Preparing for Social Emotional Demands of Reopening Schools

Second Wave Series 20 / August 23, 2020

 

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What asked a panel of teachers, school administrators, school psychologists, and mental health professionals to identify the biggest social-emotional challenges they see ahead as we reopen to schools.  The panel discussion was part of the 2020 Second Wave Summit.  The second wave refers to the looming threat of the return of COVID-19 in the fall that may drive another round of school closures and remote learning. It also refers to the second round of contingency planning and preparation we all now need to do to prepare for the uncertainty of whatever is coming next. Watch the full panel discussion or read the partial transcript below.

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Second Wave Summit

The Academy of Active Learning Arts and Sciences brought together educators and administrators who embraced the Flipped Learning framework (and those who didn’t) to share, prepare, and plan for the future of education in a post-COVID-19 world.

Source: Academy of Active Learning Arts and Sciences 2020

Jon Harper:

The second week in March saw many states and the District of Columbia close schools because of the coronavirus. It wasn’t long after that, that every school in the country, and many around the world were forced to conduct school remotely.

Mandy Froehlich:

It has been absolutely amazing to witness just what educators were able to pull off with the such short notice that they had, but as time goes on, we’re starting to really see and highlight notice where there are some gaps. More specifically, we know that the social-emotional needs of our students are more difficult to meet, and also the teachers’ needs are not being met, and now really is the time to try to figure out how exactly we’re going to move forward. So we’ve been fortunate enough to have these amazing panelists and specialists and practitioners on with us from various fields to discuss what’s coming up next. So everybody, thank you so much for being here. We really, really appreciate it. And so the first question that we have for you is, “As we prepare to reopen schools, what are the most troubling remaining unknowns that you see, and how can we even attempt to prepare for them?” And we’re going to start out by asking Joe.

Dr. Joe Mazza:

Thanks, Mandy. From my lens as a middle school building principal, I feel like we got a lot of head of steam. We’ve really went from, “Hey we’ve got to do this next week,” and we went out and did it, and now we’re seeing the last half of that. So as we focus on the last half of the school year, our students are losing steams, our parents are losing steam, our teachers are losing steam. So it’s a really pivotal time right now to put out there what the lens is, what we’re trying to do to accomplish the end of the year, but really from a leaders’ lens, we need to be collecting as much data as possible because there’s a likelihood that we’re going to be doing at least a mix of this next year.

Sarah Thomas:

Yeah, absolutely. So I agree with everything that Joe said. I feel like so many of us educators have been building the plane in the air as we go because we did not see this coming, so I know that for many years I’ve been blessed to be part of a team that has supported my district in technology integration, so there were some of our colleagues who were more prepared than others, and we were able to kind of push systemically to help get everybody where they needed to be. But my number one concern is sustainability. There needs to be a way to sustain all of this if this is going to become our new normal, or some variation thereof, so that’s the question that comes to my mind.

Mandy Froehlich:

Yeah, absolutely, and I love what you said about building the plane in the air. I actually heard someone refer to, instead of building the plane in the air, that we’re sewing the parachute as we fall because it was more of like a… We’re trying to build a plane in the air, but we’ve abandoned that, and we’ve now just tried to create a parachute from that, so yeah, that’s a great answer. Thanks.

Dr. Helen Riess:

I think just going with that metaphor of jumping out of a plane with a parachute, I think it’s important to realize right now, there’s no ground. We’re all kind of in free fall but ground means we all crash, and burn, and die, but there’s a huge force of creative innovators and educators, and people who are really getting energized by the challenge in addition to getting overwhelmed, and so I think if we can keep our sights on just next steps. What do we know today that will inform tomorrow? And not try to really view this as a giant disaster, but really more of an opportunity to create blended learning, which many researchers have shown is one of the most impactful ways to learn, so if we can get out of catastrophe mode, I think that would be a great start.

Mandy Froehlich:

Well, and I think too, like what you said kind of as far as there is no ground. I think there is a ground. We’re just all going to land on it on our feet, and we’re going to keep moving forward. You’re going to free fall, and you’re going to be okay, and we’ll be able to move forward from that, and I think that that’s definitely a realization that has to come out of this. That’s a really good point.

