For many students, the COVID-19 pandemic is compounding traumatic experiences for diverse reasons, such as potential increased incidents of neglect, abuse, and isolation. At the same time, educators are limited in how they can support their students while schools are closed. REL Appalachia (REL AP) has been working with key stakeholders from the region in state and local education agencies, departments of health, community-based organizations, and universities to identify best practices for addressing student- and educator-related trauma through the Cross-State Collaborative to Support Schools in the Opioid Crisis (CCSSOC). Through this work, the collaborative developed and curated tools and strategies all educators may find useful when supporting students through a virtual medium.
- Provide structure and routine: Educators can work with parents to ensure that students have proper structure and routine—a critical need for students who experience trauma. One strategy is to work with families to build daily schedules that combine academic enrichment (e.g., reading, practicing math), physical exercise, and entertainment. Educators can also promote structure on a macro-level by organizing remote learning opportunities that follow a consistent and familiar structure for students, such as an abbreviated daily school schedule.
- Promote a sense of control: Students’ resiliency increases when we help them increase their locus of control—the extent to which they feel in control of their own lives. To do so, educators can work with students to identify ways they can control their own lives—staying healthy (e.g., maintaining social distance), managing emotions (e.g., practicing mindfulness), and staying connected to others (e.g., connect with friends and relatives by phone).
- Be present: In this period of time, perhaps more so than ever before, students who have experienced trauma need to feel the support of trusted adults in their lives—including their educators. Educators can maintain ongoing (e.g., weekly) communication with students through various means: small group video calls, one-on-one phone calls, sending postcards, etc.
- Provide emotional check-ins: During virtual interactions, educators should provide students with emotional check-in opportunities (e.g., using the mood meter; source: National Association for the Education of Young Children, NAEYC) and validate students’ feelings. Educators should praise students for using relaxation or coping strategies. In addition, educators can follow up with students who endorse negative emotions, especially if they are noticing that this is becoming a pattern, and discuss appropriate coping responses and strategies to use in such situations.
- Strengthen self-regulation skills: Students (and adults) can develop skills to regulate their own emotions. As with any type of skill, self-regulation skills need to be learned, practiced, and then practiced some more to achieve mastery. These skills include mindfulness, breathing exercises, physical exercises, active journaling, and yoga.