Coaching Tip of the Month, November 2019
More and more often, I am reminded about the challenges in teaching today as compared to several years ago. The good news is that we are becoming much more aware that communities inherit the good, the bad, and the ugly all within the walls of the school and there are strategies to help cope with a variety of issues.
In a recent updated article in neaToday (March 2019), Mary Ellen Flannery says that for high school and college students “…anxiety is the mental-health tsunami of their generation” and shows no partiality for gender, race, or socio-economic status. This anxiety is acerbated by the political times, the effect of climate studies, the economy, social media, family health care, and a host of other equally as serious challenges to our society.
A Pew survey in February 2019 found that 70% of teens indicate anxiety and depression are major problems with their peers (Pew Research Center, Social and Demographic Trends). These anxieties and accompanying depression result from the pressures they face related to academics, social acceptance, physical appearance, and participation in athletics and other extra curriculum activities.
While the types of trauma may vary, the impact of these traumas is consistent: it affects the child, the teacher, and the classroom and teachers must be armed with some strategies to help address these issues so that the school can meet the expectations of a global society.
Too often, the impact of trauma manifests itself in low test scores, referrals for behavior, chronic absenteeism, lack of motivation, and poor school climate to name a few. At the same time, our teachers are required to “ready their students for the 21st century” even though the results of the trauma can very often prevent them from doing just that.
I believe that instructional coaches can impact teachers, classrooms, students, and schools and help address two critical elements to working with traumatized students: 1) help the teacher understand and learn how to cope with students who experience trauma; and 2) help the school create an environment that is conducive to learning. Having said that, the instructional coach must also continually extend his/her reach and learn as much as possible about working with traumatized students so that this knowledge can be shared with his/her teaching colleagues.
Below is a list of strategies that coaches can help teachers understand and put into practice:
- Create a safe classroom environment where voices are heard and welcomed;
- Elicit input when creating classroom norms;
- Be predictable and keep a schedule posted so students know what to expect during the day; be transparent;
- Ensure that the classroom is literacy rich with pictures that are not too “busy;”
- Think about implementing a “mindfulness” component in class;
- Help students become active “listeners” rather than just “talkers;”
- Establish a problem-solving environment so students feel ownership;
- Talk to your students; design an interest survey; get to know what they like; give some choices
- Remain non-judgmental; invite them to come to you for support;
- Set reasonable goals and help the students do the same
These, alone, cannot ameliorate the traumas that students face each day. And, in fact, there are many other strategies that can help teachers cope with their students’ traumatic experiences. The one thing to stress is that an instructional coach can help teachers make those connections to others and deepen the understanding necessary to address what students are experiencing. Together, teachers and coaches can collaborate and make small and steady paths to emotional well-being, a necessity for improved student performance.