Jon Harper:

I like that analogy of the ground too because I feel like there have been folks that I’ve seen step up and show different talents that we didn’t even know they had. Some of you… I’ll be honest. I hadn’t even planned on talking about this, but Helen, you brought up a good point. There’s some folks that have shown some skills and talents that we didn’t even know they had until this epidemic comes up, and that happens in the classroom a lot. That happens in schools a lot. Can anybody speak to that? Of talents, or skills, or strengths that they’ve seen as a result of this?

Phyllis Fagel:

From the student side, I would say that there are kids who are really thriving through the distance learning, who maybe would be less inclined to speak up in class, but given the option of perhaps, either putting a note in the chat feature, and then recognizing that other people are giving them cognitive reinforcement in the chat function might then be more inclined to speak to the group, so I do think that as we think about returning, there are things from this period we’ve learned that have been a net positive for kids, and I’m hoping that in addition to learning what we can about improving distance learning, we take what we can from distance learning that has been helpful to students and bring it back to the physical building as well.

Dr. Jelena Kecmanovic:

Yeah. Very much, I’ve actually seen that with our adolescent clients. I don’t work in schools. I’m a clinical psychologist, but we have been talking to… in my practice, with a lot of parents, and a lot of the adolescents about what’s been going in, and I have found this, what Phyllis says, especially with adolescent girls, those school girls and adolescent girls… Not all of them feel this way but actually a remarkable number of them. I think that in group meetings, they feel freer to either talk or at first maybe put just toes in by chatting, but eventually talking as well, then they would in live meetings, especially if they’re mixed-gender groups. And I found that actually with young women as well, in their 20s, and I inquired a lot about what is it about these Zoom meetings that makes it easier for them to act confidently, and I’ve gotten several very interesting explanations. They’re saying that one of the things that you see in Zoom meetings, it’s harder to interrupt each other. It gets very awkward if people start interrupting each other, and we know this research in psychology for decades now that women are more often, and young women even more so and adolescent girls are more often interrupted, especially by men, and they just feel like they have space actually to talk here. Nobody’s interrupting them, and also there’s a safety at home that you feel, especially shyer ones, less confident ones, maybe insecure ones feel that this is my turf. It’s a home. I feel good here. I can kind of go out and push myself a little more, and so it’s been actually very interesting, this idea of, again hybrid. Maybe moving to some kind of hybrid learning might contribute to actually certain aspects of our population, certain people in our population of getting more confident, and getting their voice out more.

Jon Harper:

That’s a great point, and I’ll be honest, as I was listening to you, I wanted to jump in, and I felt bad based on what you had said. I was like, “I better not jump in because she just said that,” but I want to pivot to Frank. You’re someone who has worked with teenagers pretty much your whole life, I think. You work in high school. Does this surprise you about hearing this about girls?

Frank Stepnowski:

No, it’s not a surprise at all, and I’ve seen manifestations of that as well in what we’re doing. There’s never going to be a new normal, although people are getting tired of hearing that term, that we can’t go back to the status quo. This is going to sound very Pollyanna, but I am equal parts optimistic and pessimistic about what this is going to do. Our education system is pretty draconian, and it needed something like this to move it forward, and get it out of its stagnant state. My big concern is lack of regulation with educational technologies and people that are going to… entities that are going to be predatory in times like this because teachers, the majority of us all have our hearts in the right place. We changed an entire educational paradigm overnight with no warning, plane in the air. My concern about the ground, if we’re going to continue that metaphor is, as far as where we land. Who’s going to disparage this by just trying to profit off of it instead of doing the right thing for the kids? In fact, your question about knowing this about girls, I’ve worked with teenagers, but I’ve also worked with… It’s always been low-income bad neighborhoods, mixed demographics, and traditionally for the kind of kids who don’t acclimate well to change there. My kids, per se, are not liking not having a physical teacher in front of them. I don’t know if we can all agree unequivocally on this, but at least America is going to, for a short period of time, be aware of what teachers do in terms of the scope of what we do as parents, counselors… We do it all and we do it with 30 kids, four times a day, and people are starting to wake up and realize that. In terms of having some sort of hybrid, I think we’re going to have to. My daughter and my wife both work in the medical field and one works with virologists and epidemiologists. There’s no question that with all the restrictions and changes that are going to be heaped upon our system, this is going to have to be incorporated.

