Amy Himelright, Las Cruces Public Schools
Important changes are happening for students, their teachers, and their families. For many, August marked their return to the classroom after almost a year and a half of remote school. While there is much cause for celebration, returning to “normal” can bring about unique challenges.
Having done school and work remotely for so long, “normal” took a shift. As humans do, we adapted. Our routines changed to include more family time, a schedule that allowed for leeway in how we managed our day and more relaxed sleep, eat, and play routines. The stressors brought on by long or congested commutes were alleviated and hustling to get children out the door to meet the morning bell became a thing of the past.
Pre-school and kindergarten students who have perhaps never attended school in person are facing already unfamiliar territory, amplified by the oddity of wearing masks and lingering tensions surrounding the pandemic simmering in the background. They will be learning the ins and outs of how a classroom operates for the first time. There is much for these students and their parents to learn about school routines and expectations.
Social anxiety may be up for children and adults alike. Those who were inclined toward introversion prior may have settled comfortably into the reduced social demands during pandemic life and separation anxiety is likely on the rise as well for children and their parents alike who acclimated to keeping close. All these variables lead to a myriad of challenges including potential school avoidance or refusal by students who have never had the chance to experience education away from home, or who simply preferred being home. Difficult behaviors and even mental health strains may be on the rise as we all face another adjustment in this once again “new” normal.
There is no doubt we want children in school, and we want teachers in classrooms. Here are some tips for a successful re-entry:
Especially for young children who are experiencing school for the first time, and for children who are at transition points such as middle school to high, practice a growth mindset. Growth mindset is a term coined by Dr. Carol Dweck. It is the belief that our thinking about difficult situations and our willingness to persist through adversity can lead to positive experiences and outcomes. If a child is refusing school, rather than suggesting that it will simply get better or, conversely, indulging a child’s desire to avoid school, adults can say things like, “I know school doesn’t feel good right now and that makes sense because you are not used to it, but over time, with more practice you will learn how to do school like a champion and find people there you really like.” In this way, a child’s feelings can be acknowledged while at the same time promoting hope and resiliency.
Flexible Academic Expectations
It’s important to recognize that while some students thrived in a remote learning environment, others struggled. There may be learning gaps that, if not met with a positive and encouraging attitude at school, will lead to a negative academic experience. Rather than focusing on deficits, teachers and parents alike can adopt the attitude that wherever a student is at right now is okay. We will build together from there.
The primary focus early this school year should be on creating a welcoming environment where students have a sense of belonging and feel safe. Setting up a cheerful, predictable, well-managed school environment in which the message every day is, “Welcome, we are so glad you are here,” will be the key mitigator to anxiety and trepidation surrounding the return to school. Adopting a mindset of, we are going to take this slow, we are going to do this together, all are wanted and welcomed here, and we WILL figure out how to do school well in this time of growth and renewed beginnings will yield big wins for our students and their teachers.