By: Anita Scheffer
I came across this short film the other day. It was featured in a @huffingtonpost article by Associate Editor, Al Donato, and I thought to myself, “Wow…this 15-year old teen girl was able to sum up what every adolescent has felt, or continues to feel throughout what adults keep referring to as the”new normal.” Is it though? Is any of this normal? I don’t think I can ever bring myself to refer to it as such.
Liv McNeil, a 15-year-old student at Etobicoke School of the Arts in the Toronto area, created her short film called “Numb”, based on her real-life experience of “numbness” related to #remotelearning. And she nailed it. The overwhelming daily routine of checking emails and completing assignments in #GoogleClassroom day in and day out, while in complete isolation in her room, is portrayed perfectly.
Throughout #quarantine, we have listened to our students, and for some of us, our own young children and teens, share their feelings about what it’s been like to have their lives brought to a halt. Imagine a 5-year old leaving Kindergarten on a Friday in March, and being told they were not going to be going back to school on Monday because of a #pandemic. A what??
I can’t imagine how difficult it was for parents of little ones to explain what all of it meant. How frightened they must have been hearing the words virus, disease, quarantine, and even death. Not being able to see the teacher they loved and all of their friends. And how about the 7th grader whose Bar Mitzvah was in two weeks and it had to be canceled because everything was shut down. The 16-year old girls (like my own twin daughters and all of their friends) whose Sweet Sixteen parties and plans would be canceled with no chance of rescheduling. Dance recitals, canceled. No proms. Sleepaway camp, done. Vacations canceled. School sports, not even an option, with no clue as to when they will ever resume. Virtual high school graduations or no graduation at all. And finally, the college kids, both those who were counting the moments to move into their dorm for the first time, or the athlete that didn’t get to play their last season before finishing college. There are just too many to mention. All of them equally painful from the perspective of a child who has zero control over the situation. We must recognize this, remember how we feel when we have no control, and help guide them through these very confusing events by listening and offering healthy suggestions for them to manage their emotions. Sadness, anger, disappointment, frustration, resentment…just a few of the emotions kids have been experiencing for the last four and a half months. We feel it too. and as adults, many of us don’t know how to handle our own emotions, let alone theirs.
Soul crushing daily routine has become the norm during these months of pandemic isolation.” -Al Donato
So what can we do as teachers and parents to help children manage so much disappointment and uncertainty while preparing for a very different school year that is only weeks away? For one thing, as parents, we need to remain positive (Ha!) and watch what we say when our children are around. It’s very easy to become heightened and start complaining about a school district, teachers, our beliefs regarding COVID, a particular group of people… Just spend a few moments reading through your local Moms’ Group on Facebook, and you’ll see what I’m talking about. It’s not easy to remain calm, and they are watching and listening to our words, body language, facial expressions, etc.
As far as we teachers are concerned, this is going to be a very novel experience for ALL of us; one that we will remember for a lifetime. We scratched the surface of what it was like to teach remotely in the spring, and it was daunting for everyone involved in the process. Some will be #remote-teaching from the get-go. Others will be face-to-face. The rest will be using some type of hybrid model. It is of the utmost importance that we practice #self-care so we can be there to support our students in any way possible.
Many health educators have had their classes completely removed from the school day. Allow yourself to grieve, because this is indeed, a loss. Those of us that are fortunate enough to still have a schedule will find ourselves beginning the school year with very different looking “ice-breakers.” Many of our students are going to be coming back to school, no matter what type of plan their district has in place, having experienced some form of #trauma. This can’t be ignored. Some have lost grandparents or have parents that are jobless as a direct result of #COVID. Ours is the class that will allow students to use their voices and share what the last few months have been like for them. We will feel like therapists, and that’s OK. Kids need to feel safe and comfortable, and we all know that the most important thing for us to do is form trusting relationships with our students right away, while keeping them (and us) healthy.
Our curriculum focus should be on #SEL or social and emotional learning and #selfmanagement with the use of skills-based health activities. #SBHE. The CASEL Guide to School-wide SEL (@casel.org) is an excellent resource for promoting SEL as part of a young person’s development. I love their definition and description of the program and the resources are endless and free.
“A systemic, school-wide approach to SEL intentionally cultivates a caring, participatory, and #equitable learning environment and evidence-based practices that actively involve all students in their social, emotional, and academic growth. This approach requires a coordinated strategy across classrooms, schools, homes, and communities.”
Another resource I have been spending time adding to my repertoire is EVERFI @EVERFIK12, a site that offers free digital lessons that focus on #compassion, #character, and overall #mental-wellness and #self-management. There is something available for every grade level. Check out this page and the video that describes the program here: Mental Wellness Basics
There are so many more amazing options out there and I have found Twitter to be so valuable this summer with regard to connecting and collaborating with like-minded professionals #PLN as we plan for the new school year. Let’s keep Liv’s short film in mind when planning our workloads, as well as our students’, and let’s strive to work together as professionals so no one experiences what it feels like to be “numb.”
Be well and stay healthy!