Jon Harper:

I don’t think there’s any doubt. We’re going to have to… It’s going to be some sort of hybrid and-

Frank Stepnowski:

I think from the top-down, top of the food chain down to whoever, from education assistants, teachers, teacher assistants, administrators, all the way up to a superintendent, one of the things I think will come out of this that’s positive… I promised all my students that I would be positive. I talked to them today, and they were like, “Don’t go in there and set everything on fire,” so I promised them I would try to be positive about this. I think we’ve learned to slow down. A lot of curriculums, a lot of things were this benchmark. Now get this done. Now get this done. People were filling up folders and books, and they weren’t learning anything. They weren’t internalizing anything. They weren’t synthesizing anything, and I think this forced all of us to breathe and realize that not everything we’re testing on is important. I’m going to make the other guy feel better. Most of what we’re learning is bullshit. A lot of it can be paired down and weaned down to the important things, like actually learn something, whether it’s even just about each other or not, but learn the material, incorporate, internalize it. Be able to apply it critically instead of just checking off boxes and getting to benchmarks. And I hope we all come away with that. Sorry, I talked too long.

Jon Harper:

I think we have learned a lot, and that kind of leads into what I wanted to ask Phyllis. As a school counselor, Phyllis, you’re someone who’s spent their career helping meet the social-emotional needs of students. What about these last few months has been different? And based on what you’ve noticed, how can we better prepare to meet the needs of our student, when school resumes, however it resumes based on these new things that you’ve learned?

Phyllis Fagell:

Yeah, I think in the same way that we differentiate to teach students, we have to differentiate when we’re talking about the social-emotional needs of the kids as well, so the students that I work with have run a gamut from kids who are absolutely ecstatic, either because school was always difficult for them, and suddenly, they can work at their own pace, and they feel a sense of competency, and they’re not embarrassed in front of their peers, or maybe they were getting bullied, and now they’re not, to kids who are absolutely beside themselves because they’re excellent students, and they’re perfectionists, but they no longer can get that positive reinforcement from a teacher that they’re on the right track, or they don’t know how to define themselves in this universe that suddenly has no test scores, and has no grades. And so trying to meet kids where they are is going to be really important, and also giving a sense of… I’ve been amazed by this whole new lexicon that’s emerging. Yesterday I was talking to a student who said that it was really hard for her because everyone was double bubbling but her, and I stopped, and I said, “Double bubbling?” And she said, “Yeah, you know, cluster quarantining.” And I said, “Oh, yes. That is hard.” And she said, “Yeah, I feel like everyone is quarantining against me,” and I said, “This is the new FOMO. This is the new social challenges.” It’s..but we’ve just shifted it offline, and then there are…permutation, so I also think particularly for teachers who are exhausted, or counselors who are exhausted, we’re not reinventing the wheel. We’re using the exact same approaches and strategies to meet kids’ needs. They just look a little different, but I do think that I’m balanced. What we’re seeing now is a certain level of fatigue that’s setting in. There are some kids who are just done. They’re not engaging anymore, and there’s some kids who have been completely sedentary in the absence of PE, or in the absence of organized sports, and they’re just sitting on a couch, and they’re feeling a little bit lethargic and depressed, or gaining weight, or feeling disconnected, and I’m seeing more of that among boys, particularly tween-aged boys who don’t have the ability to have those connections and conversations on social media that either older adolescents or girls seem to have more easily. So just meeting kids where they are, I think is going to be critical going forward.

Jon Harper:

Without a doubt, and thank you, Phyllis, because I just wrote down three words and I’m not really sure what they mean, lexicon, permutation, and double bubble, so I’m going to look them up later. But right now I’m going to go to Kyle because I know… Kyle, what are you seeing as far as new needs, new emotions, new feelings from the students that you’re working with, from your students?

Kyle Hamstra:

Jon, I think one of the things that’s become most transparent in the remote learning times is the value of connection, and we’re seeing and living the difference, the contrast between connecting face to face, and connecting through screens, and it seems like it might be more efficient to connect in a video meeting, but it’s a completely different world. It’s a whole different thing. So right now I’m looking at a Zoom screen in a Zoom call, and I’m seeing different windows, and inside of this space… I have my own personal space, a rectangle, and it helps construct my sense of self, which then also informs my sense of belonging to this larger community, and one of our basic needs is a sense of belonging, and that’s different online than it is face to face, and I fully believe that the face-to-face interactions, the students and teachers learning alongside each other in a learning space in the same physical setting will never be replaced.

