Return to Learn: What Students Really Need to Know

As a teacher, on any given day there are a multitude of expectations that need to be met. The barrage of acronyms is exhausting; SEL, PLC, IEP, AP, CST, CAL, ELL– the list goes on ad-nauseum. 

And now we add CDC, PPE, and RtL. 

COVID has changed the way many look at education. It shed light on the extreme reliance on schools for social services like nutrition, safety, and physical + mental healthcare. It revealed the inequity in education geographically, racially, and socio-economically. It challenged schools to truly meet the needs of all students and adapt curricula, equity, and mental health checks to online platforms that were accessible to all. 

This, my friends, is a great thing. 

Return to Learn: What Students Really Need to Know

Some may call this year unprecedented, challenging, and frustrating. But really, it is an unveiling of opportunity, growth, and development. And isn’t this what we want for our students? 

Though uncertainty pervades this school year, I assure you, this will be a phenomenal year of growth and learning, regardless of “how” it happens. And just like every year; safety, social/emotional health, and growth remain top priorities.

Because learning is already happening.

Parents are the first (and most important) teachers to their children. Our children are looking to us each day and learning some of the most important lessons they will ever need in life.

Our children are watching how we problem solve. 

They can decipher how we search for resources to solve our childcare, education, and transportation issues and our attitudes when seeking solutions. They notice if we have a plan for best and worst-case scenarios as changes in schedules occur, and our reactions to those changes.

Our kids are observing our motivation to learn and collaborate.

They are analyzing our willingness to search for the answers to our questions and where we do our research. They know whether we find our research from reputable sources or go down the rabbit hole of commentary. Our children can identify if we respect or disrespect the choices of others, especially when they choose options different than our own.

They are taking note of our literacy skills.

Kids notice if we read things completely before we reach out with questions or criticism. Children can perceive how accepting we are of another’s point-of-view even when it goes against our own. 

Our kids are monitoring our self-awareness.

Do we know when to stop scrolling and take a break from the craziness? Are we keeping things in perspective or letting our fears get the best of us? Do we limit the ‘what-ifs’ by creating possible solutions or do we keep circling back to the problems?

How are we doing in teaching our children?

Our society is designed so that schools are essential. However, as a parent, you are their number one teacher.

If it is best for your school to be in your home, you do you. And do it with pride. For families that decide it is best that to return to learn in a school building in some capacity (full-time, hybrid, virtual, etc.), stand confident in your choice.

I assure you, either way, our children will learn.

As a teacher, my number one goal is the health and safety of my students.

I know some of my students will learn best off-campus this year so they can better preserve their physical and mental health. That will not stop me from checking in with them. I also know that some of my students need to be on campus this school year as these past 6 months without a safety zone has been detrimental to their well-being. 

Despite pandemics, racial injustices, politics, return to learn plans, or any other craziness that our world wants to throw our way, the core of my classes will not change. My classes will always begin the same regardless of in-person, virtual, or homeschool education.

The beginning of each class will always start with a quick mental assessment of each student on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Has each student been properly fed, hydrated, clothed, and rested? 

I then take a quick scan for changes in body and behavior. Anyone with excessive nail-biting, hair pulling, eye-lash tugging, cutting, bruising, weight gain/loss. Does anyone seem over-medicated/under-medicated, lethargic, or lacking in basic hygiene? 

How is their sense of belonging? I scan for insecurities. Which students are more disconnected, struggling at home, navigating a breakup, changing friend groups, isolating themselves or others? Connections can be very fickle at the high school level.

Then the focus moves to esteem and self-actualization. Who is struggling with self-respect, mental health, peer pressure, or fails to see their individual potential?

This 5-minute scan will never change. It happens while also welcoming students, taking attendance, answering questions, and granting requests. And now it will happen while sanitizing desktops, praising good hygiene practices, and complementing cute masks.

Government mandates come and go. School policies are written and rewritten. Classrooms change. Curriculums update. 

However, our love and protection for those most vulnerable should never change. Kindness and empathy will always be the most important things we can teach our children; and these can be taught in any location, on any budget, with or without a teaching degree.

Cheers to an amazing school year protecting and educating those we love in whatever way they “return to learn”.

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Jaclyn Richmond
Jaclyn is an Iowa native with roots in the Midwest, but a heart full of wanderlust. She loves to run, read and travel. She and her husband, Mark, have 3 daughters (13, 11, and 7) and an incredible baby boy in Heaven. She spends her days split quite evenly between teaching Spanish at Xavier High School and taxiing her girls around CR as they try to find their passions. She’s a firm believer that it’s not joy that makes us grateful, but rather gratitude that makes us joyful.