However, the fallout from being isolated at home for so many months was soon apparent. Many students were withdrawn, their eyes glazed over; emotional breakdowns would occur with a frequency unknown before, accompanied by gut-wrenching cries, retreats under tables, attempts to run out of classrooms, and major challenges with self-regulation. Some would seem listless while others were affected by separation anxiety from parents or family members. While much of what we were observing was new to us, the phenomenon was nationwide: it represented the residual emotional impacts on children of spending an endless, anxiety-filled shutdown with very limited contact with peers, daily structure, or predictability of routines. The notion of teaching as we knew it began to shift yet again, as many students were in no way prepared socially, emotionally, or even academically, to pick up where we left off pre-pandemic.
Nonetheless, what we would do next had already been anticipated by my district. During the pandemic, my district had put into place a full guidance document, patterned on Ohio’s K-12 social and emotional learning standards, which centered on climate, culture, and positive behavior skills. The document included supplemental book lists and learning activities, which assisted students in learning self-regulation, resolution of conflict, communication skills, and increased empathy and flexibility. In essence, these mini-lessons were teaching the skills of being together again, with every classroom focusing on one skill each week. Students viewed short video clips, and teachers would facilitate discussions based on skill-themed-related scenarios. While reading stories, we would pause to discuss the words and thoughts of various characters. Students were encouraged to share how they would handle the situation that the storybook character was experiencing.