Teachers are exhausted. As I write this, I am winding down my 6th week of working 7 days in a row of 12 hours plus a day, because that is what it takes to teach digitally right now. Work/life balance is a thing of the past, though I have hopes that it will come back again.
Parents are exhausted too. Social media overflows with comments, memes and cartoons about the “hell that is remote learning” (Hirsch, 2020). I know because every post from our school district or governor that mentions school is inundated with angry, frustrated replies begging that school reopen.
In the middle of all of this maelstrom of adult exhaustion and emotion, students meet their teachers daily from behind their screens. The tweens I teach are in that in-between stage where some are in childcare, while others are childcare providers for parents who work. Some have parents sitting next to them through class, while others are home alone for 12-14 hours each work day.
This is not true online learning as it is typically designed. It is Emergency Remote Teaching. Educause Review differentiates between the two in a March, 2020 journal post, saying:
In contrast to experiences that are planned from the beginning and designed to be online, emergency remote teaching (ERT) is a temporary shift of instructional delivery to an alternate delivery mode due to crisis circumstances (2020).
For some students, emergency remote learning is better than in school–bullying incidents are down, the actual learning tasks are shorter, and they live in safe, loving homes. For others, emergency remote learning is hard: they miss their friends, they are in unsafe/uncomfortable homes, they struggle to learn without in-person teaching, or they have responsibilities at home that they would not have were their younger siblings in school.
Whether the learning environment is better or worse, all of our students are going through a traumatic circumstance due to the changes in their lives and the ongoing uncertainty that growing up in a pandemic causes. We are teaching children who have endured or are enduring trauma. Additionally, specific populations are affected to a greater degree by the COVID-19 crisis and its fallout according to The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (2020).
As WestED explains, a hallmark of teaching children experiencing trauma is viewing their academic struggles and challenging behaviors through the lens of the trauma they experience rather than seeing them as inherent to the child (2020).
Showing grace to our children in classes provides them a measure of calm and respite from the worry they experience and the chaos of their lives in this crisis. It allows children to complete work in the ways they are able–which is often radically different from how their learning traditionally looks. Showing grace to our children can be the difference between their success and failure.
There are some ways that we can show grace to these children during this difficult time.
Flexible Attendance & Teaching
Not all students can attend google meet classes or Zooms. Our school allows students to attend class via live class meeting or asynchronously via google classroom. This allows students who are working during class times or struggling with the lack of schedule to still attend class. Mark Lieberman at Education Week questions whether attendance is an accurate indicator of student engagement, but reports that tracking attendance can provide teachers with an indicator of which students who are struggling to engage and may need additional school and community supports (2020). Allowing flexiblity regarding attendance encourages disengaged students to continue to attend classes, which results in better understanding of student struggles in this time.
Edweek explains that students and families will need flexibility in deadlines and in help, suggesting schools provide assistance “around the clock” (2020). Further, teachers need to have highly-organized systems of feedback and organizing assignments on a single platform that emphasize consistency and access (Edweek, 2020). This minimizes some of the barriers students at the highest risk during this time may have.
It seems like everything is harder and takes longer in online learning. So, in our co-taught classroom (with a higher than typical population of diverse learners), we have had to cut back our expectations by about half. This doesn’t mean we teach fewer skills, instead it means we shorten assignments for all students, and simplify instruction and oraganization.
The WestEd guide, “Strategies for trauma informed distance learning” explains the reasoning behind cutting down on the amount of work teachers expect of students, saying:
With stress and change, students’ physical and mental capacities to handle an academic workload are diminished. If you are using the lessons that you would normally use in your classroom for distance learning, consider slimming them down, such as by reducing the amount of reading required or decreasing the number and/or the length of responses that you ask for. (2020).
Allow time for kids to be kids
A hallmark of trauma informed teaching is connecting with students and allowing opportunities for play. During a typical in-person school day, opportunities for connection and play are built into the edges of the school day: passing time, before and after school, bus rides, recess, transition times between tasks in class, classroom games and activities, bathroom breaks, during clubs and sports activities, etc. Most of these opportunities are supervised by adults, who help students engage in positive interactions and play.
These opportunities are drastically reduced in remote learning, so teachers who incorporate play into their remote days can help meet important social emotional needs for students. PBS Teachers Lounge suggests virtual spirit weeks and virtual social gatherings, describing them as “low stake opportunities for your class to build community” (2020). Stephen Merrill at Edutopia emphasizes the importance of connection for both students and teachers: “Humans are social animals. Working from home, or worse, from quarantine, is isolating and often depressing for both teachers and students” (2020).
Choose Materials with Care
West ED explains that teachers should pre-check resources to insure they do not activate stress for children experiencing trauma (2020). As teachers scramble to find digital resources, this may seem onorous, however it’s important because children in a high-stress traumatic environment during learning may be less able to separate their in-class reading from their at-home lives, especially given that class is now in their homes.
