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Tag Archives: Mental Health

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Bridging the gap between school safety and emotional wellness during a pandemic: Part 1

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The National Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environments (NCSSLE, 2020) defines emotional safety as experiences in which one feels safe to express emotions, confidence to take risks, and feels challenged and excited to try something new. They conclude emotionally safe learning environments can be achieved by making social and emotional learning (SEL) an essential part of education. Emotional and physical safety allows the brain to be in a prepared state to learn (Heramis, 2020).

Now more than ever, schools have an indispensable obligation to seize the opportunity, evaluate past practices, and adopt new methods to bridge the gap between physical safety and emotional wellness. Creating supportive networks including culturally responsive connections between families and schools through family friendly and compassionate program implementation can offer a way to afford safe learning environments.

With the arrival of the pandemic education has recently experienced unprecedented challenges. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic school safety concerns focused on prevention policies and practices to curb school violence. As a result of intense public pressure, past efforts hyper-focused on physical surveillance, presence of resource officers, weapons detection equipment, violent offender profiling, and development of zero tolerance policies (Juvonen, 2001).

Although well-intended, costly and intrusive practices such as these left many considering proactive efforts in social-emotional learning as more appropriate and effective. Recent research by Madfis (2020) examined common school policies and practices and found many termed as prevention may increase the likelihood of a school violent offense.

For example, zero tolerance policies originally intended to increase safety in schools disproportionately increased suspensions, expulsions, the school to prison pipeline, youth victimization, and suicide risk (Thompson, 2016). As a result, trauma-informed practices would emerge as a new way to address underlying trauma potentially causing negative student behaviors for which zero tolerance policies were applied (Heramis, 2020). Even with long-standing attempts to create safe environments, a 2019 Gallup poll indicated parents remained fearful about their children’s school safety (Brenan, 2019).

An unprecedented end to the 2019-20 school year would shift parent fears and public pressure. While the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic was impossible to prepare for, the world will remember 2020 as a year of fear, pain and loss for everyone, including the children old enough to recall their experience long after this trying time is behind us (Annie E. Casey Foundation [AECF], 2020). According to AECF (2020), an organization that yearly publishes comprehensive assessments on the well-being of children, the crisis overwhelmed states and communities and has decimated the health and economic stability of many families. Consequently, schools play a significant role in providing stability and support to communities as a whole, but even more so to individual students and families that depend on them (NCSSLE, 2020).

In midst of the pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2020) provided recommendations and resources to support back to school learning options. School safety practices currently focus on temperature checks, appropriate mask wearing, social distancing, and recommendations for a mix of remote and in-person learning (CDC, 2020). While K-12 schools nationally navigate recommended precautions, 45% of U.S. parents report being very worried their kids will get COVID-19 at school (Marken & Harlen, 2020). In addition, results of a national survey conducted in June 2020 revealed approximately 1 in 10 parents report worsening mental health in themselves and behavioral health needs in their children (Patrick et al., 2020).

While school physical safety precautions have changed in comparison to just a year ago the importance of supporting emotional health and wellness in the school environment can no longer be ignored. Currently, much focus has been placed on following recommendations to support a safe environment, offer a sense of normalcy, and address valid parent concerns during the shift. Meanwhile, the bigger question to be asked in support of emotional health and safety should be, “but how are the children emotionally”?

Naming Problems and Finding Solutions

The pandemic shined illuminated gaping and persistent inequalities in education across the U. S. when schools closed and switched to distance learning (Strauss, 2020). Compounding already strained educational systems the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the number of unemployed persons across the nation rose by 15.9 million to 23.1 million in April 2020 alone; resulting in the largest over-the-month increase to unemployment dating back to 1948. According to the NCCP (2018), the national definition of low income alone means not being able to afford basic necessities. The lack of basic necessities associated with poverty impacting brain development may be part of the reason for poor academic achievement outcomes (Hair et al., 2015).

Prior to the pandemic, the National Center for Children in Poverty (NCCP) at Columbia University reported 26.1 million children were living in some level of poverty in 2018 (NCCP, 2018). Consequently, many families are now experiencing situational poverty for the first time and need schools with a greater understanding of socioeconomic culture (U. S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, 2020; Payne, 2020).

Socioeconomic culture impacts the relationship between family and school. When unintentionally overlooked relational connectivity is severed or possibly never established. When considering socioeconomic culture, it is imperative to understand that the majority of schools traditionally operate within middle-class norms, and most teachers grew up learning the hidden rules of middle-class families (Payne et al., 2014). According to Payne et al., (2014) individuals of poverty often struggle in understanding environments outside of their own socioeconomic norm resulting in lack of school connection.

Connection and Culture

Students, families, and stakeholders feel a sense of belonging and connection when a school develops a welcoming environment. Establishing a positive school climate and culture of connection does not solely rest upon teachers and administrators, it begins with front-line office staff (Payne et al., 2014). People in these settings greet the public, gather data, orient others, schedule appointments, and collect fees. They have brief but, perhaps frequent encounters. They set the tone and climate for the organization’s environment. Satisfaction studies show individuals make up their mind about an establishment very quickly upon first contact and the opinion formed influences perception of future events (Ambady & Skowronski, 2008).

For individuals from poverty and those suffering emotionally, the primary motivation for success will result from relationship and connection (Payne et al., 2014). A sense of belonging has been shown to motivate more active involvement in a child’s education, which in turn has shown to positively impact student achievement (Henderson et al., 2007). Kindness, courtesy, and the understanding of different social class rules can create connections and healthy relationships. Does your school staff have these skills?

References

Ambady, N., & Skowronski, J. J. (2008). First impressions. Guilford Publications.

