By George Farmer
With spring break now behind us, districts are facing the reality that schools may not open for the remainder of the school year. The social distancing order created a rush for districts to execute the best home instruction processes for stakeholders. Parents are making their best attempts to balance work and managing student workloads, while educators strive to provide academic support from a distance.
Without physical contact with students, teachers are relegated to communicating with parents and students via video conferencing platforms or communication applications. In schools, close contact breeds personal care and comfort for students. Class jokes and nonsensical moments are priceless and build classroom camaraderie. Consider the school cafeteria, a gathering place where students can eat and have a good time with their peers. For many students, these experiences are irreplaceable.
School provides a safe place and escape from the unfortunate reality in which some students live. Half of United States public school students rely on free or reduced lunch. Twenty million students depend on breakfast and lunch five days a week. Many children in the United States are also dealing with abuse and neglect. For them, school is a necessary means of survival.
For educators, working with students is more than a job. It is the essence of equipping students and providing them with life skills. In other instances, educators are the reassuring voice of positivity amid dark circumstances. Walking into the school building is a glimmer of hope and, for the time being, an escape from the pressures of unstable home lives. Fear and uncertainty during COVID-19 can produce unusual behaviors in students.
The work of an educator, now more than ever, is so crucial
Now is not the time to harass students and parents about incomplete assignments. Now is the time to become more compassionate and show families we care about their students above anything. It is essential to keep students close, not push them away with nagging about assignments.
Closing the distance during this time of social distancing is essential. Children display their emotions in various ways. Recognizing changes in behavior and attitudes is a critical component of closing the social distance gap.
Indicators of Distance During Social Distancing
Similar to traditional school settings, there are key indicators that suggest a need to extend extra reach to students. Typical signs in students to watch for include:
Excessive worry or sadness
During this period of social distancing, there is much fear and anxiety for children and adults. Every educator knows their students; if educators notice a change producing worry or sadness in students, it is a clear indicator of the need to pay close attention and notify the administrator.
A decline in student performance
As schools enter into the fourth marking period, students have created patterns of production and trends that are recognizable by teachers. A reduction in student performance should send flags of concern to educators.
Conversations with other students
No matter the age group, students talk. Be aware of discussions amongst students that may indicate a student requires support. As the adult in the room, the tendency is to talk more and listen less. Education has shifted; one of the most powerful tools a teacher has is the ability to listen.
Providing Stability and Personal Care Through Distance Learning
The comfort of seeing their peers and teachers gives students relief during stressful times, and a sense of regular routines can help add stability to their lives. As schools continue to use virtual learning platforms, continued methods will help create and maintain established community cultures that were built during the first three marking periods.
Maintain contact with students
The traditional school setting would bring students and teachers face to face five days a week. When possible, educators should create opportunities and safe spaces through video conferencing to meet their classes. Video conferencing can be even more beneficial to struggling learners who may find comfort in knowing their teachers are available and ready to assist.
Now is not the time to shy away from students who have demonstrated behavioral challenges in the past. More encouragement and support may be the attention necessary to build student-teacher relationships. Create consistent meeting times dedicated to students who need extra help and have numerous missing assignments.
Most classrooms have a reward system designed to reinforce a positive classroom climate. While schools have shifted to distance learning, maintaining that classroom culture is essential. A positive reward system for students can prove beneficial when encouraging participation and appropriate computer usage.
Rewards can be fun and straightforward. Although schools are forced to practice social distancing, grades can still have a virtual pajama party where there is a designated day for everyone to wear their pajamas. Crazy socks, hair, or hats are always a fun and creative option to build the classroom community.
Students of all ages enjoy positive affirmation. Taking the time at the end of the lesson to highlight a student can be monumental for some students—in fact, praise may provide the jumpstart some of them need to become and stay motivated. Positive recognition requires an intentional decision to look for opportunities to affirm students. Educators may need to start small and build on more significant concepts—the important thing is to be committed and consistent.
During these unstable and fearful times, it is essential to demonstrate for students a level of stability and personal care. While educating students remains the priority, no learning can take place without a high level of care and attention. Now is the time for educators to exercise their creativity and extend an outpouring of concern to close the distance during the social distancing mandate.
About the Author
George Farmer has dedicated over a decade in education teaching kindergarten through 12th grade. Earning his MsEd with a specialization in Leadership in Educational Administration, George is an administrator at an elementary school in Camden, New Jersey. As a doctoral candidate specializing in educational leadership, his guidance in education was featured in FrontRunnerNJ.