Recently, I read a quote that stopped me in my tracks. The quote was posted on a small road sign in a highly populated metropolitan city. It read, “Just because someone carries it well, doesn’t mean it isn’t heavy.” This message resonated with me deeply and is a powerful reminder of the invisibility that often accompanies the burdens we bear as individuals. I couldn’t help but reflect on the words and consider their application in so many areas of life. Immediately my thoughts turned to our children.
Kids are often seen as some of the most resilient people in the world. When change strikes and challenges arise, children are generally perceived to bounce back more quickly than we do as adults. But emotional hardships are equally as real for them and lasting. School today is different than it was a year ago. Contact with friends and family is limited. Opportunities to engage in extracurricular activities have been truncated. Even the way students are being asked to engage in the teaching and learning process switched for them overnight. While we are all focused on ensuring students are successful academically, we have to first prioritize their emotional well-being. Without that, success will be impossible.
So, what are some things we can do to support our learners during this unique time. Here are a few suggestions shared by Laura Vargas in an ASCD article titled, How We Can Make Time to Meet Students’ Emotional Needs?
- Create a Safe Atmosphere. Investing the time to ensure that students are learning in a safe emotional environment is as important as ensuring a safe physical one. Kids will thrive in places where they know that they can share their experiences. Vargas quotes an educator who says, “If we dedicate time to make students feel that mistakes are part of the learning process, they will understand that we are there to help and not to judge.” Suggestion can include regular class meetings, check-ins with individual students, etc.
- Meet Students’ Individual Needs. The essence of this suggestion is to simply get to know your students. Who are they? What makes them tick? What are their interests? What are things they dislike? How do they prefer to learn and demonstrate their learning? Ask questions. The better we know our students (and make it overtly obvious to them that we know and care about them), the better we can meet their needs and support their emotional well-being.
- Establish a Support Network. Just like adults need support to navigate the difficult moments in our lives, young people need the same. They need trusted adults who they can rely on to provide guidance and stability. They also need peers that they can trust. By intentionally creating opportunities for students to establish and build those meaningful and safe relationships, they can generate networks they can lean into when it’s needed.
- Routinely Check-in. One of the powerful things about “advisory periods” is they provide an opportunity for teachers to routinely check-in on how individual students are doing. With so many courses and activities in a young person’s life, it is important that a responsible adult routinely checks in with the students to see how they are doing. Quick chats, small talk about their life and even grade checks can help you know how what a student may need and how you can best serve them.
We are living in a unique time. More than ever our students need caring responsible adults and friends to support and encourage them in their school work and life. Thank you for committing to the young people you serve and for creating a space for them to thrive.
DR. STEVEN WURTZ
Chief Academic Officer