Jon Harper:

That’s a good point, and if I’m not mistaken, Helen, and correct me if I’m wrong. I might have the wrong person here, but I feel like you either retweeted or shared a piece recently about the inability to feel empathy over Zoom calls. Is that correct?

Dr. Helen Riess:

I did retweet that and it wasn’t because I agree entirely with it because I feel without these Zoom calls and abilities to connect this way, we would be really lost.. But many of you may or may not know that I do empathy research, and I have built online empathy training courses that are a blended learning approach where we also have in person, so it’s a real flipped classroom, and I can say that I love the blended approach because learners can learn quite a bit with things that we don’t have to repeat every single time we teach, but what happens in a classroom is where it really comes to life, and so I think we’re in an exciting time. When we eventually get a vaccine, and we eventually know that people can be safe, I don’t see us returning all the way back to just classroom training and teaching because I think the responsibility of learning, to what you can access by yourself, and then the expectation to build on that, and grow, and have experiences. To me, that is the most exciting type of education, and I think we have a great opportunity in front of us with that because not being together, there are definitely drawbacks. We don’t fully experience one another, and that’s why I retweeted that because I think we can’t just replace being together indefinitely.

Frank Stepnowski:

What I’ve learned through this, and I teach primarily high school kids, 11th and 12th graders specifically, and a lot of them, when this first happened, we went on quarantine March 15th. I’m not sure when everybody else got told. That was the first day we were told, and I told all my students… I’m like, “Guys, you know who I live with. You know the people I talk to. We’re not going back,” I was telling them in March. I said, “So let’s try to… First week, I didn’t assign any work. We kind of worked together. I said, “How do you want me to do this? How are we going to approach this?” And it’s tough with 92 students in three classes, but together, the collaborative answer was, “Please don’t assign us a bunch of Zoom meetings. We already have this. We got multiple kids in each house sharing computers, whatnot.” I said, “Okay, fine.” Well, I’m an English teacher so I had a little bit of leeway there in terms of… I can’t imagine my stepson studying HVAC online. Hard. So when I go back in person, if something happened tomorrow and we went back as is in September, one thing that I’m going to modify from this, and I’m just building off what you just said, that there’s an opportunity here for growth and, again, changing how we do these things. I’ll assign something, and I’ll be there in person to read it with them or do… because I’ll be giving them all very recent, very current articles from different sources and saying having them incorporate it, matriculate but in their own way, but I’ve been giving them flexible time. Here’s the assignment. Monday morning at 8:00, I’ll be online to help you along the way. It’s due Friday night. Everything, from kids’ circadian rhythms to their accessibility to a computer when they… Do they work collaboratively? Do they want to work more alone? I’m going to do things more that way because I’m getting way better results from kids being able to differentiate themselves and see how do they work best, instead of in the past, and… My bad, Jon enforcing everything… in one… Not every kid learns the same way, and we don’t all have time to differentiate sometimes, but from this, I found that that actually is working well.

Mandy Froehlich:

Right. That’s awesome and I love that you pulled in your students and talked to them about that because there are a lot of things happening, like even with my own kids… I have four kids and two are in college, and the amount of communication that was sent home from the school was great and overwhelming all at once as the parent. Even from the colleges, I was getting so much, which, again, fantastic but overwhelming, and so I loved that you asked your students to kind of weigh in on that and give their two cents. And so I want to ask, Frank, I think that we are learning that our students are tougher more resilient than we ever realized, and I just had a conversation with a friend of mine who said… I said, “How is your family?” And he said, “I can’t believe how resilient my kids are.” We are freaking out and they are doing fantastic. He’s like, “I don’t understand.” Of course there are some students who are struggling as always, so that’s just kind of a blanket statement, but it has been difficult for some more than others. During this pandemic, what have you noticed about the resilience kids are showing that will help prepare them for challenges they may face later in life?

