square bulletSocial Connectedness While Physical Distancing (Especially for Our Schools)

From Mandy Davis, LCSW, PhD, Director, Trauma Informed Oregon

Please see this vlog about the importance of social connectedness and how important it is at this time! This video is 11:42 minutes.

I am asking schools to make ways to stay connected a priority. You can think about practices and policies that promote or hinder this from happening.

Some Thoughts

  • We need systems and unions to complete agreements in this time so staff and families know what to expect and be sure this get communicated.
  • We need to be addressing the acute stress and trauma but also thinking about needs over time and what is needed for re-entry, re-engaging, restoring and healing.
  • We need the work to center equity, diversity, and inclusion as we plan efforts.
  • This is not about academics, my children have a schedule that mimics their school’s day not because I think they will learn science in that hour but because the consistency and schedule for them reduces anxiety and stress.
  • Developmental approach is important. Think about difference for K-5, middle school, high school.
  • Staff wellness is important to me—I am going to speak to the students’ needs here, but you are not forgotten in this and let us know how to support you.

Some Ideas:

  • Be connected. Use whatever you used before COVID19 to communicate with your students and families, preferably on a regular basis. This could be a morning email saying “hi,” maybe offer an activity. But again, it is about knowing you are OK and connecting not about a polished lesson.
  • Offer an activity or a way for students to be in touch with you—in a managed way, e.g., you will receive emails from 10-11 a.m., or on google classroom hangouts for office hours. Or have students send you a picture of their work. NOTICE who is not engaging and reach out.
  • If students do not have computers can you supply them?
  • Using videos are best to build connection in this time. Pictures are also a way to connect.
  • Do schoolwide activities. Some schools are using Facebook, but a call out for an activity that folks then post to works. This connects the larger community versus just the classroom.
  • Help students know how to engage online. Maybe offer activities for virtual playdates or even just questions and conversation starters. Remember this is new for a lot of us.
  • Offer lessons/activities about regulations, for instance, breathing. Maybe a parent/staff can live feed a gathering?
  • REMEMBER all your staff. Students and families are connected to teaching assistants, custodians, front office staff, nutritional services, occupational therapist, physical therapist, behavioral supports—invite them into these social connection activities.
  • Put messages on your school boards outside.
  • How are you helping families where students have IEPs? Is there a place for families to call? Are IEP managers calling and checking in to teach families strategies that work?

There are so many creative ideas out there, I realize these are just a few. What I wanted to share,mostly, is for you to know how important it is to stay connected—to build resilience and reduce the impacts of trauma and toxic stress.

Hello everyone. My name is Mandy Davis and I am the Director of Trauma Informed Oregon housed at Portland State University’s School of Social Work. So first off, you may hear noises of my children in the background. So give me grace in that, because I think we all are going to need to find ways to connect, which is the whole point of taking a moment to make this video or vlog for you is to talk about the importance of social connectiveness while we are physical distancing. And really this is like an ask or even a plea that you make this a priority at this time. We know social connectedness, you know, belonging, attachments are buffering. Meaning that they actually help reduce the impact of both acute and toxic stress. I mean, even when we define toxic stress, we define it as ongoing stress without a buffering relationship. 

We need to think about how this looks across your relationships, your neighbors, your families. But we also need to think about this across systems and services. How is this going to look? Social connectedness across health care, mental health, judicial, for our staff, for the families we serve, for our communities. And I want to today, right now, because it’s on my mind the most, is I want to specifically talk about school communities at the moment. So, we’ve heard a lot about the concerns about closing schools because of the vital services they provide regarding nutrition and meals, healthcare, and safe spaces for so many. This is all true and important. But in addition to those things, they also provide this buffering. And that buffering, which is going to be important to help folks with the impacts of acute and ongoing stress, especially in our student community. I keep wanting to say that over and over again. Right, I want to say that again, that this buffering impact that schools have. So, schools, the routine, the building, but mostly, and again, we know this, but mostly the people, and not just peers to the students, but you, the positive adults actually help buffer students from the impacts of trauma, adversity, and toxic stress. 

You may not even be aware that that’s what’s happening. So, I’m asking schools to make, and school staff and communities and all those related to schools, to make finding ways to stay connected a priority right now. You can think about this through what practices can you do? But also, what policies are going to be needed? Are there current policies that are hindering those practices? Or are there policies that can promote that connectedness? So, I’m going to share some thoughts, kind of welcome to my brain. I’m going to share some thoughts and some few ideas. But this is really more of a kind of a plea to think about this. So, some thoughts. We no doubt need systems and unions and other groups to come together to complete work agreements or letters of agreement so that both staff and families know what to expect and that this information is communicated. So that’s kind of the policy work that needs to happen or the large system work that needs to happen. 

We need to be addressing the acute stress. So, we need practices that are going to be helping right now with how people are feeling and managing this today and next week. But we also need to be thinking about needs over time, right? So, what’s going to be needed in a 

month? What’s going to be needed in two months? And what’s going to be needed for re-entry as students and families and staff and faculty and teachers come back in? So, what’s going to be needed for restoring and for healing? We need to no doubt center all of this work using equity, diversity, and inclusion as a lens that we center this work in, as we plan our efforts. We need to make sure that what we’re doing is developmental, right? So, what do our K through 2s need, in the sense of connection and attachment and belonging? And how might that be different than our third graders, fourth graders, fifth graders, middle schoolers, high schoolers, right? And you are, your schools are the communities that actually know that really well. But most important that I want to say from a trauma informed care perspective, is that what’s most important is that this is not about academics to me. 

