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Supporting Students in Challenging Times

We are currently living in a tense social and political climate, with a great deal of polarization within our communities. With so much change and daily turmoil in the news, students are not only managing their own personal stress about school, family, and growing up- they are also having to negotiate their questions and concerns about the future. This kind of “overload” can compromise students’ abilities to stay engaged in school and life, and can create a sense of alienation, isolation, and/or hopelessness.

When youth experience overload, they tend to respond in a few different ways: 1) they disengage, shut down and numb–because they cannot process any more information; 2) they engage in risky or “thrill-seeking” behaviors in attempt to feel emotion or feel empowered–this can include seeking out “danger”, excessive use of drugs or alcohol or violence to self or other; 3) they seek ways to discharge the agitation and anxiety–in healthy (i.e. exercise) or unhealthy (i.e. impulsive) ways.

We can support our young people during these times by continuing to build trusting relationships, reassuring them (and modeling for them) that our classroom is a safe and inclusive space, and by naming and acknowledging the fact that there are incredible tensions present in our world.

We can do this without taking a political or cultural stance, but rather by coming from a place of compassion for the current situation we are collectively experiencing.  When adults avoid speaking to the “elephant in the room”, young people are left alone, without support, to grapple with complex and difficult feelings.

On the other hand, this is not the time for us to spill our own fear, anxiety and uncertainty into the room. We can best support our students by acknowledging the tensions while continuing to create caring classrooms and schools that provide a safe context for students’ to learn and grow as young people.

This can be a particularly important time to integrate practices that relieve stress, promote mindfulness, and support students to find meaning, purpose and joy.  Below are some tips for these times. Please let us know what you discover.

Tips for Supporting Students:

  • Try starting your lesson or day with a focusing activity of some kind–a reflective moment, an inspiring quote followed by a hot pencil exercise, or a playful activity; incorporate activities that will support students to relieve and manage stress and engage in the present moment.
  • Continue to cultivate a relationship-centered classroom–where you take the time to know your students and to give them a chance to know you and one another.
  • Continue to foster a culturally responsive classroom–where all heritages and backgrounds are honored and represented.
  • Watch for signs of uncontrollable agitation in students–and talk with the resource team about providing additional supports.
  • Talk with your team or faculty about how to enhance school community (and avoid polarization), if that is an issue for your school.
  • Notice your own heart–when does it open and close?  In what conditions? What do you need to support your own self-care and heart at this time? This will help you be a resource for your students.

Below are links to two videos of teachers talking about classroom safety:

Please share strategies that have worked for you and will help other teachers in the comments section below.

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