‘Everyone in the schoolhouse has to Maslow before they teach or learn Bloom’.
Dwayne Reed is a creative 4th grade teacher in the Chicago Public Schools system. He is an internet sensation, known for his rap lessons. I adapted his axiom, ‘Students have to Maslow before they can Bloom’, for this BLOG edition to jump start our thinking about the re-opening of physical schools.
Although the COVID-19 crisis causes mass anxiety, tremendous losses, and fear for our collective futures, it has also presented an opportunity for constructive consequences. This may sound strange to say, but there some positives resulting from the 2020 coronavirus pandemic. Although language such as resiliency, social-emotional competencies, mindfulness, restorative practices have been in our pedagogical toolkit, until COVID-19, we were not able to collectively understand how all of those concepts mattered in terms of academic teaching. Yet, if we are honest about our initial reactions to this pandemic, how it turned our predictable day to day upside down, our thoughts were emotional, not academic.
Experiencing a global pandemic accelerated the need for all of us to find different ways to care for ourselves both physically and emotionally. Our innate resiliency kicked in and enabled us to search our internal controls (e.g. behavior and emotional regulation, problem-solving, etc.) and seek positive external controls (e.g. adapt, caring relationships, create new routines etc). The concept of resiliency is no longer theoretical. It’s about learning new paths to emotional wellness. When the doors to our schoolhouses reopen, the people, old and young, in that school community will have changed. We will not be able to do business the same way. Now, more than ever, our emotional wellness will impact our productivity as educators.
‘Everyone in the schoolhouse has to Maslow before they teach or learn Bloom’.
As in any disaster, the people who are called into action are first responders. First responders have specialized training, a plan, and a process for emotional debriefing. Educators are our society’s first responders. As parents, who have had to home school a few children, now realize, educators have specialized training. What we need next is a plan and a process for emotional debriefing. It is said that necessity is the mother of invention. Thank you, COVID-19, for accelerating our emotional growth. We can reboot our pedagogical practices to ensure the culture in our school is emotionally safe, caring, and empowering so all can ‘overwork their potential’ (Kobe Bryant).
In interviews with Principal McDaniels & Hendrickson, Teacher Patty Glock , and Counselor Rachel Powers, the GEMS (18 high school age young ladies in the Seattle Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta) and by searching the internet, I’ve been looking for the answer(s) to – How should we begin the 2021 school year. Not one person or one article said it would be wise to start with academic teaching. This school opening has to Maslow before Bloom. Safety, love/belonging, esteem, self-actualization are the building blocks of resiliency. Everyone within the schoolhouse has a sphere of emotional influence. Everyone is a leader.
“As a leader, you must be alert to “organizational culture,” which is comprised of workers’ thoughts and actions. Ignoring culture is risky, because failing to shape your culture keeps your team from achieving improved results. You form culture by paying attention to your workforce’s ‘experiences, beliefs and actions.’ ” Roger Connor Change the Culture, Change the Game
Suggestions for Creating Re-entry/Reopening Plans
Take care of the adults first. The collective trauma COVID-19 caused is real for everyone who works in a school system. Everyone will have experienced loss. Many will have lost a loved one or have a friend who is grieving after a death. We missed hugs, the enjoyment of a walk in the park or dining out with friends. Initial staff gatherings should allot time for expressions of grief and emotional release.
Self-Care Plans. Ask staff to consider creating wellness plans that have measurable objectives, and check-in partner(s) to add to their professional goals.
Staff-Care Plans. Create a collective wellness plan, identify the person or group they can turn to when needed. For superintendents/principals, it’s important to ask what staff may need of you.
Conduct BITESIZE Resiliency activities (and make them routine moments e.g. Monday morning announcements, opening staff meetings, part of staff bulletins etc.)
Add times school counselors, building base social workers are available to help:
- staff process feelings,
- mediate restorative conversations staff-staff
- conduct social-emotional discussions with staff
- counselors debrief with each other.
Student Care Plans aka school rules. Flip the script and describe school rules as our collective working agreements. Before the kids return, every staff member (custodial, cafeteria, office, instructional staff) should work together to review the current mission and vision. Then collectively create language that is descriptive in terms of behavioral actions.
In our school, the adults and students are kind and caring because we abide by the 3 R’s. We are:
- Respectful of ourselves and others,
- Responsible school citizens, and
- Reasonable human beings
Under each ‘R’ are working agreements written in behavior terms. Each staff member has input to describe what are essentially their emotional and professional needs are. The adults first describe their wants and needs of each other. Then in grade level or department teams, align their sphere of influence (e.g classroom, cafeteria, office, bus etc) to be specific with their needs.
- Please enter the office quietly
- Please clean up your space, return your trays and cutlery to …
- Please throw your garbage in the correct bin
Signs of the 3 R’s are visible in every space. At the opening day assemblies, the principal allows time for the support staff (custodians, office staff, bus drivers, SROs etc.) to introduce themselves and share how they depend on students’ honoring their working agreements. Teachers teach students how the working agreements/behaviors look in their classrooms.
The Process for re-entry/reopening school
View Dr. Bryan Sexton’s video on Coping Under Pressure. Outline a 2-week school opening plan that focuses on supporting emotional wellbeing and the first 2 months plans (e.g. August -end of September if your academic year begins in August).
Two Week Plan.
- 1-12th grade students return to the teacher/advisory teacher they had before COVID-19 closure. Parents and students must be prepared that these first two weeks, there are no grade levels. The goal is to reconnect students to familiar relationships.
- Using the 5 SEL Competencies, create discussion prompts, role plays, art and music activities to help students express themselves- what were negatives and positives about social distancing.
- After acknowledging everyone’s emotional mindset, use the same SEL Competencies and have them brainstorm ways to be more compassionate with each other, the staff in general and the expectations they have for themselves. Share the working agreements staff developed and find common ground. Counselors and school based social workers can do the same with students who are at Tier II and III on an RTI behavior pyramid in small groups or individuals. Tier II & III students can collaborate with counselors to create their social-emotional growth plans.
- PreK-kindergarten start school the 2nd Staff conduct home visits or call parents during the first week of school to introduce themselves and get to know their students and families. This is a good time to share resources the school has in place to support families (e.g. school counselors, nurse, family support worker, etc.)
- Where possible, consider keeping all of the students in the same grade/cohort so they can rely on each other with their new teacher. Don’t separate the kids from their 2019-2020 peer groups.
Two Month Plan- begins once the students are settled into routines
- 3rd week of school, if students are settled, assign the cohorts, to their new teachers. These teachers use this week to establish relationships with their new students. At the middle and high school levels, consider students staying with their new advisory teachers for the first two full days. It is about team bonding and building. Start rotations to meet their content teachers on days three to five. Content teachers should devote the first three days to bonding and getting to know each student and creating working agreements.
- 4th week of school consider administering assessments that measure end of the year (the lost year) objectives to determine academic loss or gain. Use evidence-based strategies to accelerate learning for students with academic gaps.
- Weeks 5-8th create schedule for intervention groups (interventions can be at developing, proficient, and exemplary levels) . Assign all instructional support staff to be available during each grade level’s intervention times. Students requiring the most intense work should be taught by certificated staff.
- Consider maintaining the intervention blocks when ready to introduce 2020-21 skills to reduce instruction class size.
Two Year Plan
- Create a Pandemic Safety Plan- use the lessons we learned with COVID-19
- Begin discussions about the advantages/disadvantages of an all school plan for teachers looping with students