The last two years have been a challenge, to put it mildly. Students have been on a rollercoaster with virtual and hybrid learning. Now they’re back in the classroom and adjusting to the routine and rigor of in-person learning. For many, it is their first experience with school. It’s important that we support students’ overall well-being and academic performance.
Here are five ways you can support your students as they navigate the school year.
1. Create a Supportive Environment
Creating a positive, welcoming environment is important. Students have been through a lot the last couple of years and it’s important that our schools and classrooms are genuinely welcoming places. That doesn’t mean you have to go all out and decorate every surface. In fact, it’s better if you let the students help you “create” the physical environment. Make space for their creations and give them a voice in what is displayed, after all they spend a lot of time there.
Give students an opportunity to help set expectations for the classroom. Student-centered classrooms tend to be more positive than those where students are expected to “just follow the rules.”
Arrange your classroom to ensure students have personal space, room to interact, and a spot to decompress or refocus as needed. Make sure lighting and noise are both at appropriate levels to avoid sensory overload.
2. Cultivate a Growth Mindset
Carol Dweck’s theory of growth mindset can be a powerful tool in the classroom. A growth mindset helps students embrace new challenges, overcome difficult situations and improve their ability to cope with change and negative situations. Students with a growth mindset see effort as a positive and are more resilient. Studies have shown that student mindsets have a significant impact on academic outcomes and mental and social well-being.
Students with a fixed mindset have more difficulty adapting, have a harder time coping with stressful situations, and are more anxious. A fixed mindset often sets the stage for depression, anxiety, and lower self-esteem.
3. Look for the Good and Model Coping Behaviors
Some days are just tough and it’s easy to start focusing on what students are doing wrong, it’s human nature. Do your best to focus on the good things happening in the classroom. You can be a positive role model, so how you react to things will help your students learn how to handle stressful situations.
Be calm. If you can’t, step in the hall for a second and take a few deep breaths. At the end of the school day, have students reflect about their day and choose at least one good thing that happened to them. This could also be an exit ticket for students. Have them write one positive thing about the day or class period. Whatever you do, try to focus on the positive, model how to roll with the negative, and move on. Begin each day with a clean slate.
4. Listen and Be Watchful
We must listen to our students. When they’re with you, you’re “their person,” or at least that’s how they should see it. They should know that you are there to hear their concerns and frustrations. Lend an ear and a shoulder if needed. Share the joy of their accomplishments.
We grow accustomed to the routine of everyday classroom life, but always remember to watch for changes in student behavior that might signal that they’re struggling with something they can’t express. Behavior changes are often the first thing we notice, but there are other, more subtle changes to look for. Pay attention to the student who is no longer participating in class and the student who isn’t engaging with others on the playground.
5. Communicate with Parents
Building a partnership with parents is integral. Keeping them informed and maintaining open lines of communication is a vital way to have a window into the lives of your students. They know their children better than anyone else, so having a positive and open relationship with parents is essential to the growth and success of the students in your classroom.
Communication should go beyond the weekly agenda or school newsletter. Write a note or make a quick phone call to brag about their child or share an accomplishment. Reach out to parents if you notice behavior changes or other signs showing a student is anxious or concerned about something.
Teaching encompasses more than just academics. To truly reach and teach, we have to care about the whole person and their overall well-being.
Teia Hoover Baker is an educator, published author, and entrepreneur. She is an innovative, devoted educator whose career has been dedicated to coordinating programs that support struggling learners. Her passion is meeting students where they are and guiding them to excel. Her main focus is always what is best for children. Teia holds a Bachelor’s in Journalism and a Master’s of Education. In her spare time, she enjoys being Lovie to her growing grandchildren.