This page is part of a larger series titled Back to School Resources 2020. To see the full list of topics, visit the Back to School Resources 2020 Landing Page.
The transition back to school will be a complicated experience. Some teachers and students may be excited and relieved to return to a predictable routine and to have easier access to their friends and coworkers, while some may be fearful and dreading the return. Back-to-school 2020 is unique because we will return to school in the middle of a pandemic, we will have new vocabulary and routines, and we will have many questions and fears. The need to support students and coworkers may feel intense at a time when most of teachers and staff are also are feeling fatigued.
Students and staff will benefit from a planned approach to providing social, emotional, and behavioral support to ease the transition back to school. The development of universal strategies that can be used with whole classes can provide a preventative and proactive approach to facilitate positive mental health for all students. Whole classes may use universal strategies, and the development of them can provide a preventative and proactive approach to facilitate positive mental health for all students. Some students will have experienced more significant challenges during the quarantine, which may have increased their mental health needs and behavioral needs. Be prepared to provide strategic support to these students in collaboration with caregivers and available professionals. Continue to return to the knowledge that prioritizing the social-emotional, mental, and behavioral health needs of students can help create a safe and supportive environment to foster student connections and learning.
Explore the Resources
Use the tabs below to explore the resources associated with Social-Emotional, Mental, and Behavioral Health.
Social Emotional Learning Resources
The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning defines systemic Social Emotional Learning (SEL) as the processes through which schools, families, and communities enhance the capacities of children and adults to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.
- SEL promotes the skills students need to more fully engage in academic learning, to relate with those around them, and to cope with the stresses they are currently facing.
- SEL also empowers educators to provide encouraging, safe, and supportive school communities and manage their own self-care so that they can continue this crucial work.
These skills will be essential for both staff and students as we return to the school amid the pandemic. We will need to adopt a mindset of flexibility, openness, and curiosity about what we, our students, and our coworkers are experiencing. The following strategies can help promote these needs in a proactive and preventative manner through the use of whole class strategies.
We may already know of students and staff that will need support upon the return from school, but there will be others whose needs we may not be aware of. It will be helpful to develop a team within your school to lead screening and monitoring of staff and students, and to develop, implement, and support strategies for social and emotional health. Lean into the personnel available to you: trained mental health professionals (staff, volunteers, parents) and staff that are naturally inclined to attend to social-emotional needs.
- Screening for Well Being. First take the time and space to assess how staff members are doing. If we do not take good care of ourselves, we will be ill-prepared to help our students. We also must assess the well-being of our students and families to better plan and prepare for our community’s needs. This can be done informally through conversations and observation or through a formal survey to gather information about potential needs and concerns. The intent of gathering this information is to identify individuals that need follow-up and how to build capacity to support needs, not for diagnostic purposes. Questions should inquire about both risk factors and protective factors for staff and students.
- Use survey and observational data to both identify staff and students with potential for greater needs and to provide valuable guidance to create robust and layered systems of support for staff, students, and families to meet educational, emotional, physical, and spiritual needs. Think in terms of tiered levels of support, similar to what is used for academic needs. What are general supports that can benefit all students? What strategic needs do specific students have, and what supports can best help? How will we respond when conflict or big emotional responses occur?
Build social and emotional skills through whole group activities:
- Facilitate intentional conversations. Acknowledge that everyone has had different experiences through the pandemic. Validate that some students are disappointed, some had fun, some are grieving, some are exhausted, and some area scared. Create opportunities to share, listen, and reflect on these different experiences. Include activities that allow for artistic and creative ways for students to identify and communicate what they are thinking and feeling. Continue to check-in with students to hear their perspectives on what is working well and what they want to change.
- Imbed SEL in curriculum: The teaching of SEL skills can be embedded during the day, both in the classroom and during recess. Ask questions about a student’s experiences, model appropriate social and emotional skills, and explicitly teach SEL skills within your content. Ask questions and listen with an open and curious posture. When changes occur throughout the year, model flexibility and how to handle frustration. Think about what books will you read aloud or assign to your students this year. Select books that include concepts of resilience, overcoming challenges, working through emotions, asking questions, and making connections with student experiences (Reading with Relevance, book list for Early Childhood).
