Over Easter weekend I was fortunate enough to spend a little time with family. In fact, the weather was so nice that we decided to spend most of the day outside. As my nieces and nephews ran around and climbed trees, the adults caught up on the latest news (which admittedly, wasn’t much). During our discussion however, one of my nephews happened to wander over and voiced his thoughts aloud as children like to do.
“We’ve been in the pandemic forever,” he moaned, “I’ve had two birthdays now, is it ever going to end?”
There was an awkward pause as we all took a moment to digest this information. As much as we were enjoying the nice day, and as much as we enjoyed seeing each other, the realities of COVID-19 still hung over everything else. Most of us were still working remotely. It had been over a year since any of us had gone to see a movie or eaten inside a restaurant. The truth was, COVID grief had become a part of daily life.
Now, I don’t want to be a downer, but I think a lot of students are still struggling with their own brand of COVID grief. They’ve lost almost two years of their school experience to the pandemic. This includes sports games, school plays, scholarship opportunities, school dances, and so much more. Compounding everything is the knowledge that we just don’t know when things will go back to normal. Some experts theorize it could be another year before things start to look familiar.
So, in this prolonged period of COVID grief, how do we help our students look toward the future? What can we do as educators to foster hope in these trying circumstances? Well, we can start by tackling the problem head on with social-emotional learning. By making student’s mental and emotional health a priority, we won’t just give them a welcome reprieve from their daily anxieties, we’ll also teach them how to look past the current moment and plan for a better tomorrow.
Here’s how we begin…
- Talk it Out: Don’t let students stew in their unspoken emotions. Give them an opportunity to vent their thoughts and frustrations. This can be accomplished through a reflection journal, a personal letter, a google form (if they wish to remain anonymous), or simply setting aside time for students to share how they feel. Teaching students to express themselves in a healthy manner is crucially important, especially now.
- Share Inspiring Stories: The world can look pretty bleak right now, but as Mr. Rogers liked to say, “Look for the helpers.” Consider starting each day with an inspirational story. Tell students about how doctors are coming out of retirement to help fight COVID. Share the story of the photographer who took family photos for her community at a safe distance. You could even turn it into a history lesson by sharing how heroes like John Snow and Florence Nightingale helped fight illness and changed the world!
- Think of the Future: Encourage your class by reframing the moment. Remind students that this difficult time will eventually pass, and the future is still full of possibility. To drive home this point, lead the students in activities that help them see past current events. You could make a time capsule and have students fill it with letters to their future selves. You could also create vision boards and have your class share goals they want to accomplish within the next five years.
- Rest: Life under COVID is stressful, exhausting, and frustrating for everyone. Conditions like this are going to require plenty of rest and self-care. Make sure students (and yourself for that matter) are taking time to recharge. Lead your students through some basic yoga or deep breathing exercises to help they stay centered. Also keep an eye out for any red flags (such as low energy, short tempers, or lack of creativity) to avoid burnout in yourself and your students.
We’ve spent a long time in this pandemic, and COVID anxiety can quickly become a part of daily life. Nevertheless, we must remember to be hopeful. Things won’t stay this way forever, and there is plenty of good news to be found if we’re willing to look for it. Vaccinations are on the rise, forecasts are trending positive, and even students can do their part to help protect their communities!
We’re almost through the tunnel, but we’re not there yet. Until then, remember to be a source of hope and encouragement for your students. Let’s look toward the future together, and show our students that it has the potential to be truly amazing.
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*Image by Kamaljith K V via Wikimedia Commons.