Frank Stepnowski:

I’m sorry, but I see the opposite, and I think that one of the things that has to come forth from this… Again, I can always speak to the demographic I see and the kids that I’ve taught, but this is kind of an ongoing thing over decades. I’m seeing a lack of resilience. I’m seeing enablement on the part of the parents in a lot of the cases. I’m actually concerned about the lack of resilience, like the first sign of any kind of difficulty, how quickly kids are giving up, blaming, not taking responsibility. While I’ve seen some obviously shining examples to the contrary, I’m more concerned about the other side of that question. I think that that is noticeably lacking and that that is something that’s going to have to change in terms of how we instruct. I think parents also… Well, I’ve been saying this for years. Parents should be part of the process. Anything we start… The reason I started by asking the students is because history shows that if they’re not involved in the decision making somewhere along the line when you said, they burn out. A lot of teachers aren’t getting work. A lot of teachers have checked out. Kids have stopped turning in stuff left and right. I’m fortunate that I still have kids turning stuff in. Kids who have As who could’ve dropped everything a long time ago are still turning in work because they feel invested in it, so I don’t know if it’s so much a lack of resiliency. Again, I don’t want to be the dark hat guy all the time, but I think sometimes, it’s a lack of their own personal investment. Why am I doing this? Every teenager is an exaggerated two-year-old. Why? Why? Why? Why am I doing this? What good is it? What use of is it is to me? And quite frankly, it’s our job to be able to give a good answer to that or else, why are they invested in it?

Jon Harper:

Well, let’s dig deeper, Jelena, why do you think that is? Are you seeing that? You’re talking to students, I think as you mentioned one-on-one therapy sessions and such. Why do you think that is, that some kids aren’t showing their resilience? What makes up for the difference in why some do and some don’t? What is your opinion on that?

Dr. Jelena Kecmanovic:

So this is a bit of a part of something that’s been going on for a while now. We have seen in the last 10 years or so, almost an epidemic of anxiety and depression in high school students, college students, young adults in America, and it has definitely been higher than whole century prior, and generally speaking, there have been a lot of hypotheses to why this is the case. I think one of the most convincing ones is the idea of over parenting, age of helicopter parenting, over-parenting where a lot of pressure in schools, competitive environment of schools and entrance to colleges, and there’s this, unfortunately, really bad mix of putting a lot of pressure on kids who have to do well in school. All the extracurriculars matter, to get into the good college, and all this next thing, next thing, next thing. And yet, on the other hand, we are not preparing them for life, so on the other hand, so many kids really don’t know what it means to be a part of the household and share household duties, what it means to make a budget. What it means to live life as adults basically, and even their lives, day to day, hour to hour are so, so micromanaged and overscheduled, then they really lose a sense of agency. They lose a sense of agency, and they lose an opportunity to develop resilience because if you micromanage from above, and yet, you have no opportunity to take responsibility in a kind of organic life of family, you’re left being this perpetual child basically, and so I think we have robbed our kids to some extent of the natural ways of growing up. Part of growing up is developing this resilience, not that stuff won’t happen. It will happen and I’ll be able to deal with it. Even if I get down, that’s okay. If I get angry, that’s okay. I’ll be able to handle all those negative emotions and keep going, and so I think that unfortunately, now we are in a crisis, and we’re paying a price a bit for that because parents can go on into overdrive and the American Psychological Association just came out with a survey where the numbers are like this, that parents feel… Parents compared to non-parents, parents are almost at seven out of one to seven at the level of stress, chronic level of stress during the pandemic, and non-parents 5.5. And then seven out of 10 parents say that homeschooling and just parenting kids during the pandemic months has been a great sustained source of stress, so parents are now in a way, again partly we’re paying price for the over-scheduled parenting that we have been engaging in, and they are trying to manage this homeschooling, and doing their work, and so forth. So one thing that I’ve been thinking a lot about is that parents need more support. As all of you are talking about, we are going into this new world where it’s going to be some blended, some hybrid motion. I think teachers, of course, need support. Kids need support, but I haven’t heard that much in general public about schools, I guess. The schools are in the end the ones that could I think provide much more support to parents, almost one on one of education. If you’re going to be homeschooling and doing so much with kids at home, parents don’t know what to do. They haven’t taken an education class. They haven’t taken psychology class. So how to help both scholastically kids at home and work with them, but also in social-emotional ways to go through this, so it seems to me that as we are, and as you guys are making plans for this new hybrid world, I think parents will really be included in that, and be helped to kind of take part of the educational responsibility, as they are taking, and at the same time, maybe take this, again, this unique time as an opportunity to change some of these helicopter parenting ways, and thus, help kids develop resilience stuff like that.

