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Supporting students during times of uncertainty...a few tips for dealing with COVID-19

“I hope you are doing well…” I almost always begin an email with this statement. During this time of uncertainty due to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) this greeting has taken on a much more urgent meaning.

As a consultant working to support social and emotional skills development within schools and businesses, I thought I would share a few thoughts for parents, teachers, and administrators to consider and some great resources from others to help guide us during the next few weeks…

Acknowledge the stress and anxiety present. The stress and emotions that students and teachers experience during a time like this are very real and can can vary greatly. Worry or anxiety is a natural response to uncertainty or fear. There is often fear when we are faced with the unknown. Although we are learning more facts every day, there is a whole lot of uncertainty as we encounter the impact and effects of COVID-19 in our communities.

Share the facts. Many students may not know the basic facts about the virus. There are many misconceptions about the virus itself and how it spreads. It is important when sharing information that we make sure information is shared in developmentally appropriate ways. Here are a few resources:

Keep in mind "Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs".

#1 Physical Needs - Make sure that students’ physical needs are met, but it’s also important that both parents and teachers are taking care of their own physical needs: drinking water, getting enough sleep, etc. How adults (parents, educators, etc.) respond to their own anxiety and fears will dictate how students respond. Be kind to yourself and be kind to others. Emotion contagion is very real.

#2 Safety Needs - How secure are students feeling at home and when they come to school?

As we think about “safety” we should keep this question in mind: "How safe are my students feeling in this time of uncertainty?" Be prepared to listen as students may feel the need to share what they are experiencing. For example, yesterday I was coaching in a classroom. At the end of the day, a teacher was wiping down students’ desks as the students were waiting for their bus numbers to be called. A 5th grade student shared with us, “My mom is a nurse and she said people are stealing these chlorox wipes at the hospital. That is so wrong!” Kids are having big feelings and they are watching and listening closely.

#3 Love & Belonging - Students need to feel connected to each other and their teachers. Some schools are recommending "social distancing" within the classroom. This might look like arranging student desks in rows rather than groups in order to help deter the spread of germs. Some may even suggest to forgo Morning Meeting. However, Morning Meeting is a great time to be able to encourage students, help settle anxiety and start on a positive note. When students are gathered during Morning Meeting we can consider ways to decrease touch such as using “no touch” greetings (try using Microwave, Hello Neighbor, The Baseball Greeting - without a handshake, etc.). As many schools are opting for online learning to reduce the community spread of COVID-19, here are some other important questions to consider as you prepare to teach online:

  • How do we practice social distancing …engaging in learning online, while remaining a community of learners?

  • How do we hold to the expectations that we have worked hard to develop in our physical classrooms in virtual spaces?

  • How can we help students feel safe so that they can learn best?

Help students to feel safe and increase belonging in virtual learning environments. As many school may need to move towards online learning for extended periods of time we should plan proactively for ways to continue to create the sense of belonging that students need. This can be challenging in virtual learning environments. Provide daily check-ins through phone calls, personal emails, and having students self-report how they are feeling (even young students can click on emojis to let us know how they are feeling). Many technology companies (like Google, Brain Pop, and Kahoot!) are providing support to schools by making premium features and tools available free to schools that are closing due to COVID-19 (click on some links for ideas in the blog posts listed below). Remember to be careful not to overwhelm students with new technology tools that they may not feel comfortable with, however if you are still in school you may want to explore some of these tools together in preparation for eventual online learning experiences.

A few tips and tools to consider as you plan for online learning:

I hope these ideas and resources are helpful during this uncertain time. Above all...

Stay well,


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