This back-to-school resource collection is designed to help you lay the foundation of community and care with your students for the school year ahead. Students will bring to this school year a wide range of experiences with and feelings about the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the movement for racial justice after acts of violence toward Black Americans by police officers and other individuals, and the traumas and disruptions to everyday life these events have caused. As you prepare to welcome your students back to school this fall, we recommend the following:
- Start with yourself.
- Center relationships and care in your teaching.
- Infuse personal reflection and self-care into your practice.
We have included teacher reflection prompts and suggested strategies within each section to help you prepare to greet your students.
In order to develop classroom communities that are centered around relationships and care, educators need to start with themselves. This process involves reflecting on your individual identity (and considering how this may have impacted your experience of the past six months), and then becoming aware of your beliefs, values, biases, politics, and emotional responses. Doing so empowers educators to be thoughtful about how these forces and factors influence their interactions with and expectations of their students.
Whether starting school in person or remotely, students will bring a range of experiences from the past six months to the classroom. Incorporating SEL (social-emotional learning) strategies to build relationships and develop empathy will help students feel connected to their learning and to one another (and the routines and activities included in these resources are designed to assist educators in doing just that). This is especially important for students who have experienced trauma caused by recent events.
Consultant and community college teacher Alex Shevrin Venet discusses four core priorities for trauma-informed remote instruction: connectedness, predictability, flexibility, and empowerment.1 At the heart of this approach lies the relationships between students and teachers. When teachers prioritize cultivating these relationships and developing students’ SEL competencies, everyone benefits.
Connectedness: When students have a strong relationship with their teachers and peers, it is easier to support their emotional well-being and respond to their urgent needs as these arise. This connectedness is especially important during the coronavirus pandemic and following the recent murders of Black men and women, which have brought into full view the structural inequalities that have always existed in this country. Students need regular reminders that their teachers care about them, and they need opportunities to connect with one another in informal and academic contexts.
Predictability: By creating predictable routines and structures that work for remote and face-to-face instruction, teachers can help their students feel safe and emotionally secure. Using the same routines, such as check-ins and journaling, when learning in person and remotely can help students engage with the learning and can support their emotional well-being.
Flexibility: Incorporate best practices in culturally responsive teaching and differentiation by adopting a flexible approach to instruction and assessment. Prioritizing what really matters in this moment, even if it means letting go of content, and engaging students in this process allows them to feel a sense of agency over their own learning.
Empowerment: A classroom environment that takes into account the social-emotional needs and wide range of experiences that students bring with them empowers students by including them in the class decision-making and provides them with authentic choices and tasks. Gen Z is the only generation that has experienced remote learning during a global pandemic. Tapping into their expertise and interests and giving them voice and choice to make decisions about their learning will develop their SEL competencies and their sense of agency.
At Facing History, we recognize that you are returning to school this fall during an uncertain time for educators and students alike, with regular routines disrupted and many unknowns ahead. Setting aside time for personal reflection and self-care by making room for the people and things that bring you joy will help you recharge so you are intellectually and emotionally available to your students and loved ones this year.
- 1 : Kara Newhouse, Four Core Priorities for Trauma-Informed Distance Learning, KQED, April 6, 2020.