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Teachers & Students Need to Rebuild Stamina for this School Year

We may be back to in-person learning, but it’s anything but normal. Masks, social distancing, altered scheduling, and new safety protocols make the days almost unrecognizable from where we were in March 2020. One of the biggest differences? The amount of stamina you may have for this new normal.

And it won’t just be you. Another thing you may notice is that the stamina your students had for things that seemed natural and normal in the past is now fragile. After almost two years of restricted socializing and limited school hours, our students’ capacity to focus and be in groups has diminished significantly, which makes perfect sense. Recognizing the need to help your kids rebuild stamina with patience and step-by-step plans will be beneficial this fall. Here are some ideas.

Talk explicitly to students about building mental focus and growing the capacity to concentrate. Take baby steps. Here are some useful tips to try.

Social Stamina: The texting and device connection we have been using for 18 months does not rely on the complex systems of social interaction that life in person requires. It is difficult and overwhelming to be faced with reading body language again and be forced to infer facial expressions only from one another’s eyes.

This is exhausting work, especially after applying these skills only to a couple of people at a time. And now we are all surrounded by crowds of people at school. Frequent brain breaks, calming music, regular movement periods, self-regulation practices, meditation breaks, and other inward, rather than outward, facing focus times can be woven throughout the day to buffer the overwhelm and build capacity.

Acknowledging the transition: For many students, the uncertainty brought by the pandemic, racial reckoning, and natural disasters of the past year are linked with difficult emotions. Before students can build academic stamina, these emotions need to be named and acknowledged. Ignoring the difficulty of lived experience does not make their effects disappear.  Here are some lesson plans developed by Sound Discipline that may help your students process the past months so that they are ready for the challenges of this next school year.

Break academic learning into smaller chunks: Because a student’s attention will be focused on processing much more visual, sound, and energy input than students have been accustomed to, academics may feel more challenging. Break learning into smaller lessons and use the breaks mentioned above between the components. Be transparent with your class about helping them slowly build greater capacity to focus. There are specific ideas for developing reading stamina in this article.

Cell phone/screen withdrawal: Most students have had unprecedented opportunities to be on their devices over the past two years. For some that will be fine and for others the transition away from almost unlimited access to phones and laptops will be difficult. It may be beneficial to have a conversation with your students about what they are noticing in their bodies with less screen access during the day. Here is a short video that can get the conversation started. It’s a report on an experiment where students went without their phones for a week. Some reported better sleep, a better sense of well-being, and better relationships.