YARMOUTH — As schools start welcoming back students, it is important to reflect on lessons that we’ve learned in the coronavirus pandemic.

In March, the entire world was thrust into a period of distance learning. This represented a major challenge even for the most gifted educators and the most resilient students.

Since this time, distance learning has been a subject of debate and discussion, but it can be delivered effectively. Students can experience significant growth if the distance learning platform is effectively delivered. In developing a platform for remote learning, one key element that educators must not overlook is providing for the social and emotional health of their students.

The current reality is still new for all of us, and it is natural to see a range of emotional reactions from the excitement of connecting with friends on social media to a real sense of loss. As students think about family and loved ones, they may struggle to fully understand what is happening which may lead to heightened stress and anxiety. Different formats and expectations brought on by new academic platforms can only increase that stress.

An effective distance learning program should approach student emotional health and wellness with the following criteria in mind:

• Monitor wellness: Recognize students are reacting differently to this crisis. In addition to direct support from the school counselor, equip teachers with the ability to identify warning signs that empower them to monitor changes in behavior and seek support.

• Provide resources for families: Our young people aren’t the only ones that require support. Adults have many questions about the virus, the impact of distance learning on their children, and how to speak to their children about the pandemic. Make resources available and accessible for families. At North Yarmouth Academy (NYA), we created a wellness resource webpage that is updated regularly. A new wellness theme is introduced each week with links to helpful information.

• Educator self-care: This can be a stressful time. Administrators must support and allow space for faculty that are balancing work, family responsibilities, and possible pandemic related financial stress.

• Physical activity: Organized and unorganized sports and physical activity have been extremely restricted during the pandemic, leading to a period of concerning inactivity among our young people. Promote activity, share resources and establish goals with your students for exercise.

• Supportive academic program: It is OK to challenge your students and expect a high level of work, but ensure that you replace the support students were familiar with in school with remote support from teachers that students can easily access.

• Schedule: Create a schedule that provides relief from screen time. It is unrealistic to simply replicate the existing schedule with an online schedule. Times for important group and peer-to-peer social connections should be built into the schedule.

• Promote student leadership: Efforts to promote social connections are usually most effective and authentic if they come directly from the student body. Empower student leaders to develop strategies and programs to reinforce student social bonds. At NYA, these took the form of a weekly student news video segment, jokes and morale boosters, birthday parades for the younger students, online musical recitals, and more.

Amid the challenges, be aware of the many silver linings. This has been the greatest era of professional development for our teachers, and their pedagogy will never be the same. Faculty and students have learned new ways to leverage technology to communicate and collaborate with one another. Students have learned new lessons in empathy and compassion. They have learned how to adapt and to be flexible and creative when alternate plans were required. Combined, these lessons will serve us very well when we return to the classroom.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.