We just love the feeling of the anticipation and excitement of a new year. Whether you're a resolution person or not, there is something invigorating about feeling like you have a clean slate. Like us, we hope you are coming off of a glorious and restful vacation. Hopefully you had at least a few days of hanging around in pajamas, taking naps, and binge watching your favorite shows. Feeling refreshed, we are motivated to grow and improve in many areas. This applies in our personal lives, as well as in our role as educators.
Naively, we thought returning to full time, in-person instruction, was going to take us right back to our beloved routines and structures we had in place in fall of 2019, before the pandemic. Teaching is teaching right? We expected to get back on that horse and serve some kids! We can look back now on our August selves, and giggle a bit. The return to school has not been what we expected. We could go into all the reasons it's different, but if you’re in a school building at all, you know nothing is business as usual.
After a lot of frustration and tears over the last 4 months of school, we’ve come to a conclusion. We can’t do what we’ve always done, to support staff and teach students. Yes, high-leverage teaching strategies are awesome! They encourage high expectations and engagement, while supporting learning. However, in our opinion, you can’t get awesome strategies with all of us living in flight or fight mode; our amygdala having hijacked our ability to stay calm and problem solve. Is this what we signed up for when we became educators? Nope. Is this the new reality? It sure is.
In WE GOT THIS'' by Cornelius Minor, he states, “The only thing better than one practitioner working toward more inclusive practices, is a whole community working towards greater inclusivity” (44). We can’t do this alone; we need each other. When educators band together to be creative problem solvers, focusing on the needs we know our students have, there is nothing we can’t do. So let’s change our approach: Let’s meet the social and emotional needs of our staff and students first. What about tests and pacing guides? How can we do it all? What about my content? We can do it by making the social and emotional needs of our students the lens through which we plan EVERY lesson, our schedule, and our interactions with students. If we want to encourage rigor, high expectations and success for our students beyond K-12, our job is to explicitly teach these skills in all content areas. It may not be what you initially signed up for, but it’s what THEY need now. Here are some things to consider:
How can you integrate emotional regulation techniques into your day?
Where can you ask your students questions about the emotions or body cues a character might have felt during a specific section of a novel?
When studying a historical event, can you ask the kids to consider what type of strategies could have been used to support responsible decision making?
When experiencing frustration during a math lesson, could you have students pause to notice their breathing, and use a strategy to feel calmer?
Could you use a think-aloud strategy to model your self awareness of your own emotions when frustrated, while also offering solutions you use to regulate?
Kids can’t be what they don’t see. It's up to us as educators to show them the way to self-awareness and self-regulation. I know, traditionally this has been the job of the family, but more and more, our kids are coming to us with lagging skills. We can stay frustrated and overwhelmed, or we can adapt to our new reality. It’s not about who is at fault; it’s about meeting our kids where they are, and providing what they need. Resenting your current reality will do nothing to change it.
We encourage you to reflect on what your students really need. You are on the front lines. You experience the reality of supporting kids through a pandemic, after a full year at home. Remember, that pacing guide was created in an office by emotionally regulated adults, with the plan of meeting all the math standards at a specific grade level. Kids leaving class, throwing over desks, or yelling at peers or adults, was not part of the planning process. What can you do proactively, to positively change the school experience for our kids? For us, this means ensuring all kids have access to high quality social and emotional learning opportunities and modeling, no matter their background or building. Let’s do this together, and change the outcome for our kids.