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Closing Reopened Schools: We Need Strategies

With rise in COVID, some schools that reopened to in-person learning will close. We need to prepare.


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Karen Gross

7 months ago | 5 min read
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Schools Closing and Reopening and Closing

It seems probable -- likely -- that many schools that have reopened this summer/fall will need to close again to in-person learning. To put this in context, schools closed and started remote learning in many places in Spring 2020.

Then, some (not all) reopened to some form of in person learning for some (occasionally all) students in late summer/fall 2020. Now with the surge in COVID 19 cases, some schools are closing. Others are adjusting their schedules to stop Fall 2020 classes early and restarting Spring 2021 classes later. Bottom line: change, confusion, transitions.

It is in this context that I read this exact sentence in the Chicago Tribune on Oct. 20th, 2020 and because the wording matters, I want to quote it in full:

“But it took just five days for administrators to halt their new COVID-19-era hybrid plan and send students back to their bedrooms for remote learning, at least for the time being.” (Emphasis added)

It is that bolded phrase that makes me realize how unready we are for closures.


Bedrooms as Places to Learn -- Not for All

The bolded language is what is most troubling to me and it is troubling on several levels. First, it assumes students have bedrooms where they can learn. Many students share bedrooms with other siblings and still other students don’t have bedrooms at all -- they are homeless.

How exactly will school returning to online enable these students to have a “bedroom” in which to do their work? False premise in the article. And, it is a false premise that has ramifications.

The bolded language also assumes that the bedroom is the best place for student learning. I have written elsewhere that not all students doing online learning will learn most ably in their bedroom. Some may learn better at the kitchen table. Some may learn better on a sofa.

Some may do better sitting outside (assuming accommodating weather). There is no one place that is perfect every day for online learning.

We also know that some households lack bandwidth and needed computer technology for online learning. Hot spot vehicles are stopping in certain neighborhoods to boost (or provide) Internet.


We are Missing the Impact of Transitions

One reality: Not all students are ideal online learners, wherever that remote learning takes place. Some students want and need interpersonal engagement which is hard to replicate online (although there is much we can do to improve online learning and make it more engaging.)

For the latter point, see: https://upjourney.com/how-to-make-online-learning-more-engaging-and-interactive.

What is difficult for educators and students alike is change -- transitioning to hybrid or in person learning with all the hopes and expectations and then having those hopes and expectations thwarted. Generally speaking transitions are hard for most people. We like stability and structure.

When schools rotate what they are doing, that is disruptive and for some students, particularly those where school is the structure that counterbalances the lack of structure at home, this is particularly difficult. And, these shifts make it important to spend some time in school adjusting to the new situation and that takes away from learning substance.

But, if we don‘t help students deal with transitions and move into new settings, then learning and psycho-social development is even further delayed.


What Trauma Takes from Us

In a new book titled Trauma Doesn’t Stop at the School Door (Teachers College Press June 2020), I reference the 5 “S”s that trauma takes away: stability, structure, safety, subtly and someone(s).

Now when education transitions from in person to remote yet again, these 5 Ss are rattled. And, students and educators can feel destabilized. And, both groups need concrete strategies to reemploy the 5 Ss. To be sure, this gets tiresome if one does it again and again. But, there are no shortcuts to facilitating transitions and change. They take time.

One added aspect to all this: uncertainty. If we knew there was an endpoint at a specific time, it would be easier to deal with the Pandemic and its impact on education. But, we don’t have such an endpoint.

And, different experts vary on when life will return to something resembling the old normal, although most agree that some things have changed forever. We want and need need a point in time we can look to for closure -- and that simply doesn’t exist.


Back to the Bedrooms

In truth, saying “back to the bedroom” is a vast oversimplification. It is not really what can and should happen. When we closed schools for the first time, we did it like a light switch.

Then some reopened with greater care and slower. But, now, closure seems to be like a light switch again -- and we apparently haven’t thought enough about how to enable these transitions, these shifts, to occur in ways that facilitate change and allow for less disruption.

And, of this I am sadly sure: we have not done the needed work to insure the mental wellness of students and educators. We have been so focused on shutting for physical health reasons (which are legitimate) that we haven’t had a quality plan for helping educators and students deal with the transitions.

And, trying to implements those types of plans after the fact is suboptimal but better than nothing.

Here’s are some thoughts for all those running schools:

(1) prepare educators and students in advance for possible closure and movement back to remote learning.

(2) Ask for their input as to what will ease the transition, recognizing that holidays are approaching and all of those will require new traditions to replace ones that cannot be replicated in a Pandemic.

(3) Allow students to express their feelings about closure (positive and negative) and give them a chance to share strategies. Have them write down strategies that would help and they can even send them to themselves (assuming they have a home and address that is stable). (

4) Help students prepare tools that will improve their learning online. Trauma toolboxes and ways to signal readiness to engage. See images. (The Trauma Toolbox How to Guide is available to download at www.karengrosseducation/trauma-toolbox-a-how-to-guide/).

(5) Work on activities that focus on change and traditions (writing; art; clay are but three mediums). Talk about change and transitions. For older students read about change and how hard it is. Educators need to share their own feelings (appropriately) with students and how they plan to deal with closure.

(6) Develop ways that students and educators can engage with each other in all combinations (educator to educator; student to student; students to educators). Prepare some emails or texts in advance. Encourage preparatory activities. Don’t wait til the closure happens in order to prepare for it.

Conclusions

It is also clear to me that while schools may close, they may reopen again too in the not to distant future or further down the road. This requires preparation and communication and strategies.

And, it requires a deep awareness not just of physical health but mental well being too.

The key and the one that tripped off this piece: closing schools is NOT simply about students returning to their bedrooms to learn. Start by debunking that observation and planning for the reality of closure -- on all students. The time to do that is NOW.


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Karen Gross

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I am an author and educator. I write adult and children's books and specialize in student success and the impact of trauma on learning and psychosocial development. My newest adult book is Trauma Doesn't Stop at the School Door; my newest children's book is titled Tongue Twisters and Beyond.


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