When school returns let’s focus on resilience — not what’s been lost
Our educators and families are understandably concerned that students may never fully recover from the traumas brought about by the pandemic this past year — the stress of lockdowns, learning loss, and isolation from extended family and friends are just a few of the issues that experts point to as evidence that children’s mental health has been put in jeopardy. Yet while we shore up our mental health systems in schools, we also need to encourage children’s resilience.
Rather than focusing on all that has been lost and stressing students even more with the thought they may never catch up to where they “need” to be, students need us to build them up instead of knocking them down.
Of course, we need to do the important work of figuring out where kids are — a solid education is the basic foundation for success, after all. Some form of assessment needs to be done sooner than later but must be framed as an exercise in leveling the playing field. And then we can be creative about what comes next, working diligently to put the infrastructure in place that will lead to a more supportive school environment.
I have seen the power of resilience in the classroom firsthand as an educator. My first year teaching, I vividly recall one young man who pushed boundaries every day because he did not see a path forward after high school. Unlike many of his peers who knew they were going to college, just uncertain which one, he believed his future was entering the workforce after high school. I made it my personal mission to connect with him — bumping into him in the cafeteria, greeting him at the football games, joking about his tie at homecoming. This eventually led to me sitting with him filling out college applications, and all it took was me signaling my genuine care and belief in his future.
Kids need champions. When they have the positive reinforcement to look beyond any academic challenges to see their unique gifts and opportunities in front of them, students can and do succeed in our education system. Our policymakers must put the infrastructure in place to help students see their value even in the most difficult of times.
If we want our students to be able to bounce back from the pandemic, here are the three policy changes we need to invest in. We must:
- Hire more educators of color, because research shows they know how to build strong relationships with kids and help them foster resilience, especially for children of color.
- Support social-emotional learning through arts and elective courses. While these subjects have always been relegated as “specials,” time and again students learn more about themselves and help self-regulate their attitudes about adversity in arts courses.
- Introduce real-world applications of their learning to show that there is meaning to their work. We know that high school completion is tough for many, so if we want students to hang on and finish, we need to help them see the value in obtaining their degree.
Reopening school buildings has been and will continue to be difficult for our students. There will be new stressors for them as we try to maintain social distance and ensure their health and safety, all while trying to catch up, in what experts have said has been a tremendous season of learning loss.
If we want our students to be able to manage the challenges that lie ahead of them, we need these innovations to build their resilience. Our young people are strong, but we need to put changes in place to help them see obstacles as opportunities and move beyond the stress into success.
Dr. Javaid Siddiqi is president and CEO of The Hunt Institute. Twitter: @jsiddiqi7
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