As we practice social distancing in response in COVID-19, schools are having to adapt their teaching and learning practices. KnowledgeWorks learning communities are adapting in their own student-centered ways.
Chris Bussmann, principal at Farmington Area Public Schools‘ Dodge Middle School in Farmington, Minnesota, said on MPR News that they’re focusing first on “connection over content,” driven by “community, empathy and purpose.” It’s not always easy, but educators are sparking great joy and engagement for their students. KnowledgeWorks learning communities across the country are doing so through social-emotional learning (SEL), positivity and community-building.
Teaching social-emotional learning
Supporting 36 districts, two magnet schools and one alternative high school is a big job. In the EASTCONN region of Connecticut, paraprofessionals are key to making distance learning work. EASTCONN is giving extra support and professional development to the educators with free webinar and interactive digital training sessions. In the sessions, educators are learning how to incorporate SEL into distance learning, using a trauma-informed approach for relationships and self-care strategies.
In Hunter, North Dakota, Northern Cass School District #97 counselors are doing more than scheduling one-on-one check-ins. They are creating opportunities for virtual peer sessions where people can share what they’re grateful for and self-care strategies, do show and tell, participate in yoga sessions and more. The counselors, nurses and superintendent are providing counseling tips for parents and guardians, such as trying to remain positive, taking time to read as a stress relief and how to set up a healthy, balanced home environment for the entire family.
Health, PE and Fitness teacher Katie Schrock from FlexTech High School Brighton in Brighton, Michigan, shared emotional wellness tips in a Facebook video. Those tips include avoiding the news if it’s a stressor, deep breathing, mindfulness activities and doing the next right thing.
West Fargo Public Schools District in West Fargo, North Dakota, is focusing deeply on wellness of educators and learners, which includes access to meals and SEL as part of their distance learning plan. School counselors are setting up virtual counseling sessions with learners and share social-emotional wellness tips and activities for learners, parents and educators. The district’s eight social workers are available to support the learner and their families with community and school services, like financial and medical assistance. Together, these health professionals are working with educators, learners and their families to bring positivity, stress and emotional management techniques and distance learning skills.
A push for positivity
Many districts are working to bring positivity to their learners and families. Leaders at Oakes Public School District #41 in Oakes, North Dakota, send regular messages of positivity to learners from educators, offer fun challenges to do at home such as the Snow Angel Challenge and give students the opportunity to participate in a virtual spirit week.
Chugach School District in Anchorage, Alaska, is conducting a virtual school spirit month to engage with students and families. Each day is assigned a different theme, like “Post a pic of a good deed you did for someone else” and “Post a pic of your hidden (or not so hidden) talent.” In Center Line, Michigan, Center Line Public Schools‘ Roose Elementary learners participated in a reading-centric spirit week to engage learners with reading and the learning community.
Student families across the country sent in photos of their spirit week and other fun challenges to the schools’ emails and social and learning platforms to show solidarity in their school pride. These spirit weeks and challenges help brighten days and foster community when communities seem so disconnected from each other physically and socially.
Celebrating educators as well as learners
Educators are working hard to engage with their students and are getting recognition from peers and students alike. Northern Cass School District #97 Educators submit small things learners are doing that make them remarkable and have had a positive impact in an ongoing newsletter feature “Look What They Did.”
Oakes Public School District #41 shows their appreciation of staff through “212 Shout Outs,” inspired by the temperature of boiling water, which exceeds being simply hot at 211 to being capable of powering engines with the steam produced. Learners, families and colleagues can submit thankful, inspiring messages about teachers in their district.
Many schools, like Oakes Public School District #41 and Farmington’s Akin Road Elementary School, have been posting photos or creating videos to show how much the staff miss their learners. FlexTech High School Brighton cheers on their learners and shared some of the good things about being in quarantine, like catching up on reading and getting creative with their new desks. Emily Holley, fourth grade educator for Farmington’s Meadowview Elementary, individually potted her classroom succulents and sent them to her students, so that they could have a piece of their classroom at home.
Kindness goes a long way, and when communities go to great lengths to show it, it’s even brighter.