So, for instance, my children do have one of those schedules for the day right now that they are doing, and they have some lesson plans. But that’s not because I’m interested in them learning that particular science component right now. But it’s because those schedules that mimic their days in schools actually help them. That consistency and predictability starts to help them reduce the anxiety and stress they are experiencing from being away from that space. So, all of these things, what’s most important is that this connectedness I’m asking people to do is about helping buffer the impacts of this stress and anxiety, that again, all students are feeling at some level. And definitely different people are having different levels of experience. So just kind of remembering the why of that. That this isn’t about a polished lesson plan. This is about simple connection. Also, staff wellness. Absolutely critical, right? So that this work can continue, that we all are having our feels about this. And so, I’m not neglecting that right now. 

Parents also need things, so parents are getting lots of resources given to them right now, or at least these ideas that they’re now responsible for lots of things. And so, I’m interested in, so I’m not ignoring stuff on this, we’ll also be talking about that as well. But these ideas are really geared, that I want to talk about, are geared to how do we connect to our students to help them have the buffering needs they have? Alright, so here are just some kind of basic things to start thinking about. Because when we’re all in these states it’s hard to kind of sometimes put all this together. And so, we’re going to need to be sometimes the frontal lobe for each other, right? So, number one, just be connected. If you do nothing else, connect to your students. Use whatever you used before COVID- 19 to communicate with your students and families. If you’d use Google Classroom or an email list or whatever you had available to you, just keep using that. And again, maybe there are policies and restrictions in the way of this, then we need to address those. But preferably make this contact on a regular basis. This could be as simple as a morning email that says hello. Especially for our younger students. They need to know that their teachers and their teacher’s assistants and that the staff are okay, and that they’re well, and that they’re there. 

You might offer an activity for people to do in that e-mail. But again, the activity is not about you’re needing to have a lesson plan that achieves a particular academic outcome or metric. But it’s about the students knowing you’re there. So, I just don’t want you to underestimate how important that is. Again, you could offer an activity or way for students to be in touch with 

you. And it’s really more about how can students be in touch with you? And I mean it in a manageable way. Don’t hand out your cell phone number. But you might offer that, you know, people take a picture of their work and email it back to you. Or if you have Google Classroom or other technology in a way for them to respond. And the reason this is important to me is that I want you to start to notice who’s not responding, because those may be the students and families, or most likely the students and families we want to do some outreach to. Or your area, your district, your school wants to speak to. 

So, if you, if you’re engaging with your students and yet you notice from your roster two or three students aren’t engaging, that’s something to pay attention to. If students don’t have computers, let’s find a way. Can you access computers for them, right? Especially in this time. Using videos is better if you have the option. And again, it may be out of the comfort zone of many of us. I’m asking for grace from you as I’m making this video because it will not be perfect. But videos definitely are a better way to connect with our students. And if you can’t do that, then also think about pictures, right? So not just words, and especially for our younger grades. And in these times, you know, sending a picture of you or what you’re doing. And so, think about pictures, think about videos, do school-wide activities. Some schools are using their Facebook group to put out like a school-wide, everyone go do this particular art project with nature outside, take a picture, give it back. 

So that develops larger community versus just the classroom. So just another outlet you might be able to use. Help, you know, you could think about helping students even figure out how to engage online. I don’t know about you, but also everything’s online. It’s like how do you, how do you start a meeting, right? What are some questions you might ask? Students may be even more comfortable with a screen than some of us, but knowing how to say like, how are you feeling? Again, offering maybe some questions they can ask each other because this is a new way for them to be interacting all the time. Offer lessons and activities about regulation. And what I mean by that is about your emotional and physical regulation. That’s going to be really important as we are in this space. Maybe there’s a parent or a staff member who has skills and gifts around meditation and breathing and regulation type of activities and could host a live feed gathering or post a little video. Doesn’t have to be live. You can make a video of yourself doing a breathing activity. And I think look out for your own districts and areas who’ve got information about that. Remember, remember all of your staff. 

So again, I know there may be some restrictions on this, and you’ve got to do what you can do. But remember all your staff. Students and families are connected to teachers, but to teaching assistants, to the custodians, to the front office staff, to the nutritional staff, to their occupational therapists, their physical therapists, their behavioral health specialists, the counselors, librarians, there are lots of folks and you’ll know, you know those connections, right? Just invite them into these social connection activities because they may not have all of the infrastructure that maybe teachers have had to communicate with families in classrooms. So, think about that also. Put messages on your boards outside your schools, right, that lets students know you’re thinking of them or whatever that is, to just kind of keep those connections happening and those attachments happening. 

Also, we need to be thinking about how we’re helping families who have students with IEPs, individualized education plans, right? Is there a place they can call if they need help? Are we reaching out? Are the IEP case managers, if that’s alright, we’re calling and checking in on those families and letting those families know this is what we do, this is what we’ve been working on with your child, this is the language we use, this is how things happened during the day. So that those families can feel supported but also can carry forth those strategies. If you are an administrator and there are kind of ways in which your school handles behavior information. Provide that information, those words, if you use the Zones of Regulation, to kind of help parents right now, kind of bridge that school to home. 

There’s so many creative ideas out there. I know that many of you are doing them and a lot of us are getting them on different places. And I’m less interested in like, what you do and most interested that it happened, and that whatever we can do to help support that, we definitely want to do that. Because I actually know and believe that that connection that we need to maintain those buffering connections that you have developed, and the work that you do in whatever role you have in the school or community with the students and the families around. So, thank you so much. And again, we’re all in this and we all have our feels about this, but I hope, I hope that we will find those ways to connect to our students and families in the simplest form, because it really is simply about saying, I’m here, I’m okay, and this is what’s happening right now or not or how are you doing? So, stay connected. Do get in touch with us if there’s any support we can do for that. Thank you.