It’s now been one year since the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered school facilities and forced educators across the globe to shift how they engage learners. At Teachstone, we too made shifts to ensure we met the moment, while remaining steadfast in our commitment to improving the interactions that matter most to children’s development and success.
The dysfunctional design flaw that separates systems of caregiving (childcare) from systems of education (public schools), has been laid bare during the pandemic. For instance, rather than experiencing even hybrid moments of normalcy, most children started the school year virtually, because teachers with young children took permissible and understandable leaves to care for their families. Let’s be clear, the lack of teaching staff has contributed to a deficit of meaningful interactions for this country’s children.
Toddlers reinforce their trust in caregivers while venturing into the world on their own. Along with stable relationships and independence, they need frequent reminders of behavioral expectations to keep themselves and their peers safe. With support and regulation, educators can help buffer the effects of stress or trauma and promote healthy child development.
Children learn best in a warm, safe environment. While positive interactions strengthen a classroom community, clear safety expectations promote healthiness. Remind children that these measures are in place because you care about them.
Trust for Learning is a “philanthropic partnership dedicated to expanding ideal early learning environments for underserved children.” They have worked over the past few years to articulate a set of principles for ideal learning. These set of principles have been gleaned from well-known early childhood approaches including Montessori, Reggio Emilia, Friends Center for Children, Tools of the Mind, Bank Street College of Education, and Waldorf.
Whether you’re teaching virtually or in person, making the most of each learning moment is always the goal. Engaging children requires you to make many plans and decisions based on your teaching knowledge. Ideally, you help children meet individual needs while still reaching goals. With strong relationships as a foundation, clear expectations and consistency will help children listen, participate, and learn throughout your virtual learning experience.
Shared physical presence is a large part of how we’re used to connecting with each other. Strong connections and relationships are important for children who may have recently experienced loss, high stress, or trauma. As teachers connect with children in a virtual setting, it can be more challenging to think about how to create a safe space for learning, sharing experiences, and taking risks.
Data from the National Survey of Students’ Health (NSCH) indicates that almost half of the students in the United States have experienced one or more forms of serious trauma, such as poverty, homelessness, or abuse and neglect. This means that an estimated 35,000,00 students, from infancy through age 17 are at risk for not only school failure, but for a number of social-emotional and physical complications (e.g., PTSD, heart disease, etc.) that may have life-long consequences to their health and well-being. The effect of COVID-19 has surely increased the percentage of young people who are experiencing trauma. And while people of all races and socioeconomic statuses have been affected by COVID-19, poor communities of color have been disproportionately impacted, adding an additional level of trauma to a population already traumatized by systemic racism.
Calvary City Academy & Preschool closed on March 13, along with most programs in Florida. While closed, we had much to prepare for reopening. While children were home, we prepared packets to send home, met with children virtually, and even hosted things like field day, spirit week, and graduation virtually! Even with those successes, we were so happy to be able to return to being in-person when we reopened in June. Since June, we’ve learned a lot. Here’s what’s working for us:
Jess Pablo is an early childhood coach and grade level chair at The Primary School, a non-profit school in East Palo Alto, California, that serves children aged pre-K through grade 3, bringing together education, health, and family support services to support children’s holistic growth. Below are some of the ideas, concerns, and suggestions she shared as her program resumes this year in a mostly virtual learning environment.