- Build connections among students and with staff. Schedule back-to-school social events to allow peers and staff to reconnect. Provide additional opportunities for students with unique transitions to learn their new environment (kindergarten, new to middle school, new to high school). Ensure each student has a relationship with at least one caring adult in school to connect with daily. Prioritize building relationships within your classroom structure by welcoming students at the door, having daily class meetings, check-ins, or community-building rituals. Consider matching identified students with a peer buddy. In middle/high school, consider providing year-long homerooms or advisory periods to check-in before beginning the instructional day and/or provide focused SEL supports. If school returns to remote learning, consider collaborating with parents/caregivers to create small groups of students that continue to meet for short periods of time (following recommended safety protocols) to meet their social and emotional needs.
- Schedule self-care activities throughout the school day. Embed patterned, repetitive, and rhythmic movement, music, or other sensory activities that promote self-regulation throughout the daily schedule. Pay attention to the sensory input (noises, brightness, colors, smells), these can foster or hinder learning for students with heightened alertness due to stress. Create a designated space or spaces with activities and materials that can foster calm (coloring pages, headphones, manipulatives, movement). If shared spaces are not possible, create a mobile calm-down kit that students can take back to their assigned seating options. Providing spaces, time, and tools to return to calm promotes self-awareness and self-regulation, which can guide the student back to a state of learning.
- A school-wide approach to teaching SEL skills will foster common language throughout the school building, providing consistent and developmentally appropriate instruction of skills including self-awareness, self-regulation, and relationship skills. When conflict occurs, respond restoratively with a focus on healing, repairing harm, and building resilience (e.g., restorative practices, de-escalation strategies, and calm-down spaces). Whether learning occurs at home, at school, or a mix of both next year, in–person and online SEL materials are available to support the learning needs of students with varied abilities (Second Step, Mindset Works, Social Thinking).
Individual Support: Behavior is communication:
We are collectively living through the same pandemic, but our experiences are all unique depending on individual circumstances. Trauma-informed practices can provide support for all students and staff when working through challenging behavior.
When a student responds emotionally to the demands of school or in interactions with others, support them through that response, and then be curious together. Be an emotion scientist, not an emotion judge. The students’ responses are telling us something about how they are feeling, taking in the environment, and processing the circumstances. For some students, their teachers are a lifeline of support to stay regulated and engage effectively in learning and relationships. Research tells us that relationships can serve as a buffer, or protective factor, to the stressors that a child is experiencing. An open, calm, and reflective posture towards students enhances well-being and provides space for students to stay regulated in order to learn. Be curious about the emotions your students express and the behaviors that follow.
If emotional or behavioral challenges persist despite school-wide or classroom supports, lean into the wisdom of the trained professionals within your school and community to support student mental health. Work in partnership with parents/caregivers to develop a plan of support to implement next steps, address identified needs, and monitor student progress.
Curriculum Examples Mentioned in this Section:
Anxiety and Depression Resources
Keep an eye out for your students who have experienced anxiety and depression during a typical school year, as they may be suffering more than usual. Anxious students may appear distracted, irritable, or withdrawn, and may engage in task avoidance which could look like noncompliance or even physical health problems. They may or may not describe specific worries, yet their tension is visible. Depressed students may withdraw from peer interaction and from activities you know they have previously enjoyed, and they may appear tired or irritable. They may cry more easily and not be able to tell you what’s wrong. Share your observations with parents.
Included here are some resources that may help you make all of those challenges a bit more manageable. Some of the links will reveal articles from trusted sources, and some of the links will hopefully help you brainstorm and prioritize classroom activities.
Develop and maintain rapport.
Warm rapport will help you know students in relevant ways and will help them feel comfortable with you, both of which are important. This year especially, it is important to listen to and observe your students, rather than talk and direct. Efforts to establish and maintain rapport allows your students to know one thing for certain… you are there for them, which goes a long way to quelling anxiety. Rapport can be maintained through verbal and written communication, eye contact and facial expressions, participation in nonacademic conversation and activities, and using the art of listening. Solid rapport allows the student to feel comfortable and known and promotes the teacher’s ability to predict and prevent mood problems that may interfere with the student’s happiness and success in the classroom.
Practice prevention and build resilience.
This is the year to implement whole group strategies as a matter of routine, in advance of seeing distinctive signs of stress and anxiety among individual students. Maintaining a predictable routine is one of the best ways to moderate anxiety. Try making small changes which may be sustainable in this unpredictable year. Develop a routine for greeting the students in the morning, possibly even before they enter the classroom. This could include placing a sticky note on their locker door, a 6AM good morning email, or even an opening activity already on their desk when they go to take a seat.