Brenan, M. (2019). Parents’ concern about school safety remains elevated. Gallup News Service. Retrieved fromhttps://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=buh&AN=138309399&site=eds-live&scope=site&custid=current

Brown, S. M., Doom, J. R., Lechuga-Peña, S., Watamura, S. E., & Koppels, T. (2020). Stress and parenting during the global COVID-19 pandemic. Child Abuse & Neglect, 110(2). https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chiabu.2020.104699

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). Back to school planning: Checklists to guide parents, guardians, and caregivers. Retrieved fromhttps://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/schools-childcare/parent-checklist.html

Georgia Department of Education. (2016). Family-friendly partnership school walk-through: Part of the Georgia family-friendly partnership school initiative. https://www.gadoe.org/School-Improvement/Federal-Programs/Partnerships/Documents/Parent%20Engagement/FFPS/FFPS%20Walk%20Through.pdf

Hair N.L., Hanson J.L., Wolfe B.L., & Pollak S.D. (2015). Association of child poverty, brain development, and academic achievement. JAMA Pediatrics, 169(9), 822-829. doi: https://doi.org/10.1001/jamapediatrics.2015.1475

Henderson, A.T., Mapp, K. L., Johnson, V. R., & Davies, D. (2007). Beyond the bake sale: The essential guide to family-school partnerships. New Press.

Heramis, L. (2020). Developing a trauma-informed perspective in school communities: An introduction for educators, school counselors, and administrators. Cognella Academic Publishing.

Indiana Department of Education. (2019). Family friendly schools program. Retrieved fromhttps://www.doe.in.gov/accountability/family-friendly-schools-program

Jennings, P. A. (2018). The trauma-sensitive classroom: Building resilience with compassionate teaching. WW Norton & Company, Inc.

Juvonen, J. (2001). School violence: Prevalence, fears, and prevention. RAND Corporation. DOI: https://doi.org/10.7249/IP219

Madfis, E. (2020). How to Stop School Rampage Killing Lessons from Averted Mass Shootings and Bombings. Palgrave Macmillan. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-37181-4

Masonbrink, A. R., & Hurley, E. (2020). Advocating for children during the COVID-19 school closures. Pediatrics, 146(3). https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2020-1440

National Center for Children in Poverty. (2018). America’s child poverty rate remains stubbornly high despite important progress. https://www.publichealth.columbia.edu/public-health-now/news/america%E2%80%99s-child-poverty-rate-remains-stubbornly-high-despite-important-progress

National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, Division of Viral Diseases. (2020, July). https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/for-parents.html

National Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environments. (2020, December 16). Emotional Safety. https://safesupportivelearning.ed.gov/topic-research/safety/emotional-safety

Patrick, S. W., Henkhaus, L E., Zickafoose, J. S., Lovell, K., Halvorson, A., Loch, S., Letterie, M., & Davis, M. M. (2020). Well-being of parents and children during the COVID-19 pandemic: A national survey. Pediatrics, 146(4), 1-8. https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2020-016824

Payne, R.K. (2020). COVID-19 pandemic: How we work together will determine outcomes. aha! Moments, Community, Health and Healthcare. https://www.ahaprocess.com/covid-19-pandemic-how-we-work-together-will-determine-outcomes/

Payne, R. K. (2013). A framework for understanding poverty: A cognitive approach created for educators, employers, policymakers, and service providers. Highlands, TX: Aha! Process.

Payne, R. K., DeVol, P. E., & Smith, T. D. (2014). Bridges out of poverty: Strategies for professionals and communities: Workbook. Moorabbin, Victoria: Hawker Brownlow Education.

Polizzi, C., Lynn, S. J., & Perry, A. (2020). Stress and coping in the time of covid-19: pathways to resilience and recovery. Clinical Neuropsychiatry, 17(2). https://delphicentre.com.au/uploads/01.%20App%20-%20Attachment%202020/4.%202020-02-02-Polizzietal..pdf

Rogers, F. (2003). The World According to Mr. Rogers: Important Things to Remember. New York, NY.Family Communications, Inc.

Strauss, V. (2020). How covid-19 has laid bare the vast inequities in U.S. public education. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/education/2020/04/14/how-covid-19-has-laid-bare-vast-inequities-us-public-education/

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (2019). Trauma and Violence. https://www.samhsa.gov/trauma-violence.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation. (2020). KIDS COUNT Data Book. https://www.aecf.org/resources/2020-kids-count-data-book/

Thompson, J. (2016). Eliminating zero tolerance policies in schools: Miami-Dade county public school’s approach. Brigham Young University Education and Law Journal, 2016(2), 325-349. https://digitalcommons.law.byu.edu/elj/vol2016/iss2/5

U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics. (2020). Employment Situation News. Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/news.release/archives/empsit_05082020.htm

Wolpow, R.J., Johnson, M. M., Hertel, R., & Kincaid, S. O. (2016). The heart of learning and teaching: Compassion, resiliency, and academic success (3rd ed.). Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) Compassionate Schools.

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Survey: Employee incentives don’t align with their preferences

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It’s important for employers to show appreciation for their workers. However, a recent survey reveals that many organizations are missing the mark in terms of incentives and rewards.

Blackhawk’s “Employee Appreciation Survey,” conducted online in January 2021, reveals the following:

Employees want to be celebrated

  • 80% of employees believe that it is important for employers to celebrate workplace accomplishments, anniversaries, and achievements.
  • 86% of employees want their employer to express appreciation for their personal contributions.

Not all companies have recognition and incentive programs

“The biggest mistake employers are making today is in not offering rewards and incentives to their employees,” says Betty Weinkle, director of partnerships at Blackhawk Network. “We learned that more than 40% of our respondents’ employers do not offer incentives/rewards or formally recognize their human capital.”’

What employees want doesn’t align with what they’re offered

When comparing the types of incentives that the surveyed employees would like to receive with the types of incentives they’re actually receiving, there’s a broad disconnect:

  • 66% of employees want bonuses; only 28% say they receive them
  • 42% of employees would like time off work; only 15% say their company grants it
  • 41% of employees prefer prepaid or gift cards; only 20% agree their company awards them
  • 33% of employees want personalized cards or emails; only 25% say they receive them

Interestingly, only 19% of employees are interested in being singled out at a company event or ceremony; however, a higher percentage (27%) are recognized this way.

The issue of timing

Survey respondents also said how long it takes to receive their reward would determine its impact. However, opinions vary on what’s actually considered too long:

  • 22% felt that more than a month is too long
  • 23% thought a month is too long
  • 24% considered two weeks to be too long
  • 24% listed a week as being too long
  • 7% believe a day is too long

Tips for showing appreciation for employees

One of the biggest mistakes that employees make in showing appreciation for their workers is the same mistake that most people make: Giving people what you like (or you think they “should” like), instead of giving them what they actually want.

