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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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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Spark Your Students’ Creativity with These Zoom-Friendly Exercises

By Shana Bestock

Bringing creativity into the classroom isn’t only for art teachers! Creativity hinges on discovery, and as educators we can intentionally set the stage for those moments of discovery to happen. Creativity is also intrinsically tied to collaboration–whether individually, by engaging different aspects of the self in conversation, or collectively, by communicating with others to build something together. Creativity is about being ingenious, resourceful, and taking risks. Whether your focus is math or reading, science or history, coding or painting, creativity is an essential ingredient to learning, engagement, and sparking curiosity and joy. Every teacher, no matter their subject area, can borrow from the Zoom-friendly exercises below to jumpstart their students’ creativity and prepare them for the lesson ahead.

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What My Special Needs Son Has Taught Me about Learning

By Jonathan Gold

In a normal year my seventh grade history students would be preparing to debate the merits of the American colonists’ arguments for declaring independence. This year, which would have been my fifteenth in the classroom, is no normal year; instead of teaching history to socially distanced students, I am on leave, working as a full-time homeschool support teacher for my special-needs 9-year-old. My son, Neko, has an extremely rare chromosomal disorder that causes deafness, autism, and significant developmental delays. Neko’s amazing school opened fully remote, and with childcare unfeasible for a child with his profile, my family and I decided I would stay home with him. Neko’s needs are fairly significant and life with him can be challenging. In our best moments, we think of him as a mystery: a magical child who hums with the energy of the universe in ways we can’t fully understand. Serving in this new role as his teacher has given me a different perspective on the complexities of teaching and learning.

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Why Bellringer Activities Are More Important Than Ever

By Mary McConnaha

Since moving to virtual, hybrid, or socially distanced in-person learning, many of us have had to adapt our tried-and-true classroom procedures to fit these new environments. As a middle school English teacher, I have always enjoyed engaging with my students through my “bellringers”—activities I’ve established for the first few minutes of class while my students get settled. Though it took some trial and error, I’ve found ways to continue these traditions via hybrid and online learning. What’s more, I’ve found it to be more important than ever to engage with and uplift my students through these small routines. Here, I’ll share my favorite ways to kick off my English class, whether in-person or online.

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You are the Instrument: Teaching Mindfulness and Personal Practice

This post is adapted from the book Teaching Mindfulness to Empower Adolescents by Matthew Brensilver, JoAnna Hardy, and Oren Jay Sofer (W. W. Norton, March 2020).

Life is often intense, but in this moment, it can be overwhelming. As educators, parents, indeed as humans, we find ourselves in a grueling and extended period of instability and challenge. Coronavirus, economic hardship, political strife and the transition to online learning are all unfolding in a context of a national grieving and reckoning with the country’s racial history. For many, it feels like the tectonic plates of our lives are shifting and we are not sure where to find our balance.

Given this context, our leadership role as educators becomes even more important. Our capacity to act as a keel in the lives of our students is vital. How can we serve this function and how might mindfulness help?

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As Schools Reopen, A New Inclusive Paradigm is Needed

By Debbie Zacarian and Becki Cohn-Vargas

As one school year ends and we plan for the next, we see the glaring inequities that the pandemic has amplified, and we recognize that steps must be taken to address them.  Beyond adopting new guidelines for hygiene and reducing our schools’ exposure to potential infection, it’s urgent that we focus as much if not more attention to an inclusive paradigm of schooling.  This calls for a renewed focus on the global wellbeing of students. We propose four guiding principles:

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Catching Up After COVID: Maximizing What Kids Know

By Miriam Plotinsky

As the school year draws to a close, educators nationwide are looking ahead to the daunting prospect of catching students up in the fall. Seen from a deficit mindset, meeting a broad range of student needs once the 2020-2021 school year begins seems to be an impossible charge. Without delegitimizing the concerns about what students have missed, particularly those who have not received distance instruction for a multitude of reasons, we must give students credit for their knowledge—which is vaster than we realize—as we prepare for next year.

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Pay more attention to mental health than to test scores

By Peter Smagorinksy

Republished with permission from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Mental health has emerged as a critical social and educational topic during the COVID 19 crisis. My contact with my University of Georgia students throughout the shutdown has found many of them struggling with mental health issues. Many of them had pre-existing conditions of anxiety, depression, and other mood and neurological challenges that were ramped up by their return home.

The home is often celebrated as a sanctuary from the world’s ills and evils, but many homes are very insecure. Some of my students left their college dorms for homes characterized by abuse, alcoholism, crowded quarters, anxious and frustrated parents, and other sources of stress and fear. Others developed anxiety and other challenges when cut off from friends and social lives and forced into baby-sitting or home schooling duties with their younger siblings by parents who were deeply stressed by demands of their own.

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Trending in 2020: Mindfulness for Adolescents

Twenty years ago, “mindfulness” was nearly absent from conversations in the education world. Fast forward to 2020, and we’ve witnessed an incredible surge of interest in integrating mindfulness from teachers, administrators, policymakers and researchers.  What accounts for this interest?

We suspect one key reason is that under the stress of expanding classrooms and standardized assessments, the teacher-student relationship has suffered. Sharing mindfulness helps reclaim the emotional poignancy of learning, which is, in the end an exchange between two people. The following excerpt from our book about teaching mindfulness to adolescents focuses on the power of self-disclosure by both teacher and student as they build and navigate an authentic relationship that facilitates deep learning.

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