As kids start filtering back for in-person learning, teachers, parents, and administration are left with the question: Where do we begin?
From the outset, it seems a momentous task to know just how to answer that question. Overwhelming, really. The challenge of transitioning back to a new normal where social distancing protocols will still be in place add additional layers to the task at hand for school officials. And at the center of it all is our most precious resource: our children.
To answer this question, it is fundamental that we lay a foundation. When we teach, we teach the whole child. Not just the brain, not just the child’s intellect. These are human beings that we are shaping. And humans are complex. Even if we were to solely focus on a child’s academic needs, research has shown over and over again the interlocking nature of a child’s social emotional well-being and their academic success. But we know that education is so much more than academic knowledge. We are teaching children ways to analyze and to approach their world, socially and emotionally. The purpose should be to help children thrive and for that we cannot ignore the very ways in which the events of the past year have affected our children.
Focus on social and emotional learning. Some might feel we just don’t have time, but truly we cannot afford to not spend time on children’s social emotional health. It is core to who we are as humans and basic psychology (think Maslow’s hierarchy) that our primary needs must first be met. And children have had a doozy of a year. They need us to lead the way in processing and naming the emotions that are coming along for the ride. Create space within your classroom that is peaceful. Let children know this is a safe space and then make sure that it IS a safe place emotionally and socially. Make sure to build a classroom community and help children learn the skills they need to communicate in a healthy ways. Both role play and constructed collaboration, where children learn the proper ways to communicate can be helpful. Providing students with routines and classroom traditions can also help solidify the classroom community. When children feel safe, they are twice as likely to learn. More importantly, they go out into the world as healthy human beings.
Identify critical skills for grade level success and know each student’s skill level for each of the identified critical skills. Critical skills are those skills that are not only fundamental to grade level success but can also be identified by looking at the scope and sequence across the grade levels to see which skills are continuously mentioned. Once identified, look for quick and efficient ways to implement formative assessment on these skills throughout the year and address them in small groups repeatedly. While the amount of skills covered in a grade level can be overwhelming for teachers, by targeting critical skills (while still covering all grade level skills, of course) we efficiently address gaps in learning for every child in a way that provides accessibility for each student and promotes growth.
If you are in need of some ideas on how to do this, contact me for additional support. I would love to work with you to help you develop this system as I did in my own classroom for 20 years. Check out my on-line or in-person sessions on my website for more info.
When you teach, you touch the future. And that is a pretty amazing place to be!