This is why some men who enjoy receiving power tools for Father’s Day don’t understand that some women may not appreciate receiving appliances for Mother’s Day. Those of us who tend to celebrate with food may not understand people who don’t think every occasion calls for food.

At many organizations, the people handling rewards and incentives are making decisions based on their personal preferences. For example, at one organization, I remember someone suggesting that an employee’s birthday should be considered an additional vacation day. Many of the employees loved this idea. But the people in charge of making these decisions voted the idea down because they said they would want to spend their birthday surrounded by colleagues. Obviously, they didn’t understand that it wasn’t about them.

The same organization would have elaborate, formal banquets (requiring dress attire) to recognize workers — even though the feedback indicated a significant portion of the workers hated these events. Again, the decision-makers chose these events based on their preferences. Many of them stated that they liked to don gowns and tuxedos and considered the banquets their favorite event of the year.

If you’re going to reward and incentivize employees, take the time to find out what they want. This should be done anonymously to avoid putting undue pressure on workers to respond a certain way.

“We recommend employers take care to adopt incentive practices that are meaningful to their workforce, but don’t create additional administrative burden,” Weinkle says. “Prepaid and gift cards are a perfect way to achieve this because they are highly desirable, easy to disburse, and can also be offered digitally.”

Blackhawk’s research found that employees now place as much value on digital cards as they do physical cards. This popularity has been fueled by COVID-19, which resulted in a dramatic increase in online shopping.

Whether you choose a physical or an online card, make sure that it’s general enough to appeal to all workers. For example, a Starbucks gift card might not appeal to someone who doesn’t drink coffee, and a Home Depot or Lowe’s gift card might not appeal to those who wouldn’t normally shop there.

And since bonuses and time off were the top two responses among surveyed employees, it’s worth considering how to work these options into your company’s budget.

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Showing support for school counselors during the pandemic

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We are just over a year into a pandemic that has already caused radical shifts and rifts in our society and our profession. Since it started, some of our profession’s unsung heroes that you don’t often hear enough about are our school counselors. This team, often a small group in a school, have been quietly trying to hold things together for the sake of our students, our staff, and our families.

Have you checked in on your school counselor lately to make sure they are OK?

In a “normal” year, counselors have a heavy workload. They advise students on academics and post-secondary planning. They engage with students in career exploration and development. They help them through issues related to equity, gender equity, discrimination, bias, and conflict.

They bridge the gap between home and school, leading to positive school-family-community partnerships. They assist students with disabilities. They focus on mental health and support students who have or are experiencing trauma or other hardships. They play a pivotal role in a school’s multi-tiered systems of support approach. They help students who are in crisis for any number of reasons.

In many schools, they are a first stop for identifying any student’s social or emotional needs and then advocating for them. They did all of this before the pandemic, yet the pandemic has magnified and expanded their role and their need by students at large. By and large, they report that they are overwhelmed as a profession and need our help.

According to this recent new report from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, a survey of nearly 950 school counselors shows how the pandemic has impacted their ability to do their job. It suggests the following:

  • Counselors were not able to spend as much time as usual working directly with students on social-emotional issues, post-secondary planning, and career development. Counselors reported that they often filled logistical or administrative needs and that, while critical, this infringed on their ability to connect with students.
  • Counselors reported that they often lacked clear direction from school and district leadership.
  • Counselors reported that they were rarely involved in COVID-19 school planning.

In thinking about how school leaders can assist their school counselors, the authors of the report offered the following strategies:

  1. Articulate a vision for counseling and define expectations with input from the counseling staff.
  2. Prioritize counselors’ time with students and take flexible and creative approaches as needed.
  3. Ensure counselors have access to resources and supports to adapt to supporting students in this new environment.

School leaders must be mindful not to overload school counselors, and they must also do what they can to ensure they have adequate staffing to meet the needs and demands of the school counseling program.

This recent Associated Press article noted an alarming trend that there are inequities in school counselor-to-student ratios in many schools. According to the article, the poorest districts are often hit the hardest by this trend.

“There is one guidance counselor for every 350 students in high school in Bridgeport, Connecticut’s largest city where three quarters of the students in the low-income district are Black or Hispanic. That compares with much smaller ratios in neighboring, largely white Fairfield County communities including 1 for every 220 in Greenwich, 206 in Darien and 162 in Weston, according to federal data.”

This example is supported by national statistics. According to a national 2019 report by the American School Counselor Association (ASCA), “high school counselors who serve predominantly students of color attend to 34 more students than others.” The report went on to suggest that “schools serving the most students from low-income families tend to have fewer counselors.”

The ASCA recommends that schools maintain a ratio of 250 students per school counselor, and that school counselors spend at least 80% of their time working directly with or indirectly for students. Many schools are unable to maintain this ratio. We need to do better, especially for students of color and those from low-income families. They need our assistance the most, whether we are in a global pandemic or not. We can do better, and we must do better, for the sake of our children.

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How educators can help students navigate career planning and their college choice during COVID-19

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Everyone’s learned new ways to navigate the world since the rise of COVID-19. High school students in particular have struggled because in-person college campus tours and meetings have been limited or shut down entirely.

This guide explains how educators can help students navigate career planning and their college choice during COVID-19 so every student feels confident about their future.

1. Create Face-to-Face Interactions

Emails and phone calls are reliable ways to keep in touch, but they don’t have the same benefits of an in-person counseling session. As educators figure out how teachers can help with college choice, face-to-face interactions remain a popular way to help students and their parents decide on their best steps forward.

While everyone’s on camera, educators can read body language and physical cues that they would miss on the phone. Students may indicate their disinterest in their parents’ preferred university or show they don’t understand something they don’t feel comfortable asking about.

Noticing these things guides educators through conversations that shape how students set up their career planning and college choice.

2. Connect Students With Experts

Making a final college choice during COVID-19 is much easier if students get to speak with experts. When they can’t schedule an in-person meeting, young people may feel limited with who they can talk to and avoid reaching out altogether. They also can’t walk past offices or posters to discover new resources if their schools remain shut down.

