We believe; We learn; We provide

Virtual Teachers’ Lounge Summary

School Year of 2020-2021 Spring Term and School Year of 2021-2022 Fall Term

 

Prepared by: Ed K Wang, Karen Gross, Sakina McGruder and Pat Neal

 

We believe:

The work of teachers has always been challenging, even before the Pandemic.  With the Pandemic, racial and ethnic tensions, not always civil discourse regarding mask and vaccine mandates, economic uncertainty and inflation, we share a deep concern about the wellness of all of our teachers and our students during this unprecedented convergence of momentous events.

Trauma and repeated distress have truncated our connections to each other, educators and students alike, and all of our mental health has been affected.  The absence of opportunities for teachers to engage with each other — even for a short time period each day — has had a profound negative impact on teachers’ ability to process their daily encounters with students and sometimes their parents; it has disabled opportunities to share frustration, receive peer support; whether schools have been remote or in person, it has become more difficult emotionally and psychologically to unwind after the official school day ends.

It is for these reasons that we created the  Virtual Teachers’ Lounge (VTL), which has run online for two sessions in 2021.  VTL is a place where teachers can engage with each other, sharing and listening and, yes, venting. To that end, we share here our lessons learned and our next steps forward as the need to assist our teachers continues, despite the waning of Covid and the elimination of certain mask mandates.

 

The first bi-weekly Virtual Teachers’ Lounge (VTL)

School Year of 2020-2021 Spring Term, March to April 2021

We learned:

  • The Covid-19 health response resulted in an unprecedented shift in educational learning models.

 

  • Temporary school closures and re-openings (including hybrid approaches) required extra instructional preparation time and different forms of student engagement.
  • Student disengagement with online learning was a pressing issue for many (not all) students.
  • Fear of COVID spread and health safety at school and at home made for an ongoing sense of uncertainty and a lack of safety.
  • More engagement with students and parents was needed to support all students, including most particularly those with learning differences.
  • Zoom fatigue was experienced by many educators and students alike.
  • Classroom management, even for experienced educators, became a challenge.
  • During turmoil, teachers demonstrated strengths, resilience and innovations although many experienced fatigue, exhaustion, frustration, anxiety and stress.
  • The role educational institutions can play. In addition being places for learning substantive content, schools provide and fulfil many students emotional and social needs including participation with peers, obtaining needed food, engaging in play and experiencing structure, rules and adult role modeling.

 

VTL provided:

 

  • A needed safe, private, non-judgmental environment hat allowed the sharing by teachers of frustrating of encounters in school, whether with students, parents or administrators.
  • The re-establishment of much-needed peer support.
  • The sharing of collective experience in education, problem-solving strategies, information and resources.
  • Tools to enable teachers to navigate the unusual circumstances they were encountering.
  • Respect for the role of educators in a time of crisis.

 

The second bi-weekly Virtual Teachers’ Lounge (VTL)

School Year of 2021-2022 Fall Term, September to December 2021

 

We learned:

 

  • Many students returned in person and the spread of the Delta and Omicron variants was not under control.
  • Schools were trying to adjust and survive a myriad of issues in the beginning of the school year, including in-person safety protocols and classroom management issues exacerbated by the absence of in-person learning.
  • There is already a profound impact on some student’s academic, social, and emotional experiences as they returned to school in person, something manifested in many instances in classroom behavior, attention span and incidents of fighting and dysregulation.
  • For students, school including relational adjustment are crucial to adapt and survive in education at a time of uncertainty.
  • With the Pandemic progressing for more than 18 months, personal feelings of fear, frustration, sadness, disgust, loss, disorientation, distrust, and not being in control have grown.
  • On the other hand, there are acts of kindness from students and teachers, all of which need to be reinforced and acknowledged.

 

VTL provided:

 

  • The continuation of non-judgmental environment, peer support, sharing of strategies as in the previous VTL.
  • Social Emotional Learning (SEL) as a critical tool to re-engage and support students and teachers.
  • Individualized mental wellness strategies for teachers.
  • A weekly deep dive call-in on personal challenges that teachers encountered.
  • An openness to the difficulty confronting educators and a respect for their ongoing efforts.

 

Examples of responses from VTL’s participants from both sessions:

 

“It was a comfort to connect with other teachers and realize that “it’s not just me” and “It’s not just my district/state”. The support felt immediate.”

 

“I enjoyed spending time with other teachers from different places and coming together to discuss our struggles and hopefully being able to provide some resources to bring back to our schools. “