66% of students are anxious about returning to school, according to the Recovery Village. During COVID-19, many students adjusted to learning from home and being around their families more often. As the world begins to re-open, psychologists are noticing higher general and separation anxiety rates in children as they return to the classroom. (Child Mind Institute). When you prepare your classroom for in-person learning, it is crucial to cater to students’ increased anxiety and foster a learning environment where they feel safe.
1. Communicate clearly with students and their families
Uncertainty prompts people to simulate possible outcomes mentally. Unfortunately, we lean towards negative outcomes when doing this, worsening our anxiety symptoms (Frontiers In Psychology). Due to our tendency to focus on the negative when faced with uncertainty, it is vital to communicate clear expectations with students and their families early on to lower student anxiety levels. Even if plans change, maintaining regular communication will help alleviate stress on the families as they plan their life and cope with the return to in-person learning. The Child Mind Institute recommends the following:
• Changes made at schools
• Specific expectations for families
• Upcoming plans
• Long-term plans
2. Protect students physically and mentally
Physically Show the students what you are doing to keep them safe. Many students, especially younger ones, are not used to being around others and may feel a sense of danger. To help students feel more comfortable, let them know that the educators and administrators have worked together to provide a safe environment for them. When speaking with students, explain your cleaning and safety protocols and answer any questions they have.
Mentally To help teachers protect their students, GoGuardian launched GoGuardian Beacon, which helps educators identify students at risk of suicide or self-harm, alerts those who can help, and quickly activates the school’s custom response plan.
3. Healthy coping mechanisms
Teach your students healthy coping mechanisms and allow them time to recover if they are feeling overwhelmed. To do this, you could:
• Have stress reliever toys available
• Offer class mediation sessions
• Play soothing music
• Create a reading nook
• Set up a Maker Space
Learn more about healthy coping mechanisms here.
4. Validate their feelings
Actively listen to students when they share their fears or concerns with you. Your response should always be empathetic, non-judgmental and to let them know that their emotions are valid (Loyola University Maryland).
5. Take care of yourself and know your limits
You can’t pour from an empty cup – make sure you prioritize your needs as well as your students. To take care of yourself, we recommend:
• Setting and maintaining boundaries
• Allowing yourself time to rest
• Understanding what is and what isn’t outside your control
• Planning time in your day for activities you enjoy
• Using mental health resources such as therapy, educator support groups, or apps
Find more resources here