- Partner with students to identify positive coping strategies that help them with emotional management and self-regulation rather than using a blanket “method.” Studies have found that students who actively participate in expressing preferences and making choices have increases in engagement and productivity and decreases in disruptive behavior. – (Center for MH in Schools & Student/Learning Supports, 2020)
- Take short breaks throughout the day to participate in a positive coping strategy exercise as a class. Deep breathing, guided imagery, and laughter yoga will help students and teachers with emotional management. NAMI SC’s Teacher Refresh is a supplemental program following Ending the Silence for Staff that is designed to demonstrate positive coping strategies that can be used in the classroom.
- Implement Social Emotional Learning (SEL) practices in the classroom and engage caregivers in SEL practices through education and ongoing communication. Include caregivers so they are able to assist their children in learning emotional management skills (Normand, 2020). Community organizations such as SEL4SC offer SEL training and programs. Committee for Children also provides SEL resources for educators and caregivers.
- Utilize classroom accommodations including having shorter assignments, additional time to complete assignments, assistance in understanding, remembering and keeping assignments organized. (Center for MH in Schools & Student/Learning Supports, 2020) Children returning to the classroom may struggle with learning difficulties such as poor concentration, difficulties with memory, and cognitive challenges resulting from trauma. Having accommodations such as assignments listed on the board or breaking assignments into steps can help children be successful in school.
- Incorporate free-time activities and “brain breaks” throughout the day. This is important for building “community” and support in the classroom (Normand, 2020) and can assist students who may be struggling with concentration and cognitive functions.
- Teachers should be given training in positive coping strategies and have support from school administrators to foster personal wellness. It is difficult to help students who are emotionally dysregulated if a teacher is struggling with their own emotional regulation. This may include administrators that give teachers a safe space to discuss their own trauma response to COVID-19, create an environment where teachers feel encouraged to watch out for and support each other, and provide teachers with short breaks and a relaxing space to de-stress when needed. Ward Melville High on Long Island, NY created just such a place when they revamped a classroom into “WellVille” for teachers to de-compress and recharge. Teachers Aligned offers professional development for South Carolina educators on a variety of wellness practices as well as an annual retreat. NAMI SC’s Teacher Refresh is an interactive program that provides educators with positive coping strategies that can be utilized for personal wellness. Students benefit from teachers who are emotionally healthy and supported.
Stacy Torres, an assistant professor of sociology in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences at University of California, San Francisco asserts, “we must invest in more than ‘making up’ for lost classroom time. Securing students’ mental health is also necessary for meaningful learning. Reconnecting the most vulnerable families focused on survival will require patience, sensitivity and coordination with a sufficient number of mental health providers and school social workers.” (Torres, 2020) As preparations are made to return to the classroom, educators should heed the advice of Larry Ferlazzo, Columnist for Education Week and teacher at Luther Burbank HS in Sacramento, CA who said, “Lead with love, not with lessons.” Ibid