For some students, summer is a time for sleeping in late, hanging out with friends, and going to camp. For others, summer is a time where there is little to do and insecurity is high. For many, summertime means increased exposure to traumatic experiences. For these students, the realities and traumas that occur during the summer often find their way into the classroom when school begins in the fall. We are living in unprecedented times of uncertainty and it is imperative that educators show up for students this summer and in the fall. Here are four practices that your school can adopt to provide social-emotional support for students and teachers over the summer.
Organize Virtual Staff Circles to Develop Cultural Competencies
Educators should consider forming Virtual Staff Circles and do the introspective work needed to support students over the summer and this fall. Teachers and school staff can use Virtual Circles to discuss and interrogate the racial injustices of today, for example. Staff should consider sharing readings, articles, and resources- and then coming together to discuss them. During these unprecedented times, we must prepare ourselves for the long haul and by continuing this necessary work in community this summer. By doing so, we will be better equipped to be there for students during the fall.
At the Urban Assembly School for Collaborative Healthcare in New York City where I serve as principal, teachers and support staff are using virtual Staff Circles to better understand the context of today’s world and learn more about ourselves and each other so we can show up as better educators for our students. Through these virtual conversations and workshops, we support each other in identifying and confronting our own personal traumas and biases, while also collaborating to create relevant, culturally-responsive supports for students this summer.
Assess End of the Year Challenges and Start Addressing them this Summer
The end of the 2019-2020 school year was a whirlwind for educators. For many of us, we created as we fixed. Use the summer as the time to assess end-of-the-year challenges that students faced and work towards supporting those student needs this summer. From COVID-19 to the painful acts of injustice against Black people, this has been a hard time for many in this country. Assess how you and your students managed at the end of this past school year. Ask critical questions. What were the responses from staff and students to the murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd? How were you affected? How did you show up? Were there any social-emotional challenges that came up? As you explore difficult questions, formulate proactive solutions.
Take The Time to Reflect and Forgive Yourself
As educators, it is important that we continuously reflect and take stock in our personal wellbeing. Be sure to use the time off this summer to think about how you personally have been affected by the events that have occurred since March. During the school year, it can be very difficult to take an introspective look at what is happening. Summer break is a great time to journal, revisit old notes, and take the time to forgive yourself for the things that may have not gone right during the school year. How did you show up at the end of the school year? Did you mess up? Have you forgiven yourself for mistakes that you may have made in the classroom during the end of the school year? The sad reality is that for us, challenges will continue in the coming months. Therefore, it is important that we start tracking our social-emotional responses and develop solutions that address them.
Schedule Virtual Check-Ins with Students and Parents
Summer can be especially challenging for students and during these uncertain times, students will benefit by staff checking in and seeing how they are doing. Set up times with students and parents to check in. Ask them if they need resources or what present challenges they face and problem solve with them. Use check ins to engage students in consistent dialogue and maintain levels of trust. You can either schedule chats, hold office hour times for students to drop by into a virtual room or encourage students to reach out through social media. By maintaining a relationship with your students over this particular summer, you better position your school and teachers to engage with students and families during the fall.
Prioritize Social-Emotional Learning so that Students Win in the Long Run
The reward of schools prioritizing social-emotional learning always pay dividends in the long term, and we must prioritize SEL this summer. Now is the time. Spending time to listen and build relationships with students and each other not only feeds the educator’s soul but prepares students on how to best engage with the world. During this time of crisis, I implore every administrator, teacher, and parent to demand their school community focus on teaching students to be competent in self and social awareness, self management relationship skills, and responsible decision making. Not only will it enable us to offer direct support in real time, but in doing so, we can better prepare students to enter the classroom this fall. Helping students handle the stressors of life will nurture better thinkers, teachers, innovators, friends, and parents of tomorrow.