Supportive Strategies for Post-Pandemic Classrooms

by Christine Boatman

Over the past year, my students have experienced loss and trauma caused by the COVID-19 pandemic—including health crises, financial hardships, and limited access to education—as well as from a wildfire that tore through our community, burning many homes. Now that my students and I are returning to an in-person classroom, I am considering how I can best support each student through this transitional period. Teachers everywhere are faced with the challenge of helping students readjust to a classroom environment, face residual trauma from the past year, and “catch up” after what was, for many, a less-than-productive school year. Here, I share some strategies that I have found essential to supporting my students as we return to in-person schooling.

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Helping Students with ADHD Readjust to In-Person Schooling

by Nina Parrish

According to survey data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2016, about 6.1 million (or 9.4 percent) of children in the United States were diagnosed, at that time, with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Yale researcher and clinical psychologist Thomas Brown describes ADHD as an impairment of the executive functioning system. This means that students with ADHD can struggle with tasks such as organizing, prioritizing, getting started, staying focused, maintaining effort, regulating emotions, remembering learned information, holding information in mind while working, and the ability to self-regulate or monitor work for quality and completion.

Due to preexisting challenges with executive functioning and emotional regulation, students with ADHD may have struggled more than their neurotypical classmates to adjust to the many changes in schooling and other stressors brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. The CDC found that, prior to the pandemic, 6 in 10 children with ADHD had at least one other mental, emotional, or behavioral disorder, such as anxiety, depression, or a conduct disorder. A research review conducted by Rosanna Breaux, a professor at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, showed that during this past school year many students with ADHD not only experienced an increase in ADHD symptoms such as difficulty with attention and impulse control, but were also more likely to experience an increase in all mental/emotional/behavioral disorder symptoms. 

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Strategies to Prevent Compassion Fatigue

by Carolyn Curtis

The past year has been exceptionally challenging for educators, who have been dealing with multiple COVID-19-related stressors, including navigating remote, hybrid, or in-person learning, and worrying about their students’ well-being. In education resources, much of the focus during Mental Health Awareness Month has been on the need for educators and school leaders to support students, which is critically important. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, one in five students struggled with their mental health and up to 80% of these students did not receive the necessary support. The rates of mental health struggles in students are expected to increase in the coming years.

We must not forget, however, that educators are often front-line workers when it comes to student mental health, and that they also can be impacted by their students’ struggles.

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A Fight Worth Fighting: Use Your Skills to Address Systemic Racism

by Vernita Mayfield

“There’s a fight in the girl’s bathroom!” As a middle school administrator, I knew all too well the urgency of this frantic call.  I dropped the basketball mid-game and raced toward the restroom. The assistant principal, already on the scene when I arrived, had the situation well under control with both girls spraddled, tearful, and breathless on opposite ends of the bathroom. I breathed a sigh of relief. A squabble over “talking stuff” had somehow escalated to a physical altercation that could have resulted in serious harm to one or both fighters as one of the participants wielded faux fingernails sharpened like blades. But the assistant principal had used her professional skills, personal relationships with the students, and “teacher voice” to dismantle and deescalate an otherwise volatile situation. More to the point, absolutely no one was shot or killed in the process. This conflict was deescalated without a single weapon discharged—an outcome that happens in schools across the nation.

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School Isn’t Equitable for Trauma-Affected Students

This post is an excerpt from Alex Shevrin Venet’s new book, Equity-Centered Trauma-Informed Education (W. W. Norton).

Once students have experienced trauma, how is their access to and experience of their education affected? Based on what we know about how trauma impacts student learning, we can see that school isn’t equitable for trauma-affected students. Schools can be indifferent to how trauma affects children, even outright retraumatizing and harmful. If we want school to be equitable for students who have experienced trauma, we need to rethink how common practices in schools are failing our trauma-affected students.

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Reimagining Mental Health Support for Students

By Diane Staehr Fenner, PhD

In my last blog post for K-12Talk, I described how it felt to be an educator and a parent during what we have come to realize were the early stages of the pandemic. Now, more than a year and seemingly a lifetime later, I’ve had plenty of time to ruminate about what’s been most crucial to me during this time. As an educator and author who primarily supports multilingual learners and their teachers, I’ve witnessed teachers’ Herculean efforts to foster relationships with their students and ensure students stay engaged in their education, often at a distance. At the same time, as a mom of three kids in middle and high school, I’m often up in the middle of the night, worried about how the pandemic has affected not only my own kids’ schooling but also their well-being.

Through both of my roles, I’ve personally witnessed how students’ mental health has become a more frequent topic of conversation since the pandemic began. The reality of living through a pandemic has exacerbated many students’ previously existing anxiety and depression and has created new mental health issues for others who did not suffer prior to COVID-19. This post is prompted by a sense of urgency about the need for schools to respond to students’ mental health concerns as educators envision what school might look and feel like in the next academic year.

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A Return to Teaching in a Pandemic Year

By Kevin Scott

I’m a teacher. Simply writing that statement feels refreshing and comfortable, yet it’s an identity to which I only recently returned. I taught 7th graders in the early 2000s. My first year of teaching U.S. history included trying to explain the election of 2000 and Bush v. Gore. My second year began with 9/11, and my third included the D.C. Sniper, which forced every kid in the D.C. metro area to stay indoors for the entire fall. No sports, no P.E., no riding bikes—just fear. I stayed in the classroom until 2007 when I took my experiences to a national education organization to use what I knew in a new environment. If I’m being honest, I was burned out and had two young sons who wanted to know why their dad wasn’t at their preschool’s “Donuts with Dad” or the end of year graduation lunch with the rest of the parents in their class.

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Three Poetry Final Projects for National Poetry Month

By Sharon Kunde

Marianne Moore argued that good poetry fashions “imaginary gardens with real toads in them”: worlds created of words in which toadlike reality crouches and springs on us, eliciting clenched hands, dilated eyes, “hair that can rise/if it must” (24, 5-6). Like good poetry, good pedagogy invites students into the world of ideas and allows them to create useful, authentic experiences and artifacts with those ideas.

While poems are easy to integrate into units on longer prose works, I strongly recommend devoting an entire unit (or more!) to poetry. In honor of National Poetry Month, here are some suggestions for final projects around which you can build an engaging poetry unit.

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Connecting with Students During a Crazy School Year

By Pete Barnes

Connecting with students on a personal level is always challenging for busy teachers, but this pandemic year has been especially difficult for getting to know students and their families. No matter what teaching models our schools are using, we must continue to work extra hard this school year to know students as people. Whether it is exposing our own quirks and personal passions, setting up class time for students to share, or finding ways to make students feel like individuals, teachers must make efforts to connect. The extra time is well-spent, as students who feel accepted and valued are far more likely to learn. Here are some strategies that work for me, with possible modifications for remote and hybrid learning scenarios:

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Given a choice, some students will choose to write poetry.

This post is excerpted from the book Creating Confident Writers: For High School, College, and Life by Troy Hicks and Andy Schoenborn (W. W. Norton, June 2020).

Perhaps one of our most important jobs as writing teachers is to help our writers understand that literacy is much more than reading, researching, and academic writing. For many students, the only real changes they see in their ELA and composition courses over the years are that the mechanical demands become stricter (with specific attention to MLA, APA, or other style guides) and the papers get longer. It is an unfortunate reality that turns many of those same students away from writing or, worse yet, forces them to see school-based prose as the only kind of writing that counts.

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