Teaching remotely can feel as if it is going against the law of conservation of energy. That is, sometimes the energy we pour into our synchronous instruction is sometimes lost and definitely not always reciprocated by our students. Perhaps that is why I feel so depleted on most days by 2:30. Prior to Covid-19, I would harness the energy of my students and use it as fuel during the day.
I have witnessed my own daughter cry at night because she does not want to continue with distance learning. I have also overheard her friends say they feel lonely. It’s apparent many of our kids loved being at school not just for learning face to face but for the social bonds they developed. No matter how frustrated I get with my own struggles, I try to empathize with the many kids in our virtual classrooms that are experiencing trauma.
According to the co-founder of Bithiah’s House, a nonprofit organization for foster youth, Michelle Thompson, “61% of the population, both adults and children, have experienced at least one form of trauma in their life, and that number has increased significantly in the last year.” We can do our best to take a trauma-informed approach during these times by practicing some key, universal precautions when teaching our students.
In hospitals, doctors and nurses take universal precautions by treating every patient as if they have an infectious disease. Therefore, when treating patients, they use gloves, face-masks, and goggles to protect themselves as well as other patients. Trauma, Michelle shared, may also not be visible. We don’t know which students have been affected by it or are suffering lasting triggers, so educators need to practice universal precautions.
Universal Precautions in the Classroom
Below are two key connection strategies and universal precautions that any teacher can use with students experiencing at least one form of trauma.
- It’s important during these times to challenge students to connect their writing to their own personal experiences and to try to allot time when possible to ask questions about students’ lives during their writing conferences. When I am teaching essay writing to 4th graders, I note all the things they care about and bring it with me to the next conference the student and I have. I use these notes to help me ask questions about their writing. For example, Breanna is currently writing about how her mom threw her a special online zoom birthday party. When I re-engage her by asking her questions about her birthday, it gives her so much energy.
- We can learn something interesting from our children’s interest in the T.V. shows “Blues Clues” and “Dora the Explorer.” In both shows, the main actors look right into the camera when speaking. An important strategy I have been trying out with some success is switching the Zoom view when teaching a writing minilesson. For example, when I provide the whole class minilesson, I spotlight myself which augments my screen. You can utilize this feature by finding the three dots in the top right corner of your zoom square. Click on the three dots, and scroll down to “spotlight for everyone.” I often joke and say, I’m going to become a giant for you, which usually is received with giggles. Next, I channel my inner Dora the Explorer and look right into the camera to teach. Conversely, when a student is sharing their writing, you can spotlight him. During class discussions and sharing, I switch the screen back to the gallery view for everyone to see each other.
Strategies like these may sometimes seem too subtle to make an impact on our students experiencing trauma that is related or accentuated by lockdowns and distance learning. On the contrary, they can have a large, significant, and positive impact on the well-being, energy, and academic performance of our students.