As a teacher, I’ve worked with a lot of different types of students. Many were independent, got decent grades and were well-behaved.
There also were many who forgot their books and assignments, conveniently missed class on test days or only spoke in monosyllables.
This fall, teachers likely will see an additional host of new COVID-related concerns: kids whose isolation affected social development, kids who previously thrived academically but now struggle with their grades, kids who opt to learn from home but don’t have the right technology access, and kids who’ll want to ignore the health requirements and treat this school year like any other.
As teachers, we want our students to thrive. To do this, we often try jumping straight into skill-building.
Yet skill-building — such as emotional regulation, staying focused or knowing how to redirect unwanted behavior — is part of the “confidence” tier on the EveryDay Strong pyramid. Before we try to teach confidence-level skills, let’s first consider three ways to establish emotional safety and connection with our students.
1. Focus on emotional needs, not outcomes.
COVID-19 has changed many things, including students’ abilities to cope with school challenges and the new classroom dynamics. Some students may struggle more than in prior years.
Teachers and parents may feel a sense of urgency to help students learn to calmly react to emotions and keep up with behavioral and academic expectations.
Yet we can best achieve this by first giving ourselves and our students permission to explore and try new things. We also can allow ourselves to fail and feel negatively if those things don’t work out.
As Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs illustrates, creating an environment where everyone feels safe is an essential “first step” before building confidence-level skills.
2. Ask your students how you can help.
It takes experience and practice to find the time, resources and ability to constructively react to inappropriate behavior. This year, the learning curve will likely only grow as COVID restrictions hamper teachers from interacting with individual students.
As a teacher, I learned that sometimes students don’t actually need the trip to the water fountain. Sometimes, they just want to be left alone or be given a chance to talk with a friend.
Many students know what they need on a bad day. So talk to your students, especially the older ones, and ask them how you can help. Truly listening to what they’re saying — verbally or not — can help you connect and better understand their needs.
3. Set realistic and reachable goals.
As teachers, it’s important to consider how we can implement a “needs-based” approach in different scenarios. This will come with practice, as we learn how to adapt to our students’ needs.
Our small, daily efforts to connect with students are sometimes the most important ways we can help students thrive and be resilient.
Ultimately, classroom management is a confidence-level skill. Before you jump into goal-setting and trying to help every struggling student, help build resilience in the classroom.
Create emotional safety by focusing on emotional needs (not outcomes), asking your students how you can help, and setting realistic and reachable goals for yourself and your students.