Educators should take the initiative to connect students with people like financial planners, school counselors, or registrar office employees. Send a group email to college representatives and prompt discussions about common questions, like how their university responds to on-campus COVID-19 outbreaks.

Students have an easier time making decisions about their future if they get all the answers they need.

3. Reframe Career Possibilities

COVID-19 changed how people view certain career paths. Young people who may have wanted to become doctors or traveling writers may want a different job to protect their mental or physical health from a future virus. Educators can talk about these changes and even discuss alternative careers that are in greater demand.

Helping students with career planning during COVID-19 starts with facts. A student interested in a medical profession but unsure what to focus on might be influenced by statistics on what careers are in demand — for example, dental assisting is a rapidly growing field because of the 30% increase in pandemic stress-related oral health diseases.

On the other hand, a student trying to decide between an English major and something more conventionally “practical” might be encouraged to know that there are currently 1.48 million English graduates in the workforce, and that number is likely to grow with more remote employment options.

High school graduates who get the right education could easily find employment in these rewarding positions because the pandemic has opened new doors — and you can help them find the key.

4. Emphasize Mental Healthcare

While reading about how teachers can help with college choice, don’t forget to emphasize the importance of mental healthcare. Students will evaluate their options and fill out college applications with confidence if they know how to mitigate their stress long-term.

Point out self-care habits and explain how to utilize them so students maintain their enthusiasm and energy while starting the next phase of their lives.

5. Explore New Opportunities

Many students feel that making a college choice during COVID-19 is more complex, but there are actually more opportunities. Educators should point out the expansion of online class and degree options.

These often require less time and money, so they could speed up a student’s college timeframe or make new degrees financially accessible.

6. Remind Students About Hopeful News

COVID-19 isn’t going to keep the world in a pandemic forever. As more people are able to access vaccinations and treatments, students will be able to tour campuses again and speak in-person with college representatives.

Although some things have changed, like career options and virtual opportunities, the most significant parts of applying to colleges and choosing a campus will come back and make students more confident while planning their future.

Helping Students With Career Planning During COVID-19

Educators can help students navigate career planning and college choice during COVID-19 with simple tips like these. Remind them of their future, how the pandemic expanded some of their options, and why they still have a bright professional life ahead of them. They’ll have an easier time making big decisions and rest easy with your guidance.

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Telemedicine post-COVID: How to implement key lessons from the pandemic to boost efficiency

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As you no doubt have learned as a healthcare administrator or professional throughout the COVID-19 crisis, telemedicine is hugely beneficial when it comes to quick triage and treatment of patients at a distance.

But that’s not the only way you can incorporate this universal technology to help your hospital, clinics or office locations run better. New research is outlining fresh ways you can use telemedicine now and in the future to optimize how well your organization runs as a whole. Focus your approach on the following key areas:

Emergency room efficiency.

University of Texas at Dallas researchers looked at this key issue in their early 2021 study, “Does Telemedicine Reduce Emergency Room Congestion? Evidence from New York State.” The team found that implementing a process in which a patient who presents in the ER, depending upon the specifics and severity of his/her condition, might be easily redirected to a telemedicine provider.

This can be done using on-site assistance to connect patients and off-site physicians throughout the telemedicine service within the same hospital, through linking with a different hospital, or even utilizing a doctor who is working from home. Once a patient and doctor are linked up via videoconferencing tools and health records are accessed, that patient can immediately move out of the ER and begin to receive care, therefore freeing up space and resources for sicker patients and eliminating overcrowding and long wait times.

Work with your technology teams and enlist key physicians within your organization to coordinate a program that fits your facility’s needs.

Pediatric patient engagement.

A study from November 2020, “Show rates for asthma visits during COVID-19 increased thanks to telemedicine: Study shows amount of time spent on each patient also increased between 32 to 62 percent,” found that parents of children with asthma were much less likely to cancel or miss a doctor’s appointment for their kids during COVID when that appointment was virtual.

What’s more is that over 90% of the patients in this study showed that their asthma was well-controlled, demonstrating that telemedicine visits can produce excellent compliance and care benefits. You can replicate this kind of success within any of your organization’s specialties through a simple outreach campaign.

Let your patients and their parents/caregivers know how easy it is to ace medical milestones from the stress-free comfort of their own homes and that your doctors will gladly dedicate the time needed for both a virtual exam and address all questions and concerns they have clearly. Emphasize ease, and your patients will cooperate.

Increased patient volume.

NYU researchers reported in a study from last year that expanded video visits in ambulatory care settings allowed more than 7,000 patients to be seen within 10 days at NYU Langone Health in March 2020. This accounted for more than 70 percent of total ambulatory care volume during that period.

How can you make this kind of approach work well? Coordinate your teams for fast virtual consult capability; centralize your patient care info into one simple portal so they can gain easy access; and work with your insurers to adapt billing quickly. This, in turn, will increase profitability for your organization by accommodating more virtual visits per day.

The bottom line: mobilizing telemedicine more widely can vastly improve how well your organization runs. Most important of all, it can improve your patients’ outcomes.

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5 suggestions for raising a struggling reader

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As a special education teacher and parent, I have worked with many children who have struggled to learn to read. The main thing to remember as a parent is to be patient. Children are all different, and they go through different processes when learning to read.

Often, learning to read can be like learning to ride a bike. Some kids learn easier and earlier than others, but as long as they don’t give up, most end up being competent readers.

The key is keeping them from giving up. This can require patience from parents and teachers. Below are some suggestions that can help keep your struggling reader on the path toward reading competence.

Read in front of them.

When learning something new begins to become difficult, we get frustrated, and it is natural to consider whether we need or want to master the particular skill. Reading is like this.

When our children see us reading, we are showing them that there is value in reading, that it is something they will need or want to do later in life. When they are first learning to read, children are at the age where they are constantly modeling their behavior after parents and other role models. This is a crucial time for them to see us reading.

Read to them.

Students who struggle to read will often begin to view reading as work, a chore that has to be done, and a source of frustration. This perspective will only make the process more difficult for them. When you read to them, you allow them to focus on the content. Whether you are reading something that is interesting, funny, entertaining, or educational, it gives them the opportunity to see the value in the content. This can add to their motivation to continue to improve their reading ability.

