This article originally appeared in START Connecting in September 2021.
We hope your return to school has been smooth and filled with many positive moments, even amidst this complex transition for school staff, students, and families. We know some of you spent last year in your school building teaching face-to-face, while others had frequent vacillations between face-to-face and remote learning, and still others taught virtually for the entire academic year. Whichever of these groups you are in, we are guessing you are feeling both excitement, and possibly some uncertainty as the new school year commences. As we launch into this new school year with you, we want to share a few lessons we learned during the last 18 months that can be carried into the coming school year.
“No significant learning occurs without a significant relationship” – Dr. James Comer
If we didn’t already know it, many of us learned during the pandemic how deeply we value our connections with others. So, as you launch this school year, continue to foster relationships by embracing your own return to learning with your colleagues. Join, or initiate, a book club, informally mentor a new staff, or identify creative ways to foster social connections with colleagues.
At the student level, cultivate and build your connections with students and families. Some students have been without traditional learning for a full school year, and many still struggle with the return to a structured school environment after the summer. Foster relationships first, and learning will follow. And most importantly, consider ways to reconnect students with one another.
One of our most consistent and powerful tools to advance this goal has been Peer to Peer support. Now is the time to rekindle and reinvest in your program. Visit the START website for more information and ideas about how to do this. The Padlet is continually updated with new videos, games, and ideas. Amanda Foster, a Teacher Consultant at Montcalm Area ISD, created LINKS Boxes that include creative and fun strategies to connect students. A Back-to-School edition, an October box, and a November box are all ready and waiting for you. And if your Peer to Peer program does move to a virtual format, there are Virtual LINKS boxes that are also ready for action. Keep focusing on those relationships!
“A great relationship is about two things, first, find out the similarities, second, respect the differences” – Author unknown
Many of you joined us for the 2021 START Conference where Emily Rubin described the “oxytocin cocktail” or a social message of caring that we share with our students. By sending this message, and through fostering engaging experiences where similarities and differences are valued, we promote true learning and build inclusive communities.
The talented Amanda Foster has again created a set of resources to help support this inclusive journey. This new resource, Fridays for All, provides activities that allow elementary teachers to catalyze inclusive thinking and action in their classrooms. Circle questions stimulate discussion and help students recognize similarities and differences as they answer questions like: “Which superhero would you like to be and why?” Other activities include team-building games, books or videos for discussion, and teacher tips to promote further exploration of uniqueness and connection. With Fridays for All, teachers can plan a personal and classroom journey toward inclusion that helps everyone learn about similarities and value differences.
“Self-compassion is simply giving the same kindness to ourselves that we would give to others.” – Christopher Germer, Ph.D.
We have been fairly plugged in for the last 18 months, through remote classes, Zoom meetings, webinars, and virtual IEP meetings. As we return to school, we can all remember to take small moments to be kind to ourselves each day. If you need some ideas about how to show self-compassion, here are some resources that might be of interest:
- How to Put You Back on Your To-Do List from RethinkED
- Ideas to help you maintain balance from the Resilient Educator
- 9 Stress Management Strategies Every Teacher Needs to Know from Hey Teach!
Maybe you are someone that learned a new skill over the summer or during the pandemic – baking? golfing? gardening? playing an instrument? How can you maintain your engagement in these fulfilling activities, even as you return to the school environment? One activity that may help is to create your own Venn diagram of responsibilities vs. activities and use it to build a better balance in your life. There is also a fun Bingo Self-Care activity that will help you identify the different ways you’ve been compassionate toward yourself. You can complete these activities with your colleagues or your students, then you can focus on relationships, understanding similarities and differences, and self-care all at the same time!
Wishing you a happy and peaceful beginning of the school year!
Written by: Jamie Owen-DeSchryver, Ph.D. - Project Faculty