In these surreal times, with virtually everyone either under a stay-at-home mandate or voluntarily quarantining, daily life has taken on a completely new look and feel. In the process, education has not only been transformed into a long-distance experience but also now truly does take a village to undertake. Many students are learning on their own. For others, parents, older siblings and any other people in the home are being enlisted to assist in the role of educator. And while this new normal is necessary, it’s certainly not easy.
As educators, our role expands now rather than contracts. Although students across the country are learning from home instead of in classrooms, educators have even greater responsibility now to educate the whole child. Simply put, now more than ever, we have to put Maslow before Bloom.
Exactly what does that mean? It’s ensuring that students’ primary needs are met before even considering academics. Beginning with food and safety, primary also encompasses students’ emotional needs—to know that they still belong, that teachers still care, that they are still connected to those who were part of their daily lives. Until those basic needs are met, higher-order thinking is just a concept.
Sure, some educators reject this idea, viewing academics as their sole province. However, the truth is that students are multifaceted individuals just as adults are. How easy is it for you to work or even to concentrate when you’re worried, stressed, endangered or just plain hungry? Exactly! That’s why we always need to address the whole child, and even more so in this crisis.
Plus, with all the emphasis we’ve placed on social and emotional learning (SEL) in recent years, this is a prime opportunity to practice what we preach. What better way to demonstrate caring, empathy, compassion and a host of other SEL concepts than to provide them in tangible ways to our students? That’s a lesson with lasting value.
Thankfully, countless school districts are creating ways to ensure that students who normally eat in school continue to be served. Makeshift pantries are popping up at schools, for example. Likewise, meal delivery to students’ homes is part of the resourcefulness of educators at all levels, coming together in this crisis. With community organizations and individual citizens filling the remaining gaps, students don’t have to add hunger to their other current stressors.
With that basic need out of the way, we can add compassion to the curriculum. Let’s have compassion for their fears and anxieties as well as for their new normal and its responsibiities. As we reach across the miles to teach students right now, let’s couple that compassion with a little consideration of students’ circumstances and overall development, too.
If you’re not sure where to begin, here are some suggestions:
- Stay in touch with students and parents. Not all students have computers and access to wi-fi, but most have a phone. So an app like one of these enables them to communicate with you and to access assignments, without also accessing your personal phone number.
- Understand that home is not necessarily a safe haven for all students. Keeping in touch is a great way to let students know they are not alone. Whether by phone or in person, as in the recent viral video of teachers driving in a caravan through students’ neighborhood, calling out to their elementary students as the kids stood outside their homes and waved—a priceless illustration of assuring students that their teachers care about them and miss them, too—remaining a strong presence in students’ lives is key to extending a bit of compassion to them.
- Be available for a few hours every weekday for questions and other help, and post your hours of availability. This enables students to express their needs, academic and otherwise. It also guides you in finding ways to meet those needs.
- Realize that some students have responsibility for younger siblings. By stretching out assignments over the course of a week or more, students have the opportunity to budget their time accordingly and submit work in a timely manner while still undertaking their responsibilities at home.
- Create assignments that are meaningful, not just busy work. As you may have already discovered yourself, staying home day after day can be tedious. Allowing for assignments that relieve students’ boredom and spark their interest will definitely be appreciated. Also giving them greater autonomy in learning along with deeper discovery and creativity can genuinely enrich learning as well.
Of course, this is not an exhaustive list. But it certainly can serve as inspiration for adding your own forms of compassion to your curriculum, for forging stronger bonds with your students, for being a source of consistency amid the unprecedented change in all our lives. You know your students well already. Use that knowledge to help you stand between them and current adversities. Together, these considerations can enable your students to come through this period successfully on every level.