The physical health and safety of students and teachers have been a primary focus since the COVID pandemic began. School districts around the country had to close their doors, and when they were finally able to reopen, they did so with stringent health and safety measures in an attempt to keep everyone safe.
Things like frequent hand sanitizing and hand washing, temperature checks, social distance protocols, shutting off water fountains, plastic screens around desks, contact tracing, and mask-wearing all became commonplace in most schools.
But one of the most serious health consequences of the pandemic had yet to be discovered. In fact, for many it would take months to recognize just how much of an impact the pandemic would affect the mental health of many of our students. This impact was due primarily to the isolation of online learning where students could not interact with their peers and friends.
There are many academic, social, and health benefits for students who attend classes in a virtual learning environment. But the biggest problem during the pandemic was that teachers were not properly trained in the art of virtual teaching. They were thrown into a situation where they weren’t familiar with what to do and they were not given the appropriate technology to run a virtual classroom.
As a result, many teachers deferred to online learning where there was no live interaction between them and their students. There was also no interaction between students which is so critical for healthy social and emotional development. Many students never had face-to-face interactions with other people, other than family members, for months at a time. While they were able to use apps like Face Time, What’s App and other social media programs, these don’t replace the need to be with others. When students were finally able to start attending in-person classes again, their school days and social interactions looked and felt very different. There was still the “distancing” from others, little to no after school programs and the hallways of the school went from being crowded and electric to being a line of kids that “hugged” the wall as they kept their distance from each other.
For many students, the isolation from their teachers and peers during the first year of the pandemic led to sadness, depression, and a newfound social awkwardness. Kids who were once happy, friendly, and full of energy were noticeably changed. Socially everyone was impacted, relationships changed and there was a general sense of needing to protect oneself from others in order to ultimately protect family.
While known by many names, social growth recovery is the process of helping students rebuild the social skills they lost because of being isolated during the pandemic.
Social-emotional learning is a critical part of the learning process. And social growth recovery will focus on teaching kids to:
- Manage their emotions
- Set goals
- Maintain positive relationships
- Deal with stress and trauma in healthy ways
Kids have many physical and mental needs that have a major impact on the entire learning process. Studies have shown that kids who are tired, hungry, abused, bullied, stressed, lonely, and otherwise traumatized struggle to keep up in the classroom. The need to build healthy relationships with teachers and peers is a natural process that impacts all levels of growth for students.
All students returning to the classroom are dealing at some level with social and emotional challenges because of the pandemic. Things like anxiety over catching COVID, depression, feelings of no longer belonging and suicidal thoughts are affecting our kids.
Social growth recovery needs to be a focus in every classroom to help students understand and overcome what COVID introduced. Removing as many challenges to learning for all students will result in higher learning levels.