Regardless of what their learning situations have looked like this school year, students are feeling disconnected and facing immense uncertainty. This added stress means student mental health has been top of mind for teachers like never before.
We asked teachers from our community to learn more about what their students are facing and how they’re connecting with their students’ social and emotional needs on any given day. The big takeaway: students and teachers have been working together to face the challenges and stressors that this year has brought.
Here are a few of the stories that teachers shared and some of the strategies they’re using to connect with their students.
Student Experiences are Varied
The teachers who spoke to us about their students’ experiences made one thing clear: every student is different. Those varied experiences have meant paying even more individual attention to their kids, whether in the virtual or in-person classroom.
“This year is impacting all students, not just the ones who have shown us signs of distress. The ones who seem fine and hold it in are also hurting.” —Ms. Feltz, 1st Grade
“I have a better read on the concerns of my students, more time to support them, and there have been fewer incidents of dysregulation virtually. We are fortunate to have a social thinking hour paired with a read aloud and a social worker who is with us twice a week. These resources did not exist in person.” —Ms. Witherell, 5th Grade
“The constant jostling of remote/in-person learning, remote days, and so on, have been really challenging for students. It’s been harder to make connections with all students, and there are some who don’t have the family support to get logged into daily zoom sessions for services.” —Ms. Marshall, 1st Grade
Checking In Often is Key
Teachers are finding ways to bring in social and emotional learning check-ins to time with their students weekly and sometimes even daily.
“We have kids hybrid and 100% virtual by parent choice. They are all finding it hard to feel motivated and connected. I’ve eliminated homework, and I have a daily check in.” —Mrs. Vedros, 7th & 8th Grade
“I check in with my students when I see them. As the K-8 art teacher, that means once a week. In addition to asking them how they feel, I’m also listening to what’s happening around them and how they react when I ask questions or assign tasks. When they get really defensive when I ask, “What did you work on today?,” I worry. When younger siblings are really loud, I worry. We get a real big picture window into our students’ lives right now, and that brings a whole lot more to be concerned about when it comes to their mental health.” —Ms. Steiner, Grades K-8
“This is a topic that is heavy on my mind at all times. We have SEL time for the first 20 minutes daily. We do a check in, socialize, and enjoy watching videos about social-emotional growth. The thing that I am truly noticing about my scholars’ emotional well-being currently is that the children that are adjusting well and experiencing successes are those that have adults at home that have a positive, growth mindset! Those that know this is temporary and not 100% negative will still thrive and learn.” —Mrs. Schlotman, 3rd Grade
Teachers are Finding Small Ways to Make Things Easier
Beyond finding ways to check-in daily and weekly, teachers are taking the pressure off of their students and assisting them in connecting with their own emotions through daily SEL, time for reflection, and even some spycraft!
“I would say students are in limbo and are showing some form of “trauma” physically, emotionally, and mentally. I am trying to start an after school yoga club to help support students.” —Mrs. de Lara-Staunton, PreK-2nd Grade
“I am using the Class Dojo “Big Ideas and Mindfulness” videos with my students. I choose a Social Spy each class session and notify them by email that they are today’s spy. Nobody but the Spy knows who they are each session, and everybody gets to be a spy on several different occasions, randomly chosen by Dojo. Their job is to try to notice somebody being kind or using the current social skill we are working on. They email me the person’s name and what they saw. The Spy and the Exhibitor both get 5 Dojo “mystery skill” points.” —Ms. Bright, Resource Teacher for K-5
“We do small group zoom sessions after lunch for increased talk time for kids. We do phone calls and porch drops. We send hello cards and stickers in the mail. We offer SEL focused lessons, games, home challenges on MWF from 1-1:30 for primary and 2-2:30 for upper. The classes are led by the counselor and myself.” —Mrs. Igarashi Takayama, Elementary Learning Specialist
Teachers, Take Care of Yourselves
The last message that teachers who spoke to us had was for each other. Knowing that caring for students so deeply can feel heavy, the folks we heard from made it clear that caring for oneself and one another is one of the best ways to keep supporting students.
As one teacher said, “For teachers, we have to remember to find balance. I am not good at that, but every day is new and all I can do is keep trying!”
If you’re interested in checking out more projects from teachers requesting resources for social and emotional learning in their classrooms, you can start here.
DonorsChoose is the nonprofit funding site for public school teachers in all 50 states and Washington, DC.