Other benefits of reading to them can include expanding their vocabulary and developing formal sentence structure.

Listen to them read.

When you take your car to the mechanic and he asks what’s wrong, you are often likely to describe the sounds your car is making. Kids’ reading difficulties can be the same.

When you know your son or daughter is having trouble, you should look into the problem by listening to them read. This will help you discern what the issue may be. They may struggle with certain letter combinations, they may have good fluency but poor comprehension, or they may have difficulty with visual discrimination.

There are many possible areas where they may struggle, and this information can help you in several ways, including the following:

  • It can allow you to focus your efforts to help them.
  • It can give you information to share with their teachers as they work with your child.
  • It can help you to recognize when your child has improved, and can give you an opportunity to praise them and increase their self-confidence.

Encourage them to persevere.

Learning to read can be very, very difficult, but it is also a very important part of life. As parents, we must continually encourage our kids to keep working, regardless of how difficult the process may be. When we do this, we not only help them to continue to learn to read, but we also teach them that there will always be difficult tasks in life and that they should never give up.

Teach them to be comfortable with their difficulty.

Kids are always comparing themselves to others so see how they stack up. They compare everything from athletic ability and physical appearance to video game skill and academic success.

When they struggle in school with skills such as reading, they will quickly realize that they aren’t doing as well as other students. This can cause them to feel inadequate, and it is easy for the children to carry this feeling over to other areas of their lives.

It is important that we talk to them and let them know that everyone has areas where they struggle and that reading is only a small part of who they are. When we have these conversations, it helps them to be comfortable with their difficulty, to not feel a need to hide it, and to be willing to ask for help when they need it.

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The pros and cons of online schooling for pre-teens

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The pandemic has impacted almost every area of our lives. Work has changed, with many adults now working from home or pursuing freelance options. Many students are learning virtually or doing hybrid classes on alternating weekdays.

Each household with working parents and online students has developed differing opinions about whether online schooling should continue, even after the pandemic is over. Now that they’re adjusted, some parents might wonder whether their kids should keep learning online, or even if it could help them avoid the drama of middle and high school. Here’s what to consider before making a long-term decision.

Is Online School a Good Option for Middle-Schoolers?

Middle-school students already have a challenging time. Many are going through puberty and trying to navigate their social and school lives. The hormones and drama can be overwhelming enough for them.

However, these students also discover their likes and dislikes, strengths, and creativity in new and meaningful ways. Online school for middle-schoolers — without being constrained to a physical building — could allow them to thrive. Yet, without their peers around them to support them, it might also be challenging for them to go through online schooling.

COVID-19 has shifted the way students are learning. Here are some of the pros and cons of online schooling for pre-teens so you and your middle-schooler can make a better decision about the possibilities of virtual learning in post-pandemic life.

Pros of Online Schooling

Students all across the country have been learning online for about a year now. Many are used to waking up, opening a laptop, and greeting their teachers and peers virtually. Online education can have multiple benefits for middle-schoolers, especially those willing to put forth an effort.

Below are the pros of online schooling for middle schoolers.

1. It’s Affordable

Online schooling is very affordable. This is not an advantage you should overlook. While students will still need to purchase their school supplies, like notebooks, pencils, and folders, many families often already have the equipment necessary for online learning.

Many virtual schools are part of the public education system, which is free to opt in to. Books and other materials necessary for the classes are sent directly to your home.

2. It’s Flexible

Traditionally, online courses offer flexibility that physical schools cannot provide. Students can often complete their work or participate in classes on their own time. As a middle-schooler, your student may still have to log in to their class at a specific time each day. But without having to catch the bus or drive to school, there’s more flexibility in the mornings.

Other learning components, like reading or completing assignments, can be done on their own time. As long as the deadline is met, your child can work any other time of the day. They can set their own priorities and catch up later if necessary and they can work from anywhere.

3. Your Child Misses Fewer Days

Gone are the days of having to miss school because of an upset stomach or a non-debilitating illness. Students may not feel well in the morning, but they can complete schoolwork later in the day after some extra rest. With the structure of online classes, students can take the time needed to feel better.

This reduces the number of absences for that student. Although there are still required live classes, the teacher will often record themselves for absent students, so they can watch it and never really miss a class.

4. There’s Increased Parental Involvement

With virtual learning, you can be directly involved in your middle-schooler’s education. In the traditional school setting, you are separated from your child and don’t know directly what they’re learning. However, with online schooling, the teaching comes to your home, and you know exactly what your child is learning.

You can learn along with your child and help them when they ask you questions about their schoolwork. Plus, you’ll have increased communication with the teachers.

5. There Are Fewer Distractions

Without peers and other sights present in a physical school, your child will be presented with fewer distractions. In a classroom full of students, some kids may be interruptive, and the teacher has to correct the bad behavior. Each time that happens, time is taken away from learning.

Plus, your child won’t experience physical bullying, which can be a distraction as well. Additionally, there will be no wasted time with bus rides, weather delays, and other time-consuming activities in a school.

Cons of Online Schooling

Although there are many benefits to online schooling, there are some disadvantages as well. Students who need in-person interaction and instruction may not be able to adjust to being online 24/7.

Here are the cons of online education.

1. Students Need Discipline

If your child goes all-virtual post-pandemic, they’ll need to develop a discipline to get their schoolwork done. Plus, they would need to be disciplined enough to participate in the online session when you’re not home.

2. It Can Get Lonely

Your child may experience loneliness if they’re stuck at home all of the time. Physical schools allow for more social interaction, which is a needed skill for pre-teens. Especially for kids who aren’t very social, online schooling can become like isolation.

3. Screen Time Increases

Do you already have to take away phones or tablets because of excessive screen time? Online schooling won’t help. Since everything is virtual, your child may end up looking at a screen for at least a few more hours a day just to do their schoolwork.

4. There’s a Limitation of Space

Having more than one child doing their schooling online could pose an issue if you live in a smaller home. Curricula are designed for specific age levels, so it could become a distraction for your middle-schooler if they hear your first-grader learning addition rather than pre-algebra.

