Raff’s priority in communicating with students has been to ensure that they felt “safe, heard, loved and understood.” Many of her students who emailed her said they missed school.
“I really didn’t want school to close. I knew that I would miss you too much and I do. I really want to see you again,” wrote one sixth-grader, who included a picture of her dog in her email. Another student talked about watching Frozen II, then shared, “As to how I feel, I feel nervous about this. All I know is I want to get back to school and see you guys (the teachers).”
Howard said that many kids, like adults, find it hard to tolerate the uncertainty about when schools will reopen. In response, she said, teachers should validate the difficulty of the situation and reassure students that they will provide more information as soon as it’s known.
Some of Raff’s students expressed more specific COVID-19 infection anxieties, too. “I’m not worried about me getting it because so far it hasn’t affected younger people as much. But, I am nervous because if I could get it, I could easily spread it to my Grandfather … I would not want him to get sick, because it has really affects older people and many have died from it,” wrote one student.
When a child expresses specific fears, teachers should validate those feelings before trying to problem-solve, Howard said. Having the ear of a trusted adult can be reassuring. For example, the student above also told Raff: “I enjoy getting to write to you about what I’ve been doing and what’s been on my mind. It makes me feel special.”
While Raff has connected with her students via videos and emails, other teachers might choose different modes of communication. According to Howard, a five-minute phone call can provide the kind of emotional support kids need. Howard also noted that it’s important to let a child’s caregiver know when a specific fear is expressed, so those adults can follow up.