Jon Harper:

No, that’s true. And so Joe, I’m going to put you on the spot. As a leader of the building, and I think someone who’s been involved, if I’m not mistaken, in parent ed camp or something like that, I think… Is it parent camp… in the past. What do you plan on doing in the future to help get parents to get their kids to be more resilient? To help parents help their kids build this resiliency, or is that even possible remotely? How do you feel about that?

Joe Mazza:

Yeah, I think all of us. Whatever lens we have, we all have to step up. I think we’ve got to model the approach here, and I think… I try to shy away from any labels that have to do with parents. Helicopter parents, I think they’re just parents doing the best that they know how to engage in their kids’ education, and that’s actually a good thing. They’re much more engaged than they’ve ever been in a variety of different ways, so yeah, I think we’ve got to continue to empower them. We’ve got to continue to train them. I know school districts like mine have spent a ton of time, with teachers literally daily in service for them, and when we have some time to plan over the summer and are trying to… because the hard part about leadership is I’ve got to have my feet in both. Are we returning full time online? Are we returning full-time face to face in all the little logistic pieces? But I think that there could be ongoing opportunities for parents, and on-demand… Going back to parent camp, yes. We’ll get you the link to that later. But yeah, that’s virtual right now. You can’t get together, so whatever we can do, but I feel like it’s all built around listening. We should have the deepest sense of empathy understanding than we’ve ever had, and the same goes for teachers. Yes, they’re appreciative of right now, and hopefully, that lasts longer than a short amount of time, but it’s an opportunity, I feel like. Somebody said in the beginning, “There’s a silver lining here that if we can get to the end, survive it, and kind of recoup, and launch this thing in a way that hits all the different buckets that we would normally over the summer, I think we’re going to be in good shape.” But I think empowering parents as partners. It’s never been more important to do that and it’s a lot of listening because they’ve been the teachers. They’ve been in the driver’s seat for the past several months, and typically we’re there and we switch roles, so if we’re not getting as much information, and data, and suggestions out of all of that, I think we’re wasting a little bit of time for planning for the upcoming year.

Jon Harper:

Okay. So Sarah, I’m going to start with you. What are you doing to prepare for the future? I guess, like Errol said, not just thinking about, maybe not just reading about, but what are you doing?

Sarah Thomas:

I would say that right now, our focus is on… Well, one of our focus is on building capacity, and tapping into the skills that our educators, and our students, and our parents already have while also giving that flexibility, giving various options for people to draw upon for what works best or their situation when it comes to delivering material to the students, and also supporting them in their technology integration needs, and any others that we see come about.

Jon Harper:

Kyle, how about you? What are you doing? You’ve been working with students directly… Not directly in person, but not… What are you doing right now to think… In other words, next year is going to be better. In your mind, I guess we have to hold on to some hope that next year’s going to be better. What are you doing to see that that’s going to happen?

Kyle Hamstra:

I’m going to go back to connection again. I think the number one thing that we can do is to keep all lines of communication open. People have anxiety. They have uncertainty. They’re worrying about what the future holds and they have questions, and a lot of times as leaders in education, we don’t have the answers specifically to give them, so one thing that we’re really focusing on is making sure we are communicating, over-communicating, we’re meeting on all channels. We’re having a fifth-grade graduation where we can have teachers line up on the sidewalk just to wave to cars just so we can see each other face to face from a safe distance at the same time. That connection is very important.

Jon Harper:

What if I said, “Okay, that’s nice. That’s cute. How’s that going to help next year?” What would you say to that?

Kyle Hamstra:

Because we’re communicating about systems that we’re putting in place, so we’ve been doing remote learning and adapting like we do in education, everything all along the way, and we have to be ready for the option that we will not be face to face in the fall, and therefore, we need to have this system in place so we can better attach accountability to it in our second time through.

