Many schools are transitioning back to hybrid and in-person education, inviting students back into the halls and classrooms that have stood empty for over a year. The logistics are daunting. Despite all of the safety precautions required to accomplish this move, the transition also offers us a chance to reimagine how our education system operates. It gives us a powerful opportunity to begin to create more equitable, engaged, trauma-responsive school communities, where everyone feels as though they belong and they matter. Now is the time to create structures and practices that better serve all of our students.
All students have experienced trauma over the past year. Schools need to be actively trauma-responsive. Integrated social emotional learning, attention to mental well-being, and consistently teaching and practicing regulation skills are the foundations to successful transitions during this time. They are also the foundation for more effective schools. Furthermore, data such as that in the Education Leadership article, “Building Racial Equity Through Trauma-Responsive Discipline,” tell us that Black and Brown students have been more impacted by the pandemic than their peers, and that their trauma response will often be perceived by teachers as willful disobedience. Taking care of our emotional well-being will give us greater resiliency while we help our students develop strategies to manage their own stress. Using culturally responsive strategies will help all students feel safe.
For example, in this Education Week article, Psychologist Janine Jones from the University of Washington shares that practicing regulation collectively in a classroom may be more effective for students from marginalized communities than using a cool-down space individually.
Engage the entire community in problem solving. When administration can involve staff, student caregivers, and the surrounding community as integral voices in creating solutions, these stakeholders feel more respected and connected. The solutions may more effectively address issues in ways not initially evident to the school leadership. Engagement shouldn’t end with helping to create solutions. School is a community, and trust is essential. To build trust, efforts to form bridges from school to home need to be a priority. Ask how parents and caregivers want to be engaged.
Find ways to center student voice and foster student engagement. When teachers cultivate student input in the classroom, proactively engaging students in planning and problem solving, students feel empowered and more committed to their school community. Teachers can do this by co-creating agreements with their students, using regular classroom meetings to form transitional routines and procedures, and engaging them in decision-making. This Edutopia article shares ways to involve students, allowing them to develop essential life skills that inspire them to feel capable and sure of their belonging and significance. Classrooms with fully engaged students using their skills and their voices to co-create their school environment develop people with critical thinking skills, planning skills, communication skills, and a sense of being worthy members of their world. This is how students and schools will thrive.