Additionally, many of the digital tools teachers are pressed into using are not initially designed for schools and students on a mass scale. The number of “zoom- bombings” in classrooms is a testament to that, and the lack of teacher controls that address the developmental stages of students are an excellent example of this. Choosing both the content and the delivery with care can help.
Respect Students Resiliency
Sarah Dryden-Peterson at the harvard graduate school of education observes that in refugee communities, children who are told about the situation that causes their family’s flight are more resilient and likely to thrive than those who are not (2020). Applying this understanding to COVID-19 learning, Dryden-Peterson explains “To thrive in the face of current and likely longer-term school disruptions, children need to understand the thinking behind school closures, including the science of Covid-19, the reasons for social distancing, and the roles they can play in preventing its spread” (April 2020).
Engaging students in lessons in mindfulness and in understanding their brains’ responses to stress are other ways to encourage and build resilience in our students. Units of online study that help children build an understanding of the biology of stress, and provide age-appropriate understandings of trauma induced stress are available from various sources, such as this one from Pure Edge (Weaver, 2018).
Resources and References
Abdul-Adil, J., Et al. (2020). The impact of developmental trauma in communities of color during the pandemic [Webinar]. National Child Trauma Stress Network. https://learn.nctsn.org/course/view.php?id=545
Bautista, S. (2020, April 1). PBS Teachers Lounge. Five virtual ways to build a classroom community. Retrieved September 12, 2020 from https://www.pbs.org/education/blog/5-virtual-ways-to-build-a-classroom-community
Dryden-Peterson, S. (2020, April 16). Learning and community in a time of crisis. Harvard Graduate School of Education. Retrieved September 27 from https://www.gse.harvard.edu/news/uk/20/04/learning-and-community-time-crisis
Habib, M., Et. Al. (2020). The resilience of youth: the impact of developmental trauma, COVID-19 and beyond [Webinar]. National Child Trauma Stress Network. https://learn.nctsn.org/course/view.php?id=544
Hirsch, S. (2020, September 22). The hell that is remote learning explained in a comic. Vox. Retrieved September 24 from https://www.vox.com/first-person/21450739/coronavirus-covid-19-school-remote-online-learning
Hodges, C., Et. Al. (2020) The difference between emergency remote teaching and online learning. Educause Review. Retrieved September 27, 2020 from https://er.educause.edu/articles/2020/3/the-difference-between-emergency-remote-teaching-and-online-learning
International Society for Technology in Education. ISTE standards for coaches. Retrieved September 18, 2020, from https://www.iste.org/standards/for-coaches
Lieberman, M. (2020, April 17). Education Weekly. Taking attendance during coronavirus closures, is it even worth it?.Retrieved September 27, 2020 from https://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2020/04/17/taking-attendance-is-tricky-during-coronavirus-closures.html
Merrill, S. (2020, March 19). Teaching through a pandemic: a mindset for this moment. Edutopia. Retrieved September 27, 2020 from https://www.pbs.org/education/blog/5-virtual-ways-to-build-a-classroom-community
National Child Trauma Stress Network. (2020). Trauma-informed school strategies during COVID-19. NCTSN. Retrieved September 18, 2020, from https://www.nctsn.org/sites/default/files/resources/resource-guide/trauma_informed_school_strategies_during_covid-19.pdf
Pate, C. (2020). Strategies for trauma-informed distance learning. Center to Improve Social Emotional Learning and School Safety, WestEd. from https://selcenter.wested.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/3/2020/05/SEL_Center_Strategies_for_Trauma_Informed_Distance_Learning_Brief.pdf
Resilient Educator (2020). Essential Trauma-Informed Teaching Strategies for Managing Stress in the Classroom (and Virtual Classrooms). Resilient Educator. from https://resilienteducator.com/classroom-resources/trauma-informed-teaching-tips/
Shafer, S. (2020, July). COVID 19 and remote learning how to make it work. Education Weekly. Retrieved September 27, 2020 from https://www.edweek.org/ew/issues/reopening-schools/covid-19-remote-learning-how-to-make-it.html
Weaver, J., (2018). Unit 3 power of the brain body connection. Pure Edge, Inc. from https://www.dropbox.com/sh/dw5h9gr4nubw1xs/AACGNezDoysf1xYG_gtZZL93a/A%20Peek%20Inside%20the%20Amazing%20Brain/Grades%206-12/English?dl=0&preview=PureEdge_6-12MiniUnit+-+Final.pdf&subfolder_nav_tracking=1
Wenner-Moyer, M. (2020, April 23). Rule no. 1 for parents doing ‘crisis schooling’: take a deep breath. Retrieved September 25, 2020 from https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/23/education/learning/coronavirus-remote-learning-tips-home-schooling.html