Frank Stepnowski:

My answer to that and to any administrator would be that’s the only thing that transcends any possible uncertainty and problem. Let your students know you love them and that you will continue to work through this, and that you’re figuring it out just along the way too because if they don’t know you love them, nothing works, and if they do, regardless of what errors or eccentricities come up technological, biological, or otherwise, they’ll stick with you.

Dr. Helen Riess:

I think we have a real opportunity to show how organizational resilience can translate to student resilience, teacher resilience, and parent resilience by demonstrating how quickly schools have adapted, how agile they’ve been, how much they’ve used innovation. These all will contribute to a regeneration of how we’re going to teach, and so I specifically as a… I’m a psychiatrist but also a teacher, a professor. I’ve included students in tapping into their expertise about, “How do you get a small group in a Zoom call?” And so a lot of these kids have so much more facility with technology and things, and if we can really tap into that and show them their value, I agree first and foremost, they have to feel cared about and loved, and also valued. And how do we figure this out together? So instead of it being all top-down, we’re going to figure it out, and disseminate it. I think really working together, and the point about parents… I’m hearing from parents. They’re so overwhelmed that kids have six different teachers and six different portals to access where the homework is, where to pass it in, and somebody has a Zoom meeting, somebody is opening a meeting. And so one thing we could really help parents with is each school just streamline. Here’s where all the assignments are. Here’s how you turn it in because I see parents freaking out. They have three kids, 16 different ways to get homework in, and I think that would really help.

Dr. Jelena Kecmanovic:

So we are realizing that there is a long haul now that we’re going to live in some modified way. We kept asking our clients, and they’re saying, “Well, I would consider it. I would consider a group,” so that’s what we’re doing. We’re launching groups for adolescents. We’re launching groups for parents, and I’m really looking forward to seeing how that goes. We’re going to do workshop first. Free workshop open to everybody and then whoever is interested would kind of join our groups, and if it goes well, we plan to run them throughout the year, so that’s been a big learning experience from us that we’re all adjusting to this, and while I agree completely with Kyle that nothing beats in-person connection. That’s why I went into psychology so I can sit in the same room with another person. You feel their energy. It’s not the same, and I have to tell you, I was a skeptic of even teletherapy, and I think it’s better than any of us have expected, meaning it’s not the same. It’s still deficient in some ways but it’s the best we can do now, and I think there are ways to build this, again, the resilience. Also, another muscle that we are trying to build is lower intolerance of uncertainty, or strengthen our ability to tolerate uncertainty because that’s going to be shown again, and again, and again, intolerance for uncertainty to predict anxiety, depression, addictions, all kinds of things, and I think this is actually incredible opportunity for us to live with this unprecedented uncertainty, including what’s going to happen with schools, and figure out it’s not comfortable but I can live with this because I can still focus on what I can control in here now, and who I can connect with, and life is uncertain when you think about it philosophically, right. It’s in our face now, but really… I’m Eastern European, so I make sometimes comments which I don’t know if they’re always appreciated in America, but I say, “You don’t know if you’re going to be alive when you get out of the house at the end of the day,” so we are just now more forced to contend with that, and I think we can really grow from that to being able to learn to tolerate uncertainty and still keep behaving according to our values.

Mandy Froehlich:

Jelena, I love what you said about the whole thing of the Smithsonian saying to quietly turn the lights on, and I had gone yesterday. In Wisconsin, everything has opened back up here because our state supreme court shut down our stay at home order, so everything has all of a sudden opened back up, and I had to bring my girls in for a physical yesterday, and I noticed that when I went into the hospital, one of the things I was struggling with was all the people all around me all of a sudden. It almost made me feel… and there wasn’t even that many. It was just more than at home, and I felt claustrophobic, and I felt like the kids that… I was in the pediatric office, and the kids are being too loud, like, “Oh, my gosh. The kids are being too loud.” And I started to think to myself, “How is this going to work when we go back into schools?” It’s going to be overwhelming for some people to be just in the physical presence of all those people. And so I love the idea of that kind of slowly rolling back into that again because I think, as you said with the uncertainty, we don’t know what’s going to happen, and I think that… and not necessarily embracing that but at least understanding it is super important going forward, so I liked what you said.