The Future of School

Fortunately, you and your child have options when it comes to schooling during post-pandemic life. Online school for middle-schoolers could be an excellent choice for your child. The best thing to do is go over these pros and cons with your child to ensure they get the education they need, as well as the experience that feels right for them.

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Outdoor learning improves engagement and mental health

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Under tall mango trees between a dry river bed and two large warehouses, kids ranging between three and 12 years old gather midday for story time. They sit on stumps spaced in a circle. A few interact with some ants and each other. After they introduce themselves in big outdoor voices, Nicole Majewski reads a story interjecting commentary and inviting response as she goes along.

Since the beginning of the school year, Majewski, education director at EntreAmigos, a nonprofit in San Pancho, Nayarit, Mexico, and other educators have been bringing activities like watercolor painting, mud play and treasure hunts to kids outdoors. She notes that many families are experiencing a great deal of financial burden and don’t have access to internet or schooling right since all schools incorporated in the national public school system remain remote.

“These outdoor classes give them the opportunity to be out in the fresh air and have more freedom to move around while interacting with others socially.”

After the story ends, the group discusses it, they move over to yoga mats scattered on the ground at the bases of the trees and sew with needle and thread. Even doing activities normally considered rainy day activities like sewing or reading books has an added dimension when done outdoors.

Taking classes outdoors to playgrounds, gardens, parks and even the woods is part of a movement around North America largely tied to safe learning during the pandemic. It also provides a counterbalance to the onslaught of digital existence for those who have access and a lifeline for those who don’t.

Overcoming obstacles to get children engaged and connected to nature

In a recent National Geographic article, Jeanne McCarty, CEO of Out Teach, a nonprofit that partners with schools to connect them with outdoor learning resources, says, “It’s not just teaching outdoors but using the outdoors to teach in real, hands-on ways. It makes education more relevant to students’ lives. When they experience something, it’s more meaningful to them.”

Similarly, when she’s teaching about the natural world, Majewski, also a board member for The Cedarsong Way, says that being surrounded by nature engages students on a more powerful, contextual level than seeing something in a book or on a screen.

Erin Kenny, founder of The Cedarsong Way, the original forest kindergarten program developed in the U.S., defined nature immersion as “unstructured free time in nature, resulting in an intimate, deep and personal connection to the natural world.”

Yet, teachers and students who’ve grown accustomed to being indoors and structure may find the shift takes some getting used to.

Just get outside, recommends Emma Howell, a pre-K teacher at Guilford Central School in southeastern Vermont, which has worked outside at least half the day since the fall. In the National Geographic article, she says, “Don’t worry if kids aren’t sure what to do with unstructured outdoor play. It’s not uncommon for kids to experience uncertainty and ‘boredom’ before they figure out how to engage.”

Students learn outdoors in San Pancho, Nayarit, Mexico.

Making the golden age of outdoor education accessible to every child

Parents and educators alike are speaking out how critical contact with nature is for children’s and adolescents’ mental health. Outdoor education is an ideal way to provide that.

“I think we’re entering the golden age of outdoor education,” says Sam Stegeman, executive director of the Vermont Wilderness School, in a September article on NPR. “Because of COVID, one of the silver linings is we’re finally getting huge numbers of American children outdoors during the school day.”

According to the article, numerous New England wilderness schools claimed they could double or triple their already increased programming and still have waiting lists.

Yet the increased demand for outdoor and wilderness programs raises questions of access. In the rush to get their kids off-screen and outside in wilderness home-school groups, are parents of privilege engaging in another example of opportunity hoarding as seen during the learning pod craze?

Such real concerns underscore the need for outdoor learning to be widespread and systemic. Equity and access were cornerstones of the National COVID-19 Outdoor Learning Initiative, which I reported on in July a previous MultiBriefs article. A group of national stakeholders involved in the initiative continues to convene regularly and their case study library is growing. Their work was also mentioned in a New York Times article detailing four outdoor learning environments around the U.S.

Teachers in a private school in Oakland who’ve embraced teaching outside state in EdSurge that they don’t see the need to return to the way instruction used to be.

Relating nature experiences with the big picture of conservation

As our modern world grapples with how to function sustainably, outdoor education helps students (and educators) tune into the magnificence of nature and become more attuned to issues facing the planet today.

Green Schools Project, which helps U.K. schools move towards becoming zero-carbon, emphasizes the importance of encouraging people of all ages to realize what they stand to lose in the crisis our natural world is now facing. One way is by sharing stories to facilitate a cross-generational conversation about how wildlife has changed during your lifetime with the #RememberingNature hashtag.

Slowing down and developing mindfulness as a teacher is a first step to allowing the space for children to connect with nature and develop awe.

As one instructor who made this shift noted in Wallace Nicol’s Live Blue Blog, “Often times, being so focused on the skills and safety of the activity, I neglect the opportunity to just allow the students to be engaged with the water on their terms. After today I plan to build in more time for play and solitude, and to touch the water and splash and to just ‘be present’…without correcting their cross draw stroke!”

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Grade retention: Perpetuating failure

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Years ago, I read an article by a teacher who was worried about Gretchen (a pseudonym), a conscientious, enthusiastic, and hardworking struggling learner. He feared that his district’s policy would force him to fail and retain her. He feared the negative consequences.

His article was touching, perceptive, and troubling. It dealt with common fail-retain-and-repeat decisions that I had frequently encountered, decisions that continue to demoralize and undermine countless struggling learners, their families, and their teachers.

When the decision is fail, retain and repeat, despite the learner’s difficulties, many learners lose their confidence and motivation. For some, the process is slow; for others, it’s fast. When slow, it scatters like paint chips in a soft breeze. When fast, it can explode like a cherry bomb.

Regardless of the speed, indifference, hopelessness, humiliation, weariness, anger, and resistance become common. For many retained learners, academic progress doesn’t quickly boom. Just the opposite; it remains weak.

The results [of the study] revealed that retained students did not experience a benefit in their growth rate (relative to either the preceding year, or to similarly performing but promoted students), and made less progress compared to the randomly selected group of students.”

And, as retained learners age, many drop out of school. “Why fail again and again?”

Studies have shown that students do not appear to benefit from being retained and, indeed, that retention may increase their risk of dropping out of school.”

