By Nicki Francis, Coordinator of Program and Professional Development
Teachers have always been unsung heroes, but now more than ever, they wear invisible capes. They have created new and creative ways to keep kids engaged during the coronavirus pandemic. They care about their students and are troubled by the needs of our youth today. Teachers often have to teach students who need accommodations, are food insecure, have behavioral issues, and are coming from non-supportive homes. They are dealing with hybrid, quarantined, virtual, and live instruction. Today's teachers are now faced with many students who are dealing with trauma and the effects of adverse childhood experiences.
According to the national Child Traumatic Stress Network, one out of every four children attending school has been exposed to a traumatic event that can affect learning and/or behavior. How can we equip our teachers to help the students they love? What "tools" can we provide to help our superheroes? Here are some tips to help ease the burden on teachers today.
We often forget that we must practice self-care. As caregivers we put the needs of our family and our students before ours. It is important to find something that will help us reduce our stress and feel better physically and/or mentally. I always think of the example of the oxygen mask in the airplane. If we do not put the mask on ourselves, how can we help others around us? One very easy way to become mindful is to practice conscious deep breathing. Whatever you choose, make it a priority.
Sometimes when we see youth making bad choices, getting into trouble, or being disrespectful, our first response is, "What is wrong with that kid?" I urge educators to change their mindset to think, "What is going on with that kid?" Kids are not innately bad, but they may make bad choices or have bad circumstances. I don't believe there is such a thing as a "bad kid."
Our youth have so many things that they are dealing with. They are hiding so many emotions. Many do not have a trusted adult that they feel comfortable enough to talk with. If you are struggling with a student, remember the quote from Ian MacLaren, "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle." All of us keep things hidden and our youth have been through so much, have lost so much, and are feeling emotions they never had. When working with youth I always remind myself that it is not personal, or about me. Their behaviors are just a magnifying glass for what is happening inside.
It is crucial that educators understand ACES and the effect they can cause to children. ACES stands for Adverse Childhood Experiences. A study by CDC-Kaiser showed that there is a direct correlation between ACES and future health complications. The study helped us understand how toxic stress affects the minds and bodies of children. If we can interrupt or stop these changes by providing safe, stable, nurturing environments, while helping children build social-emotional skills and resilience, we can protect many adults from mental and physical health issues.
It is more important than ever that we provide social, emotional learning for youth today. Educators feel tremendous pressure to meet goals and objectives and be ready for testing. SEL takes time from much needed classroom time. What we know is that if you take the time to connect and validate your students then the more work, they will be able to get done. We need to incorporate communication skills, mindfulness, and reducing stress activities into our daily plans.
We all need a reminder once in a while of how amazing we are, that the work we are doing is truly making a difference, and that we are not alone in this. I leave you with these ideas, "Today is a new day" and "Everyone is doing the best they can today." Keep doing what you do because your students are lucky to have you!
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