Jon Harper:

Well, that’s great. Joe and then Phyllis, let’s finish up. What are you two doing to prepare for next year?

Joe Mazza:

So we just had this conversation today with our clinical team, counselors, social workers, psychologists, and whatnot, so Phyllis feel free to jump in or play off of this, but the biggest stresses that we need to solve now and into next year is consistent structure, clear expectations, whether it’s attending a Zoom, it’s optional, it’s mandatory. There are things we can do to lower the anxiety and stress off of our students, off of our families. Continuous need to remember to focus on leading with care and compassion. I think all of us started in a certain way, but as time moved on, now it’s… Do they get it? Are they doing well? We need to continue to remember parents and teachers, and students are in the same situation. Some of them have gotten worse. Some of them have gotten a little bit better but using that care and compassion as our compass. We need to focus on adolescent executive functioning, not just to support the brick and mortar learning, but to support iLearning. Our students use a learning management system, and it’s not necessarily developmentally appropriate to our age group, so we need to do some things to speak to that, and not just, “This is the way it is and we’ll have to deal with it.” And continued empathy development on the part of our teaching staff. Student voice, right? We’ve got to continue to listen to students. One of the things that we threw around was we have a shadow a student experience that was created out of Stanford through design thinking. I think we need to really think about doing something like that at multiple grade levels over the next 40 days. What’s holding us back from learning more and more about what the kids are going through? And kids that are from affluent areas as well as kids that are from inner-city, urban areas and whatnot. And then finally, I think we’ve really got to take a look at the assessment of kids once that social-emotional piece is built. A lot of our teachers are not going to be teaching the same thing they’re used to teaching in this grade or that grade next year because there’s been some gaps built there, so just taking everything in hindsight, and really making an attack plan, and an all hands on deck because there’s a lot for us to do to make it better if we have to kind of go this route or that route.

Jon Harper:

It sounds like you’re prepared, and Phyllis as long as you don’t use any really big words, I’m going to let you closeout. You can have the final say.

Phyllis Fagell:

I’m not usually accused of using big words. I completely agree with everything that Joe is saying talking about that school-wide, broader level, at a more granular level which as a school counselor is where I’m generally operating. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about how we can best support parents. What does parent education look like as we move forward? What is it that they want? Right now they want to know what they’re supposed to do with their kids this summer, and there is so much emotion… that whatever we can do to ensure that parents can sustain a stamina so that their kids do better this summer. They’ll be more energized and better prepared to be engaged with school in the fall, so I think everything from helping parents with this summer, to helping them reengage when school does start, whatever school looks like is going to be important. And one of the things that I think is critical is that we are very mindful of the language we use when talking parents. I hear parents jokingly use words like benign neglect a lot. “I’m working so I’m benignly neglecting my child,” and it has such a negative undertone, and I think it reinforces their sense that they’re somehow failing their child, and I think we might want to think about using words like independent play, or really helping parents see this through a different lens because the better they feel about how they’re supporting their kids as opposed to seeing themselves as failing them, I think the kids will do better. And then from the kids’ side, working with the kids, I’m taking really good notes on what is working, who’s doing well, and who’s not doing well. Just as one or two examples, the kids who have thrown themselves into a big project. They’re teaching themselves how to cook, who feel that sense of competency are doing a lot better than the kids who don’t know what to do with themselves, who don’t have some state of flow at any point in time, and so I think if we have any school whatsoever like we’re able to start or able to see them part-time, we want to be getting kids started on independent projects that will take them off-screen that they can feel good about, and continue with very real parent involvement at home.

Jon Harper:

I think that’s a wonderful goal, and I think you spoke to a lot… The uncertainty is big, and I think in closing, while there are many uncertainties and unknowns about what’s going to happen next, I feel like after today, after this discussion, which probably could’ve gone on for a couple more hours, I feel we have more answers, and I feel like what you, the panel here, gave us today was a lot more to think about. But more importantly, you gave us hope as we prepare for what is to come, and so I want to thank you very much for your time, and I want to thank everyone here for being part of such a thoughtful and engaging conversation. Thank you very much. Thank you.

 






Editorial Leam
Editorial Team
This article was written by a collaboration of editors and columnists on the FLR editorial team or guest contributors.




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