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Resilience Goes Virtual

Support Teams Continue Focus on Student Wellness During Distance Learning

By Shannon T. Zarb | Back to Table of Contents

 


When school leaders announced their decision to transition to distance learning, most families were focused on the academic aspects of the change. For faculty and staff, however, shepherding students through the shift meant ensuring not just their continued progress in coursework but also their social and emotional wellness during a time of stress and uncertainty.

Working with school leadership and classroom teachers, Ravenscroft’s clinical services and academic skills teams put in place practices and protocols to make sure Ravens got the same care and attention they would during a regular semester on campus. Here are some highlights of the work they did to make remote learning healthy and productive for “every Raven, every day.”
 

“We needed to be flexible”

While a great deal of planning went into getting teachers and students ready to do their work at home, the day-to-day structure continued to evolve. Teachers initially followed the traditional daily schedule, but as it became clear the statewide stay-at-home order would be extended, administrators took to heart feedback from teachers, parents and students that the daily routine was too intense. Particularly for Lower School students, who relied on their parents’ assistance, minimizing screen time and providing flexibility was critical. 
 
“One of our first adjustments was creating a new schedule that didn’t have kids online all day, every day,”  Colleen Ramsden, Associate Head of School for Academics and Student Life, said. “There was already a lot of stress on families. We needed to be flexible and have some grace.”
 
Using insights from a teacher survey, Ramsden implemented a new schedule that provided shorter blocks for instruction and feedback as well as small-group and independent work. In addition, Spring Break vacation was reallocated to create four-day weeks and allow more downtime.
 

“Having Spring Break Fridays gave teachers an extra day to reassess, plan, record and post the lessons,” Kindergarten teacher Meg Ellis noted. “The break from the Monday-Thursday routine of assessing and responding to student work freed our minds to think creatively and produce more meaningful learning experiences.”

The shift was a hit with families as well. Upper School parent Kimberly Myers said the changes made a difference for her daughter, Katherine Heidal ’22: “The revised schedule reduced her stress, which was greatly appreciated!”

 

The counseling team used their new Instagram account to share information, resources and words of encouragement with families and students.

 

“Validating ‘this is hard’”

Another concern was how students would experience the loss of social interaction. For the clinical services team, comprising the three division counselors and the staff of Jones Health Center, an early priority was preparing teachers for just how difficult this change would be.

“It was important for us to name and validate for the students that this is hard,” Kendra Varnell, Upper School counselor and Co-Director of Clinical Services, said.

The message was clear: maintain as much normalcy as possible. Teachers used the Google Meet video-conferencing platform to interact with classes in real time, facilitating discussions that not only recreated classroom norms but connected students socially. Club, advisory group and division-wide meetings were also held online.

In addition, Varnell said, these touch points allowed teachers to identify students who were struggling or in need of extra support. A new Instagram account provided another medium for the clinical services team to acknowledge and address these new challenges.

“Our family is, now more than ever, thankful we are a part of this community,” Angie Crookenden, parent to Hadley ’21, shared with Ramsden. “Even the social media coming from the school was supportive, entertaining and uplifting.”

 

Morning Meetings, a staple of the Upper School used for sharing information and building community, transitioned to a video format, allowing division leadership, teachers and students to stay connected.

 

“Our students have done a remarkable job”

For the 100 Ravens in first through 12th grade with learning differences, navigating the change in instructional delivery and the increased demands on organizational and time-management skills was especially important. Teachers in the school’s Academic Skills Program remained dedicated to providing students with the tools and support they needed. 

Department chair Suzanne Carothers said she and her colleagues partnered with students, classroom teachers and parents to “provide much-needed continuity with existing individual learning plans while targeting executive function skills, study and organizational skills, and specific learning strategies.”

Upper School Academic Skills instructor Casandra Seed noted that her students “were resilient and extremely flexible with their thinking. Some students adapted easily to the change, as it provided an opportunity to be more independent or because they were more comfortable in the digital environment. Others really needed the structure and support we provided.”

In closing out the year, the department asked students what activities and supports they found most helpful. Their responses included:

  • “Support and checking in a lot. Also the Brain Warm-Ups you do.”

  • “I loved the weekly plan no matter whether at school or home.”

  • “Breathing exercises for calming/stress.”

  • “Memory practices: brain dumps where you would ask us everything we learned that day, using mnemonics for studying and visualizations for presentations.”

  • Self-evaluations for reflection and staying on course during virtual learning.”

“Students and teachers gracefully adapted to the new demands of virtual learning, allowing for effective and uninterrupted collaboration and learning to take place,” Carothers concluded.

In preparing for the new school year, the school planned for summer professional development, curriculum updates and technology enhancements to ensure all Ravens will be able to continue to learn and thrive — academically, socially and emotionally.

Below are some of the core strategies Academic Skills teachers use with their students that are particularly valuable during distance learning. 

  • Practice self-advocacy and communicate when and if you need help.

  • Recognize the importance of time-management skills using strategic, weekly study guides.

  • Plan for both long-term and short-term projects and tests.

  • Reflect on teacher feedback and on your own challenges as a student.

  • Practice self-awareness, resiliency, accountability and ownership of daily tasks and assignments.

  • Find ways to stay positive and motivated!