Nationwide, grade retention costs billions of dollars, billions that have yet to demonstrate substantial achievement, billions that damage many lives.

Demanding the Unreasonable

Reasonably, schools can ask only one thing of struggling learners: They sustain a good effort to achieve.

To require this, schools need to convince struggling learners who expect to fail that they can succeed if they make reasonable efforts.

To convinced them, schools must set the stage for learners’ successes. They need to provide learners with interesting curriculum they can relate to, at levels that slightly stretch their abilities, levels devoid of frustration and scents of failure.

To achieve this, schools should not hold struggling learners responsible for reading disabilities, language difficulties, impoverished backgrounds, chaotic homes, turbulent communities, inadequate school resources, internet-based instruction, unproven teaching strategies, past struggles, beliefs that success is impossible, and other school-based barriers that undermine motivation and learning. Instead, schools should employ programs and strategies that both mitigate or eliminate barriers and clearly increase the chances of success.

These situations raise important questions that have far better answers than retention: How can we prevent or minimize struggling learners’ problems? How can we show them that they can succeed?

Prevent Problems

Certainly, combinations of positive family support, preschool intervention, small class sizes, personalized counseling, interesting curriculum, interesting activities, and daily tutoring can boost the academic and social achievements of many struggling learners, thereby preventing problems and lessening the likelihood of retention. If these are missing, the odds of retention and dropping out of school increase. Some will drop out psychologically, others physically.

At a day-to-day, hour-to-hour granular level, teachers and support staff need to structure instruction to ensure that struggling learners initially succeed, expect to repeatedly succeed, succeed again and again, and expect to engage in one or more daily activities that interest them. For these and other learners, optimistic expectations are critical.

Experts … say that there is a relationship between how strongly a person expects to have results and whether or not results occur. The stronger the feeling, the more likely it is that a person will experience positive effects.”

To achieve this, teachers and support staff must get to know their struggling learners’ current interests, disinterests, concerns, and abilities. Once known, they need to plan one or more daily lessons and related activities around the learners’ abilities and interests. This creates positive expectations, something to look forward to.

Though struggling learners’ interest in specific topics is important, topics don’t stand alone. Other factors interest them. These include contests, novelty, choice, reinforcers, cooperative learning, difficulty, and effort.

Difficulty and effort go hand in hand. Greater difficulty requires greater effort. Typically, extreme difficulty causes confusion, despair, and frustration. It backfires. It creates resistance. Effort plunges. This is especially true of discouraged learners who believe they can’t succeed, that their efforts will be futile.

In contrast, too little difficulty or negligible challenge evokes boredom. Occasionally, it evokes the belief that “My teacher thinks I’m dumb.” Both extremes — extreme difficulty and negligible challenge — backfire.

Thus, in all cases, teachers and support staff need to ensure that all activities reflect the struggling learners’ proper Independent and Instructional Levels, the levels that match challenge to ability, the levels that avoid confusion, frustration, and despair.

Work at the proper levels prompts success. It includes the learners’ abilities to plan, begin work, monitor progress, work together, and work independently.

Match Critical Levels

In general terms, Instructional Level offers moderate challenge that requires moderate effort. For example, when reading third grade paragraphs unaided, struggling learners can routinely, quickly, and accurately identify 95-98% of words and correctly answer 70-89% of questions. At this level, teachers work directly with learners. Here, teachers explain, demonstrate, monitor, help, encourage, and offer feedback. Learners are not alone. Whatever support they need they get.

The Independent Level is just that: Independent. The word Independent says a lot. Each struggling learner is on his own.

At this level, struggling learners can comfortably and successfully read paragraphs unaided. They can quickly, routinely, and accurately identify 99% of words and correctly answer 90% of questions. At this level, they can succeed on homework and effortlessly read books they enjoy. This, not the Instructional Level, is the level for homework.

A characteristic of both levels is comfort. Given proper assignments and supports, most struggling learners feel comfortable at these levels. If, however, the criteria provoke substantial anxiety, ease the challenge. Focus on comfort. Select easier materials and structure activities to evoke expectations of success.

If the learners gain confidence, if their anxiety decreases and their expectations of success for more challenging materials and assignments increase, slowly, in small increments, raise the bar.

Why expectations? Because expectations are critical. They influence outcomes.

In one study, researchers told some track athletes that what they thought of as pre-race jitters actually improved performance, while telling another group that this sort of arousal was usually detrimental. The athletes performed accordingly.”

Create Realistic Expectations

Here are several other suggestions to help struggling learners develop realistic expectations of success and satisfaction:

  • Write short, positive notes to learners that compliments their specific actions. “Ronald, the way you quietly helped Sheila decode the three words she was struggling with was wonderful. You can be proud of yourself.”
  • Discuss what they enjoy. “Luz, yesterday you said you had a great taco recipe that you wanted to share. Would you like to explain it to me or to me and the class?”
  • Offer activities they enjoy and look forward to, such as free reading time, Minecraft challenges, math contests, and free time to meet with friends. “Looks like everyone did well on their assignments. So, start your free time activities.”
  • Complement their efforts, persistence, and correct use of learning strategies. “Wilson, you just used the Visual Imagery Strategy in the right way at the right time. And you stuck with it. You’re on the right track. Wonderful.”
  • Give them choices. “From the three homework assignments on Wednesday’s list, do the one you like best.”
  • Smile. Tell learners what you appreciate. “Marylee, I deeply appreciated the way you carefully listened to what I was saying. It showed you cared. Thanks.”
  • Stress what’s working well: “Gretchen, you’re making lots of progress in your daily tutoring. Just yesterday you read a fourth-grade chapter and answered 7 of 7 questions correctly. That’s great progress. You can be proud of your efforts.”
  • Show struggling learners exhibits of what they successfully accomplished: “Gretchen, here’s yesterday’s assignment. Look at what I wrote: ‘Excellent. I’m proud of your effort and correct use of the Visualization Strategy.’”

When used daily, these suggestions can have positive effects on struggling learners’ motivation, achievements, and emotional well-being.

Respond to Problems

As soon as school personnel identify a problem — a barrier to success — schools need to identify the causes and initiate solutions. This may require one or several carefully coordinated services.

