This month marks the one-year anniversary of the school shutdowns because of COVID-19. It’s an opportunity to reflect, and a time to ask – how have you been carrying your trauma?
THE INVISIBLE BACKPACK
One of the lingering effects of COVID is the mental trauma it has caused.
Through this collective experience, we’ve all been carrying around thoughts and feelings that can be difficult to handle – and may seem invisible, but are, indeed, still there.
At Geyser Road elementary school, they are learning empathy and to envision everyone as if they were carrying around an invisible backpack filled with the weight of this year’s trauma.
Teachers have been witnessing the effects of this trauma in their classrooms and experiencing it themselves. Within a sea of changing schedules and technologies, they have been tasked with the responsibility of creating an environment where children feel safe, supported, and ready to learn.
“I’m so proud of them. It’s been hard, really hard work. It’s been difficult professionally and personally but they’ve let down walls, and shared personal experiences. This is typically not the conversation that you’d hear in school. They’ve been vulnerable and a lot of trust has been put out there,” said Geyser Road Principal Michele Whitley.
MAKING SPACE, GIVING GRACE
The school is part of a district-wide heart-centered approach to lighten the mental load of educators, their students, and families.
It’s about finding balance.
“Educators are incredibly giving of themselves, so it’s about making space and giving ourselves grace,” said Whitley.
Consultants specializing in Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) have guided the staff to new insights on the importance of compassion, forgiveness, and acceptance.
There’s music at faculty meetings, a premium put on making people smile, practicing mindfulness, and finding time for stillness.
The high school created a Virtual Calming Corner and an online Kindness Wall where uplifting messages are added so the staff can hear from each other about the wonderful things they do.
“It all boils down to kindness. A note or an email, that’s what we need right now. Showing appreciation and that we’re thinking of each other. These are small moments of joy and there is so much happiness that they can bring you. Reciprocation between teachers and families, that is joy.”
UNDERSTANDING THE FLIGHT-FIGHT-FREEZE IMPULSE
Confidently embracing uncertainty begins with being able to recognize it.
At Dorothy Nolan elementary school, they promote positive affirmations, mindfulness, and exercise to improve mental health.
They are also studying the specific strategies laid out in trauma expert Jennifer Bashant’s book, Building a Trauma-Informed Compassionate Classroom.
These techniques help educators identify the body’s natural reaction to threats (the flight-fight-freeze response) and understand how it shows up in children as daydreaming, defiance, or over-sillyness.
Last year, #518Rainbow went viral, brightening our world with a reminder of hope. This year, on March 22– April 1, Dorothy Nolan is hosting a week of rainbow-themed activities.
“These are uplifting activities that everyone can be involved in. They are some of the rituals that feel so good to the kids (and to the school as a whole). That good feeling trickles down into overall holistic well-being,” said school Social Worker Cindy Teplitzky.
To watch archived videos of the district’s online Parent University workshops for families, go to saratogaschools.org/parents. More information on mental health resources is available at www.mentalhealthednys.org.