This past year during the pandemic, I was looking for ways to connect with other people. One of my past instructors was offering an online business class. I decided to join the class to brush up on a few skills and meet other coaches and consultants. At the first session, there were several other people on the Zoom call. The instructor introduced himself and jumped right into the “how-to” of the topic.
Whoa, whoa, whoa, my brain was saying. I was not concentrating on what the instructor was saying at all. Instead, I looked at the faces (or black box with a name), wondering, Who are these other people? What do they do? Am I safe to share about myself?
In the past few weeks, teachers have welcomed students back to the classrooms. As soon as the students step into the room, many teachers choose to jump right into the subject matter.
Maybe the instructor feels the pressure of covering X amount of material, and we only have X weeks to go in the school year. Perhaps there is an expectation set by the administration to keep students moving forward. Or it could be all the discussion around learning loss as a pervasive message that learning is just for a short period of life.
Many of the students might be going, “Whoa, whoa, whoa!”
The transition back into the classroom and face-to-face instruction doesn’t need to be abrupt when remembering that relationships are currency.
What do I mean?
Our relationships are the currency that we build with the learners. I can remember back to when I had an instructor that I loved. Engaging, funny, and told stories to illustrate a point. I didn’t like the subject; however, I learned to like it more than I did before I took the class because of the teacher’s enthusiasm and connection with the students.
Here are several points to think about as students and staff come back to the classroom:
- A safe brain is a learning brain. We (yes, you too) have been under a lot of stress over the past twelve months. Stress can do crazy things to your brain. If the brain is feeling consistent stress, it can’t concentrate on the algebra problem because it’s too busy figuring out if this place or person is safe or not.
- Students coming back to school may look distracted, frustrated, and overwhelmed. According to researcher Marc Brackett, these behaviors may look like learning disabilities or behavioral problems. However, these disabilities and behaviors can be manifesting due to prolonged and unmanaged periods of stress over the past year.
- We are all suffering from loss and grief. We are experiencing loss and grief from losing a loved one, losing time with friends, losing family time, losing jobs, homes, and so much more.
- Loss, grief, and stress take emotional and physical energy. When our energy is being placed in other areas to stay safe, it feels like we are in a holding pattern. Just holding it all together and with one slight pull of a pin, we come all undone.
Stress, loss, and grief is taking a toll on teachers, learners, and parents. Pretty much everyone.
What can you do?
- Start slow—Check-in with students by using a morning question or start the class with a question. Either share out loud or put answers on sticky notes—some way to check in with each other.
- Breathe. Take some deep breaths and have others do it with you. If you are in a classroom, don’t try to ask students to do things you can’t or are unwilling to do. So take a deep breath, or maybe 3 or 4 together.
- Take the view from the balcony. This is one year in your life, maybe two. This is one year in this child’s life. What does the long view look like? How do you want your students to remember this past year?
- Weave in some ways during your day to complete and manage the stress cycle for yourself. Plan into your day either exercise, quiet time, laughter, connection with others, a phone call, singing, or creative playtime. Whatever that will help you to slow down, breathe, and feel safe.
Consider taking some time to pull back on the reins as we go back to the classrooms. Be intensional as you welcome students, staff, and families back to the school.
As my friend Stacy reminded me, we are all navigating the storm of this past year; however, we are all experiencing the storm differently. Life can be difficult, yet when we slow down, breathe, take the long view and do some self-care, we can build relationships that will feel safe for other staff, parents, and students.