To succeed, the effects of each solution needs to be closely monitored, like the fuel in a propeller plane with a history of leaks. In reading, for example, struggling learners at a third grade instructional level need to have their reading fluency (i.e., the per-minute number of words in passages read correctly) assessed once or twice weekly. Generally, a trained aide can administer and mark each fluency reading in six or so minutes.

If, over a three-week period, the number of words per-minute stagnates or regresses, red lights should flash: Something is impeding progress. It’s time to pull the struggling learner out of the quicksand. It’s time to investigate the reasons and assess the changes needed. Failure to do so may well keep the learner in a program that’s failing him, a program that may harm him severely.

For further information on progress monitoring, see https://exclusive.multibriefs.com/content/the-needless-struggles-of-struggling-readers-progress-monitoring/education and https://exclusive.multibriefs.com/content/is-progress-monitoring-a-waste-of-time/education

Be Realistic

Though much of the above may sound “pie-in-the-sky” unrealistic, it’s all realistic. It’s all based on research, personal teaching experiences, and countless teaching observations.

Many of the suggestions, like personal notes, are easy to implement. Some, like identifying an exceptionally anxious learner’s instructional level, might prove difficult. But with planning, support, practice, and reflection, all can prove as easy as brewing a drip-pot of coffee.

When struggling learners engage in the suggestions above and feel good about doing so, motivation and cooperation benefit. Think of it this way. If you’re a third-grade teacher dedicated to helping struggling learners thrive, would you rather spend 45 minutes a day studying the intricacies of fish scales or improving your teaching abilities?

Obviously, my question was rhetorical. It ham-handedly tried to show that focus, motivation, and determination are built on foundations of interest. Thus, it’s realistic to strengthen struggling learners’ focus, motivation, and determination. The paybacks are real. (Not surprisingly, a water research scientist I know preferred fish scales.)

Make the Case

So, what should teachers do for struggling learners who are failing their subjects? Here’s a few answers:

  • Incorporate the suggestions in this article.
  • Do whatever is legal and ethical to pass your struggling learners.
  • Do whatever is legal and ethical to ensure that once passed, they’ll be in an interesting and supportive environment.
  • Share the research showing that retention, over time, will jeopardize and psychologically scar many struggling learners.
  • Make the case that it’s better to spend money on programs that work, like small, daily tutoring groups, than to waste money on retention.
  • Make the case that any time a child struggles, he should get whatever educational services he needs.
  • Identify the services you think the struggling learner needs, and the resources teachers will need to ensure his success.

Will following the suggestions in this article guarantee success for all Gretchen’s? No. But for many, they’ll produce far better outcomes than the fail-retain-and-repeat model. In other words, they’re well worth the effort.

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Who is checking on the mental health of our school leaders?

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Remember when you were a child at the amusement park, and the ride operator said if you want to get off the ride all you have to do is wave? Well, I’ve been waving furiously for several months and yet some days it seems no one is coming to my rescue. I am sure I am not alone.

Being a school leader is tough enough but doing so in a pandemic starts to take its toll on us as professionals and as human beings. Who is checking on the mental health of our school leaders during this challenging time? I hope all of you reading this can recognize if and when you need help and know the signs of when to reach out to your fellow school leaders.

I certainly practice this in my work as a New Hampshire high school principal each and every day.

As a result of the ongoing pandemic, mental health for educators has continued to be one of the most trending topics in our profession. This past month, ASCD ran a 10-day series of articles to provide mental health resources for educators. There are a few points of note for school leaders. The first is an article by Isobel Stevenson, entitled, “Educator Stress Is a Leadership Challenge. Here’s What Leaders Can Do About It.”

Stevenson calls upon school leaders to prioritize this for their staff, stating, “Reducing stress for educators is a worthy goal in itself; education leaders have an ethical obligation to do so. That reducing stress also improves organizational productivity makes doing so a fundamental leadership responsibility well within the grasp of all leaders.”

Stevenson goes on to suggest these tips as simple strategies leaders can use: Be supportive of your staff, stop trying to do so much, build collaboration and trust across the system, and communicate regularly and often. These same tips would work for a team of educational leaders in their efforts to take care of each other’s mental health needs just like it would with teachers.

Another resource from the ASCD 10 day series geared to school leaders is this recent article by Elena Aguilar, entitled, “The Resilient Educator / The Lowdown on Burnout.” Aguilar describes burnout in this way: “Burnout is basically depression. That’s the first and perhaps most important thing to know. It’s a distinct form of depression characterized by fatigue, frustration, dissatisfaction, and apathy. As many as half of all workers in high-stress jobs experience some form of burnout in their career. In education, burnout is most common when teachers don’t see the results they aspire to create.”

As a result of the pandemic, educational leaders from coast to coast have reported teacher burnout at an all-time high. I have seen this to some degree in my own school this year. Aguilar went on to advise that when leaders see signs of burnout in themselves or their teachers they should “normalize and talk about emotions; proactively identify what ‘success’ might look like; and consider alternative ways a struggling teacher could contribute to education.” Agular went on to remind readers to remember this: “Burnout is a place one can return from.”

In this recent EducationWeek article by Denisa R. Superville, 10 strategies were identified for principals who are feeling stressed and anxious right now. They include meditation and relaxation, sleep, breaks, better management of time, self-reflection, finding your “tribe,” recognizing that not every meeting needs to be a video chat (phones work too!), exercise, eating healthy, and being aware of the voice in your head.

In this recent MultiBriefs Exclusive, I identified five strategies principals can utilize to keep their mental health in check during the pandemic:

  1. Find an appropriate work-life balance.
  2. Focus on the problems and issues that you can control.
  3. Take control over how you spend your time.
  4. Celebrate victories, even the little ones.
  5. Focus on your mental and physical wellness.

In summary, the pandemic is long from over. Even when we do reach a point where cases have dropped and safety restrictions begin to relax, there will be much work to do to build up our schools in the post-COVID world. We won’t be out of the woods for some time.

Educational leaders, I worry about you and I hope you will take the time you need to take care of yourself so you are rested and ready for the work that lies ahead. Our profession will need us at our best!

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