Trauma-Informed Distance Learning Recommendations

By Dana Asby, CEI Director of Innovation & Research Support and Christine Mason, CEI Executive Director

Teachers and schools around the country have quickly mobilized to figure out how to serve their students from afar. Schools and communities have banded together to make sure that all of their students have the tools and resources needed to learn together online while staying safe in their homes. The swift and unexpected switch from classroom to home-based learning has illuminated inequities that have long existed under the surface for many middle- and upper-class families but have impacted the daily lives of our poorest and most vulnerable families—whose experience of poverty in itself is a trauma. For these families, and families of every socio-economic rung who have experienced trauma, educators can ease the transition to distance learning by offering some extra supports.

Accessing Technology and Virtual Learning

Many households do not have one computer per person; and in many cases, parents and children are juggling computer and internet use. To ensure that as many students as possible have access to the technology that is needed, some school districts have purchased huge quantities of laptops and are quickly dispersing these to families in their communities. To reach each student, administrators can survey parents about internet access and send Wi-Fi hotspots home with students who don’t have these resources. Teachers may need to coach parents on how to connect technology to the internet or help get them signed up for an internet account with a service provider, like Spectrum or Comcast, which are offering free internet service to low income families in some cities during this time. In Boston, major cell phone carriers are also providing unlimited high-speed data and many cellphone and internet companies have also indicated that they will not disconnect services for unpaid bills over the next two months (Johnson & Toness, 2020). 

Many websites also have links to innovative tools which can help teachers with lesson planning.  Here are a few:

  • Commonsense Education has links to websites for elementary education, including links to PBS Kids, Math Games, National Geographic for Kids, and Storyboard to help students publish their own stories.
  • Unesco has links to online distance learning management systems, including such things as online math tutoring platforms and software to create online lessons.
  • The Journal has links to free online resources for educators, including an extensive alphabetized list of links to free access from Adobe, the American Museum of Natural History, and videos from the National Science Teachers Association, among others.
  • We Are Teachers has free resources for online lesson plans, including links to Discovery Ed and the Library of Congress.
  • The National Archives has resources where students can learn about the Constitution, the Superhero Bill of Rights, the Declaration of Independence, and civic rights and responsibilities. Also includes e-books, teachers’ guides, and online tours

Marginalized Populations

There are marginalized populations, already at a higher risk of mental illness, who may be finding it particularly difficult to cope with the COVID-19 crisis. Administrators, mental health support teams, and teachers can support these students and their families by having virtual support groups, doing one-on-one phone calls or video chats, or disseminating tip sheets or news articles relevant to these groups.

  • ESL learners and immigrant families may have difficulty navigating schoolwork without the supports they are used to at school. Colorin Colorado (2020) suggests taking school supplies to migrant farmworkers or calling students to check in and gives ideas to help parents who are struggling to find childcare so they can work.
  • Queer youth may be struggling in unsupportive families. LGBTQ youth, who are more likely than their straight peers to experience anxiety and depression (NAMI, n.d.) may find the isolation exacerbates their mental health challenges. Administrators can talk to staff to ensure LGBTQ youth have a caring adult to connect with each week. School leaders can also advertise the Trevor Project’s crisis hotline for LGBTQ youth (1-866-488-7386).
  • Asian and Asian American families may be experiencing an increased level of racial prejudice and violence as some people falsely believe that they have a higher risk of spreading COVID-19. Teachers and school leaders can support Asian and Asian American families by calling to check in on them and speaking out against any prejudices they’ve experienced. You can also demonstrate compassion by showcasing the ways Asian and Asian American families in your community are helping out. For example, maybe the local grocery store is run by an Asian American family who is risking their lives to stay open to feed the rest of the town. Have your school community say, “Thank you!”

Trauma-Impacted Students and their Families

While each person’s reaction to trauma is unique since everyone has a different level of resiliency and resources, educators can take special care to reach out to students who they know were already living in chaotic or traumatic environments before this crisis. Related resources for families and educators are available from the National Center for School Mental Health, the Mental Health Technology Transfer Center Network, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

Helping families reduce stress can be lifesaving right now. Teaching them about self-regulation skills like breathwork, meditation, yoga, cognitive reframing, and more can be a much-needed lifeline for them to maintain their sanity and help their children stay a little calmer as well. Learn how to share these strategies with families in our article, “Five Mindful Habits to Help Families and Schools Increase Happiness and Connection.”

There are many supports educators can provide to make it easier for trauma-impacted and marginalized populations to receive the level of care that all children deserve. Mental and emotional health and well-being needs to a be a high priority for all children. With groups who have been marginalized, for families living in poverty, families of diverse cultural/ethnic heritage, children who may be LGTBQ or uncertain of their gender identity, and children with special needs, remote learning can present unique challenges. Teachers are learning to navigate these waters as we take steps to help all children and families, ensuring that we are addressing equity concerns and getting important resources and support to all of our children.

References

Johnson, K. & Toness, K. (2020, March 15). Boston gears up for school shutdown. Boston Globe.

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). (n.d.). LGBTQNAMI.

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