Include a “resilience-builder” time as a scheduled event each day and give the students some control as to how that period will proceed. “Resilience-builder” time could include teaching feelings vocabulary, practicing respect for classmates through words and actions, teaching self-calming strategies, and discussing the positives in people and events that have become evident in the past 24 hours. Resilient people are those who adapt well in adverse circumstances, and that positive adaptation takes practice.
Look for signs of stress and act.
You may observe behaviors that concern you, they may look familiar and even trigger some of your own anxiety, at which point you will want to intervene quickly and confidently. Come alongside that suffering student and let them know that you see them and that you want to help.
- Communicate privately through email or an in-person contact during the school day.
- Listen and use comforting statements rather than adding to the demand by asking about feelings the student may not be able to identify, or problems they may not be able to articulate.
- Remind the student that you are there for them and that you will use your resources (e.g. parent communication, school and community services, your “listening ear”) to help.
- Communicate regularly with parents, reporting both the things for which you are giving praise and areas of concern.
with news related to COVID-19 and encourage your students to ask questions, being careful to respond in an age-appropriate way. Provide opportunities for students to reflect on what they experienced and felt during the time away from school.
ADHD is a developmental impairment of the brain’s executive functions, or self-management system. Students with ADHD have trouble with impulse-control, focusing, and organization; they struggle to harness their attention in the right direction at the right time with consistency. The stress created by the pandemic further impacts the alertness and arousal pathways of the mind, creating further challenges for students with ADHD. We can help students to shift their responses by creating routines and environments that foster safety, predictability, and opportunities to regulate throughout the day, whether learning remotely or back in school.
- Dress for “work” whether home or at school
- Eat a nutritious breakfast
- If remote learning, start school at the same time each day
- Exercise during breaks from instruction
- Ask questions, seek help when necessary
- Be willing to assist other children or adults when they need help
- Learn from your choices
Parent & Staff Jobs
- Model calm and confidence
- Stay attuned to the student’s feelings
- Encourage the student to verbalize feelings
- Review daily routine, goals
- Provide a visual chart of their day with tasks and time frames
- Encourage questions from student and each other
- Hold student accountable for assigned work which is a reasonable expectation
- Maintain strong home-school alliance
- Provide frequent feedback
- Provide authentic appreciation for student’s effort
- Survey parents with brief questionnaire of student’s strengths and interests before school begins
- Provide student and parents an open house before school year begins
- Do walk thru of their classroom layout
- Review the routines of the classroom
- Provide student with a preview of the exciting areas of learning during the coming year
- Externalize (make visual) instructions, steps, rules, requirements by writing out or use of pictures
Home Environment during Remote Learning
- Set up and maintain an appealing, organized, quiet work space “office” dedicated for schoolwork
- Structure: establish a consistent schedule (time frames) for schoolwork (instruction, production)
- Externalize time with visible timer (ex. egg timer, Time Timer clock)
- Externalize (make visual) instructions, steps, rules, requirements by writing out or use of pictures
- Use progress charts to visually show progress
Self-Care for Teachers Resources
Take care of yourself. We have all heard (and rarely listened to) the airline attendants direct us to put our own oxygen masks in place before assisting our traveling companions. This is the year we figure out why they always say that. Many of us will be starting the school year experiencing a unique kind of fatigue. Our individual and global concerns are real, as is the impact of dramatic changes in our routines. Yet, our choice to be professionals and to work in educational communities is one of the few things that have not been changed by pandemic. So now is the time to return to the basics, remember the reasons we chose this field, and remember the things that make us thoughtful, caring, Christian educators. That pursuit is self-centered in the most loving, respectful, responsible, and necessary way.
If you have lost sight of how to do self-care, it involves spending time in the activities you love, even if it is only 15 minutes each day. This is as important as brushing your teeth every day. It involves spending time in quiet or in the midst of noise, whichever brings you peace then clarity. And it probably involves involvement with friends, food, nature, and hopefully results in laughter and calm. When you are feeling anxious, unsettled, or discontent, reach out to the supports that bring calm into your life. Your students will be among the first to notice if you are taking care of yourself or not, so try to model self-care for them.
Create space and time for self-care while at school, designating space, time and guided conversations to build relationships and reflect, heal, and connect with each other. Consider partnering teachers for more frequent check-ins, and arranging for quick individual staff check-ins with school leaders. Establish a tap-in/tap-out process for when staff have an immediate need that requires someone to briefly step in or work together as a staff to build compassion resilience. Foster a culture of self-care, encouraging staff to assess their current needs and develop a plan, including setting realistic boundaries for work. Engage in self-care activities as a staff, which could include working together on a service project, group exercise, or sharing a meal.