It’s now been a few weeks since masks are no longer mandated in many school districts across the country. In anticipation of that announcement, we shared recommendations for how education organizations working with school districts could manage that change. Now that we’re getting more accustomed to seeing folks’ faces and expressions, what can we do to keep us moving forward through the next phase of pandemic recovery?
There are still many students, educators, and families struggling with how to process the confusion, grief, and fear of the last year. And with a documented uptick in mental health challenges the last two years, as leaders we still need to be mindful of all of the ways members of our school communities may be processing this change and re-integration.
So what can school communities – and the education organizations that support them – do to help students and teachers manage change through the end of the school year?
- Students and teachers may be seeing faces for the first time, which brings a new level of connection and familiarity. But it may also feel strange to see the faces of your friends, teachers, or students for the first time after you’ve known them for a period of time behind a mask! It’s normal to feel anxious about change. If students have questions or confusing feelings as they adapt, they should be encouraged to speak with a trusted adult or teacher.
- Clarify with community stakeholders why the guidance changed. As the science around COVID-19 evolves, so do recommendations for how we manage the virus based on community indicators of spread. Explain that cases are going down, and the decision was based on sound, reliable science.
- Respect and be kind to members of the community who choose to still wear a mask. They may be immunocompromised, caring for someone who is sick, or unable to be vaccinated. This is a personal choice and we should respect everyone’s decision to wear a face mask or to not wear a face mask, despite the regulations.
- Offer forums and structures for anonymous feedback from community members who may not feel comfortable approaching an in-person discussion. This could take the form of lockboxes with room for suggestions or concerns.
- Designate a COVID transition team that represents leadership, teachers, families, students, and school staff. Despite the fact that masks are off, the impact of the last two years is lingering, and we need to continue to be intentional about how we both navigate the recovery and communicate the process.
- Be aware of how managing these logistical changes continues to impact educators’ motivation and ability to sustain. So much of the past two years has been consumed by protocols and mitigating risk, and not allowing for time to invest in why educators signed up for this career path to begin with – because they love to teach and love to learn. Carve out opportunities for educators to reconnect with their own motivation, elevate their community of practice with other educators, and bring fun and joy to their work. One way to do this is to find time to play together. At Move This World, we incorporate games like Count Me In into meetings when we need to add some joy and fun into our busy week. This is a group-counting game with the goal of counting to a target number (we like to start by counting to ten) with the rule that only one person can say the next number. If two people say the next number at the same time, celebrate the failure and start again at one.
Educators have been working hard the past two years to make sure that school feels like a safe haven for all of us, and that work continues as COVID restrictions are lifted.
Cultivating a connected, resilient community is critical to help heal any damage that has been inflicted over the last two years, give us the tools to move through the loss, and help us rebuild and move forward so that teaching and learning can thrive.
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