By Maryfer Flores
New York City, NY
Returning back to school after three semesters of virtual learning for students is creating excitement and nervousness. Educators and staff are feeling the same way! Zoom created a void between teachers and students where they did not engage as much as they would in person... Logging on, joining meetings, the physical disconnection, a cycle that seemed never-ending has come to reach the light at the end of the tunnel. This upcoming fall, school administrators and teachers are trying to find ways to help ease the transition back to in-person learning and successfully connect with students as human-to-human instead of teacher-to-student.
Samantha Hosein, Assistant Director of Equity and Community Engagement at the Brearley School
As a member of the Office of Community Life, Ms. Hosein’s role is to help foster a sense of belonging and connection within the community. Focusing on topics such as social justice, social-emotional learning, and how to be a responsible citizen and community member. While engaging in dialogue around difficult topics such as race, identity, and current events. She ensures that students are engaging in meaningful conversations with one another and are developing the skills to listen actively, communicate with compassion, and think critically about social issues.
The shift back to all in-person learning is creating uncertainty for students and teachers alike. As COVID is involved in every aspect of the world, Ms.Hosein hopes to focus on connections. She understands students will be feeling socially anxious. By incorporating “Floats” also known as Office Hours into the student’s schedules, students will be able to come forward for advice, help, or guidance. She believes that “An individualized approach is always best when it comes to supporting, and asking folks directly what support looks and feels like for them, is helpful when knowing how to engage in a sincere way.”
At Brearley School, there are many opportunities for students such as 1:1 meetings with teachers, a team of mental health counselors, a learning skills department, and an advisory program that ensures each student has an adult that is checking in with them regularly. To respond and adjust to student needs, the school has incorporated new programs/spaces. For example, last year there was a need for an expansion of affinity spaces. As more students wanted time and space to explore their own identities and be in community with those who shared similar experiences. Additional processing spaces were needed to help students manage feelings related to difficult current events (COVID, 2020 election, insurrection in Washington, Anti-Asian violence, etc). Ms. Hosein believes the key to successfully connecting with students is by listening and forming a culture where students feel empowered to express their needs, where asking for help is OK, and where schedules are fluid and flexible enough to meet student needs as things change.
Alexis Goldberg, Managing Director of School Support at Urban Assembly.
As the return to in-person learning approaches, everyone is asking and wondering are teachers prepared with the resources to mentally and academically support their students? Alexis Goldberg comments, “No, none of us are ready, but we’re getting ready”.
As a school support organization, the work is based on teachers, administrators, and other school staff. By providing support around instruction, social-emotional learning support, Alexis Goldberg helps provide the resources and materials needed to help teachers support their students. Noticing that students are caught up in school work and lack interaction management, Urban Assembly schools established Resilient Scholars, where students receive intentional, explicit instruction, on self, social, and relationship management. With the return of in-person learning, Ms.Goldberg comments that “Social-emotional learning is going to be a really big part in this return; if we just jump into academic work, we’re going to miss something important in this transition.”
The Urban Assembly also provides support to post-secondary professionals such as guidance counselors, college counselors, career advisors. “A lot in the world is changing, especially in the workforce. We want to make sure the schools we support are thinking the same way and are not giving students outdated advice. We want to make sure that our schools are modern schools for the modern world that we are in”.
Even though Ms.Goldberg works with adults, she always has to oversee the outcome of the students. She comments that in their Algebra work, the main focus is discourse strategies, talking, and communicating with each other. Using these techniques will ease the shift back to in-person. Ms. Goldberg comments that teachers should think about leading with relationships, “Right now, teachers really need to strive to truly understand where all their students are coming from, and lead from a human perspective, not a teacher perspective.”