In recent weeks, social media has exploded with a debate about schools reopening. And—like pretty much everything else related to schools—everyone seems to have an opinion, regardless of whether they’ve been near a public school in recent years. Can you tell I’m frustrated? I think I’ve read one too many posts suggesting teachers need to just stop whining and do their jobs—as if teachers wouldn’t love to get back to “normal” teaching. Truth is, the problem solving needed to have students and teachers in schools is multi-layered and complex. When I think back to my former first grade classroom, with students packed together, bins of materials being constantly handled, perpetually dripping noses, chewed pencils, playground battles, best friends walking hand-in-hand, and everything else that comes with a large group of young children, I can’t imagine how I’d handle the necessary sanitizing and still have time to teach. (And if you think school custodians would be able to take care of that, you haven’t been in a school recently!)
But (as they say on infomercials), that’s not all. The kinds of teaching that engage students in in-depth learning aren’t done at a distance. Students need to work with varied materials, talk to each other, compare data and solve problems together. It is important that we not lose those things in our efforts to outwit the virus, because if we do, we lose essential reasons we come to school in the first place. Even more importantly, students returning to schools have been through a lot. They’ve been cut off from friends and beloved relatives, required to stay at home, (at best) tried to learn in more distant ways, witnessed protests that brought up difficult issues, and were surrounded for months by anxious adults. Their world is not normal. However and whenever we return to schools, the situation will not be as it was in January. It is important that educators are clear that concerns about returning aren’t going to be solved by simply unlocking the doors and starting the buses.
One resource that may help, at least with the social emotional needs, is CASEL’s new SEL Roadmap for Reopening School. It emphasizes the need for schools, families, and communities to work together to provide learning environments that support students’ social and emotional needs. Importantly, it recognizes the needs of adults as well. The graphic at the right reflects the path, with each elaborated in the full Roadmap document. The first two steps in the Roadmap are:
- Take time to cultivate and deepen relationships, build partnerships, and plan for SEL.
- Design opportunities where adults can connect, heal, and build their capacity to support students.
This is like the advice in airplanes to put on your own oxygen mask before helping others. Educators need to feel safe, connected, and supported if they are to provide safe, caring, and supportive environments for young people. The Roadmap may help you do that. In the meantime, don’t let negative social media or anyone else tell you this path is an easy one. It isn’t. But children are our priority, and teachers are a resilient and creative bunch. We’ll need all that now. One step at a time.