Teacher Appreciation: Educators Help Students Cope with Uncertain Times
This year, educators and students are celebrating Teacher Appreciation Day from a distance. In this trying time, we are reminded of the important role educators play in the lives of students, not just as academic guides but as figures of stability and social and emotional support. As students struggle with social isolation, anxiety around the ongoing pandemic, and the challenges of remote learning, educator and student relationships are as important as ever. In honor of Teacher Appreciation Day, we spoke with two educators who are finding ways to support their students’ social and emotional well-being, despite not being together in person. We want to share their stories as a reminder of all the good that continues, and to provide a bright spot amid the chaos we are facing.
Boston Teacher Virtually Connects with Students for Social and Emotional Support
McKenzie Powers, a 5th Grade teacher at the Manassah E. Bradley School in East Boston, knows how challenging this time is for her students and their families. This is her second year teaching the same group of students in her inclusion classroom. Not getting to end the year with them in person is difficult for her, too.
“Students and families know that I am available at all times. We are constantly available for families because we know it is so hard for them right now, especially because some of them are trying to work and support their students,” McKenzie said.
Her whole class meets virtually several times a week. In addition to academic guidance, the meetings are a chance for students to connect.
“We talk about similarities in the emotions we are feeling. A lot of us are experiencing fear and uneasiness, so we identify those emotions and talk about how we can cope with those feelings,” McKenzie said. “For example, many of the students are getting annoyed with their siblings. So we talked about what they can do if they’re frustrated. They came up with ideas like going to work on an art project or listening to music in their room. It allows them to think about different ways they can be proactive instead of reactive in these situations.”
The students in her school who don’t have access to internet or computers were able to receive Chrome Books and internet hotspots. That means McKenzie is able to creates space for small group virtual meetings so her students have as many chances to interact with each other as possible. She meets with all students individually, too, since not all students are as open to sharing in groups. If parents want additional support for their children, they can sign them up for one-on-one meetings. Students can—and do—sign themselves up for individual meetings, too.
Social and emotional learning has always been a priority in McKenzie’s classroom.
“In our classroom, we have a high social-emotional need. It’s something we’ve worked on in the past year-and-a-half, and we want to make sure, even in our time apart, they are still getting support and they are still working on social-emotional skills,” she said.
McKenzie says she’s working even more now than she does when school doors are open. And she’s not alone.
“I have been so impressed with how hard my colleagues are working. It’s been incredible to see how passionate they are. Teachers are working extremely hard to learn all these new platforms and try to figure out how to teach and support families virtually. There has been a lot of communication among teachers, and the administration has been very helpful and supportive. I think this has brought out the best in educators,” McKenzie said.
Middleton Behavior Specialist Uses Storytelling to Help Students Process Feelings Around School Closures
“What do you do when you feel stressed, worried, or anxious?”
“When worried or scared, who helps you or just makes you feel better by being around?”
“Have you ever gotten into an argument with a friend or family member and then worked together to solve a problem?”
As children and families navigate a strange new environment, these types of questions are more pressing than ever. For Martha Johnson, a behavior specialist in Middleton Public Schools, storytelling is the perfect way to help students understand and process the fear and stress produced by school closures. Martha has been using storytelling to support social-emotional development for many years.
“Our brains are hard-wired to remember things from stories,” she notes. “They’re a great way to illustrate how to manage emotions and deal with conflict, in a way that’s not preachy, or a lecture, or a worksheet.” Besides, she adds, “kids are natural storytellers.”
When school closures meant she could no longer visit classes in person, Martha began putting together lessons that elementary school teachers can share with their students remotely. She records herself telling a short story—often fables or folk tales, such as “The Sky is Falling!” or “The Sun & The Wind” (an Aesop Fable), but sometimes a story from her own personal history. She adds guiding questions and suggested activities that teachers can use as part of a lesson, highlighting the key takeaways for social-emotional learning (such as the questions listed above). Her goal is to add one or two new stories each week so teachers can continue to present new content.
Although teachers just recently started integrating the stories into Google Classroom, Martha has already received positive feedback from teachers and parents.
“I heard from parents that students wanted to hear from me because they know me. This is a nice way to maintain a rapport with students,” she said.
In these unsettled times, confronted with worry or fear, a friendly face and comforting story may be just what many children (and their families) need.
For more on how to use storytelling to support social-emotional development, Martha recommends checking out Once Upon a Time... Storytelling to Teach Character and Prevent Bullying, by Elisa Davy Pearmain, or Karen Chace’s blog Story Bug or book Story by Story: Creating a School Storytelling Troupe & Making the Common Core Exciting. You may also be interested in African Storybook, which has over 1,000 free African stories online as well as resources for using these stories with children. And the National Association of School Psychologists offers a number of resources on how to provide remote services to students, including an “Ask the Experts” webinar series.
We’re looking for more positive stories to share! What are you doing to support students right now? Do you know anyone coming up with new ways to engage with students during school closures? Contact us with any ideas!