By Cristine Chen and Whitney Becker, CEI Interns
It is no secret that the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has acutely affected students, educators, and staff. To address these impacts through research-based strategies, the Department of Education recently released Volume 2 of the ED COVID-19 Handbook: Roadmap to Reopening Safely and Meeting All Students’ Needs. In the handbook, the Department of Education outlines considerations for creating safe and healthy learning environments, addressing lost instructional time, and supporting educator and staff stability and well-being. Our recently formed Coalition for the Future of Education (CFE) has also created recommendations focused on social emotional learning (SEL) and mental health, with more specific approaches to addressing SEL and mental health in schools through Heart Centered Learning.
Both the Department of Education’s and Coalition for the Future of Education’s recommendations recognize the need to address trauma and mental health issues, create safe learning environments, build mindfulness and restorative spaces, and establish culturally responsive pedagogy. However, CFE extends these recommendations in multiple, and essential, ways. In this post, we highlight four of the Department of Education’s approaches and how the Coalition for the Future of Education aligns with the DOE.
Address Trauma and Mental Health Issues
In its handbook, the Department of Education recognizes the trauma students have faced as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. These traumas include, but are not limited to:
Disruptions in learning
Factors that negatively impact students’ mental health and have disproportionately affected underserved populations
Traumas compound already existing effects of adverse childhood experiences. For more information on adverse childhood experiences and ways to create positive childhood experiences, see this blog post.
Our Coalition for the Future of Education extends the suggestions from the handbook to include an understanding of neuroscience, heart-mind connections, and the adverse effects of trauma. Furthermore, CFE believes that teacher education programs should revise the curriculum to include SEL research-based practices stemming from neuroplasticity, executive functioning, heart intelligence, and ways to build student resiliency. Adding these elements will allow educators to better support students through building neuropathways supporting cognition, well-being, and healing from trauma.
Create Safe Learning Environments
The DOE handbook also acknowledges the importance of safe and supportive learning environments in order for students to learn, achieve, and take risks. To create and sustain these environments, additional interventions and supports are necessary due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Department of Education emphasizes meeting the social and emotional needs of students first and notes that educators can incorporate SEL into the curriculum. They include a link to CASEL, which offers similar albeit less comprehensive assessments of SEL in schools than the Center for Educational Improvement’s S-CCATE measurement tool. For more information regarding this comparison, see A More Effective Classroom Climate Measurement Tool.
The handbook also cites research indicating that school safety and positive discipline practices are integral to students feeling safe and included in schools. Students’ social, emotional, physical, and mental health and academic needs are better supported through school environments focused on safety and inclusivity. These include policies focused on eliminating racial disparities through social emotional learning and disciplinary supports, positive discipline, culturally responsive pedagogy, Multi-Tiered System of Supports, non-exclusionary discipline (i.e. reduction/elimination of suspension and expulsion), mental health counseling, wraparound services, and more. It also states the need for schoolwide trauma-informed approaches and professional development for staff to address bias in communities and themselves.
The handbook aligns with the Coalition for the Future of Education by advocating for community-based and effective self-care practices through mindfulness and integrative social emotional learning practices in schools. We further this idea by stating a need for these practices to expand to the home-school interactions.
Build Mindfulness and Restorative Spaces
ED COVID-19 Handbook highlights the importance of having restorative rituals where students can practice self-awareness and mindfulness together with the community. It recommends establishing morning or closing meetings where students can come together to listen and speak from the heart. The handbook acknowledges that SEL can encourage mindfulness which may translate to more thoughtful citizens who feel a sense of duty. Additionally, the handbook cited several examples, from a local nonprofit in Illinois that hosts restorative circles and daily enrichment activities to The Social Justice Humanitas Academy in Los Angeles, which creates space for students and teachers to share the positive and challenging things happening in their lives.
Our coalition envisions an educational system that advances self-care, mindfulness, and social emotional learning. We advocate for Heart Centered Learning, an approach to SEL that focuses on the Five Cs—consciousness (awareness), compassion, confidence, courage, and community. Heart Centered Learning is rooted in the philosophy that students need to be given spaces to dialogue and celebrate beyond the academic curriculum to build more compassion for themselves and others. For more information, you can explore our newsletter, CEI blog, and books.
Establish Culturally Responsive Pedagogy
Lastly, the handbook highlights the need for culturally responsive pedagogy. It discusses issues in meeting students’ mental health needs, including institutional racism, access issues, and language barriers. The pandemic has added a layer of complexity to educational access. The handbook shows that some Black, Latinx, and Asian families across the country may be more hesitant to send their children back to school. Schools need to extend understanding to some students of color as to why they and their parents may be reluctant to pursue in-person learning. The handbook also highlighted that people of color are more likely to have experienced losing loved ones due to the pandemic, hunger, and economic pressure.
The Coalition for the Future of Education is concerned about the trauma and injustice that accompanied the pandemic. We envision school systems to encourage equity through anti-racist curricula. We host Youth Listening Tours to collaborate with youth leaders in building a hope-filled future that is equitable and just. Our CEI blog also hosts valuable resources on addressing racism in the school setting.
Coalition for the Future of Education (CFE) Extensions and Resources
In addition to the information above, the Coalition for the Future of Education also advocates for school funding designed to advance students’ experiences with up-to-date technology, thereby increasing students’ opportunities to learn, collaborate, connect, explore, and receive virtual mental health supports. Furthermore, students should be assessed using a ‘growth over time’ model, rather than emphasizing annual standardized testing and summative assessments.
The U.S. Department of Education has provided a comprehensive roadmap for reopening that meets all students’ needs. We at the Center of Educational Improvement and the Coalition for the Future of Education are here to provide additional and complementary resources for educators, school principals, and administrators who want to start implementing the DOE’s action steps.
Address Trauma and Mental Health Issues:
Create Safe Learning Environment:
Build Mindfulness and Restorative Spaces:
Establish Culturally Responsive Pedagogy:
You can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org for any questions and inquiries.
CEI thanks CFE Director Dr. Melissa Patshcke for her leadership.
U.S. Department of Education (2021). Office of Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development, ED COVID-19 Handbook, Volume 2: Roadmap to Reopening Safely and Meeting All Students’ Needs.