaders must purposefully plan for the culture that they want to see show up in their schools. There may be tremendous pressure to make up for lost academic time and opportunity upon the return to school buildings. But, school leaders must apply equal pressure to addressing the time spent building and reinforcing our students social and emotional resilience if we are to give students the skills that they will need for their future.