Cognitive excess. Digital overload. Grief and rebirth. Connection and isolation. The COVID-19 global pandemic has closed the curtain on life as we once knew it, and everyone is talking about the latest article, blog, or website that addresses our new reality.
The National Association for Independent Schools (NAIS) recently hosted a webinar in which experts predicted one of the biggest secondary public health consequences from COVID-19: mental health issues. The coronavirus pandemic has caused extreme anxiety by adding stress on families, particularly financially and emotionally, and has forced us to ask ourselves what an authentic, virtual relationship looks like.
There are some days we feel hope, contentment, and compassion yet instantly feel alone, fearful, and possibly even out of control. But other days we may find ourselves reflecting upon what’s important, forming new routines and traditions, and discovering compassion and unity in our communities. The push and pull of optimism and empathy now stare us in the face. Yet, it’s hard to have optimism when we hear about the disproportionate number of African Americans and elderly populations with COVID-19, as well as the escalation in racism and xenophobia, the significant increase in unemployment and food insecurity. It’s difficult to focus on wellness when so many communities are in crisis.
At Dawson, the acknowledgment of these challenges and understandings has served to emphasize the importance of physical and emotional wellness and encouraged ongoing discussions about how we can continue to nurture resilience in our students, families, and faculty and staff.
In our first Zoomcast episode
and correlating blog post
we explain how the first priority in moving toward virtual education was student wellbeing. As our teachers continue to redesign lessons using our new platform, social-emotional teaching and guidance are of the utmost importance.
In the second Zoomcast episode
, Assistant Head of School for Teaching and Learning Roxanne Stansbury joins Assistant Head of School for Advancement Andrew Bishop in a discussion to explain why student wellness is so important to us and shares the following definitions:
Our Climate of Care is getting students comfortable with identifying their emotions while thinking about other people and what they’re doing to get outside of themselves. Being able to identify their emotions is the key to wellness.
Social-Emotional Learning at Dawson includes understanding the importance of self-awareness and how you’re regulating emotions and code-switching. The other piece is social-awareness and understanding your impact on others so you can regulate your words or adjust based on the impact of your interactions. It’s the responsibility as a community member and understanding intent versus impact.
Marc A. Brackett, – research psychologist, founding director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, and professor at the Child Study Center at Yale University – speaks to the importance of identifying our emotions as a means to focus on our wellness. But what if our emotions move faster than usual, and one minute you feel hope while the next you feel isolated? How do you manage this ebb and flow of feelings? Brackett describes this as the Corona Coaster. Ask someone how they are doing and they could literally transform right before your eyes. Information is exchanged so fast and there is so much uncertainty that it impacts our emotions. Brackett suggests naming your emotions accurately (he gives examples on his website), regulating them, and devising an action plan.
One of our main concerns is how we can help students identify what is in their control versus that which is outside of their control, and how we can make a plan to help manage that anxiety. Students have access to one-on-one meetings with their teachers or advisors, as well as access to learning support team members and school counselors.
How we start a child’s day is the most important thing we do. Morning meetings are a time when we often allow students to identify their emotions and what they’re doing to change them. They can also talk to another group of kids about their responsibility for acknowledging the other emotions in the room so they know how to interact with people throughout the day in coordination with their needs. Our teachers have worked hard to utilize technology tools such as Google Classroom and Flipgrid to create the same safe spaces in Virtual Morning Meetings
, one-on-one check-ins, and lessons.
After reading about Brackett’s Corona Coaster, I immediately thought of the image below and how it perfectly captures how I feel at this uncertain time: One minute you are paddling along, either enjoying or forgetting some of the changes in life, and next you look down toward a moment filled with extreme anxiety and panic. The mental agility required to manage two combatting emotions is exhausting, and I often wonder if this is why we may feel more tired when isolated from others than when we are navigating the regular hustle of our non-quarantined life.
Some of the biggest concerns of faculty are the worry and anxiety of students that comes with the sudden change in routine and the isolation they can feel by not seeing their peers and teachers in person. When adults are able to model how to express emotions, we can better help students cope. Intentional conversations are very healing for them, and we want to both acknowledge and empower our students by creating a space for conversations to happen organically. Dawson faculty and staff mention helpful tools in this Zoomcast
and have curated resources for navigating these conversations on the Counselors’ Corner of the distance learning resource board (also available on the Coronavirus Updates page
When I think back to the beginning of this new social distancing reality, I wonder what advice I would have given myself. I hope I would have made a point to connect with others virtually (outside of work), develop new routines that align with my values (working out, mindfulness/soulfulness, read, volunteer, donate blood), and exercise patience toward myself, others, and the current world situation. Today, I encourage you to talk about unity and find connectedness while at home, as well as curate and share resources with one another for wellness and health accountability. Each of these smaller pieces works to create one large puzzle that can keep us grounded during difficult times.
For more information on student wellness at Dawson during this pandemic, watch this Zoomcast Episode Two
Director of Student Life & Diversity