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Part Two: Do’s and Don’ts of Back-to-School this Fall 2021

Tips and resources to help faculty, teachers, and students prepare for this unusual back-to-school season.

Whether in a private school or the NYC DOE…Students, teachers, and parents are impacted by the first few months of a new academic year. Some are experiencing typical back-to-school nerves versus more anxious concerns related to COVID-19, the Delta variant, vaccinations, and the potential for reinstatement of remote learning. In Part One, I discussed what you CAN, and CANNOT expect this fall.

Now that the school year is underway, let’s turn our attention to supporting our students in a comprehensive way. Each student has a unique combination of learning strengths and needs. It is important to recognize your student’s natural abilities, interests, and inclinations so that you can help them explore new options for recreation and stress reduction.

Our objective as educators is to help students develop a healthy outlook for their life-long educational journey. In part two, learn how you as faculty or teachers can prepare to make sure your students feel supported coming back to in-person learning and how your students can feel more prepared.

Approaches teachers and faculty can take to make sure that their students feel supported in the school environment:

The goal is to create a supportive school culture:

  1. Baseline data: Faculty can begin the year showing that they care about their student’s well being by utilizing a welcome student survey in the first few months. The benefits of this practice are two-fold:

    1. Beginning the school year this way allows you to immediately demonstrate your genuine desire to support them throughout this year. You are appreciating and valuing their unique experiences from the previous school year and over the summer. Not all students are ready to be vulnerable immediately, and they may decide not to share everything with you in this survey, but taking the time to do this exercise is a clear way to demonstrate that you are a caring adult that they can turn to for support.

    2. In this context, baseline data refers to measurements that are collected prior to attempting new approaches, strategies or interventions. Having this type of information can be very helpful when you are trying to determine how a student is doing overtime.

  2. Identify students that need more support: It is important to elevate concerns for students that need additional support. Faculty should not hesitate to reach out to the school psychologist, school counselors, or other related service providers when concerned.

3. Comfort in consistency: Routines can be comforting for many students. This current climate can feel very uncertain and at times, chaotic. There are so many areas of life right now that students do not have any control over and many students find comfort in a consistent structure. Make sure to leave room for flexibility and individualization by establishing opportunities for student autonomy. When possible, enable students to make choices that allow them to engage and partner in their learning experience.

4. Encouragement: Some students have Individualized Education Programs(IEPs) mandating classroom/teaching modifications to improve their education. Frequent “praise and encouragement” is one such tool and costs nothing to implement. Faculty do not need a formalized legal document to utilize this strategy. Now more than ever, students need to feel that they have the potential to succeed and their efforts are worthwhile.

Steps students can take to feel more prepared to tackle this school year:

  1. Yearly Vision Casting: This approach helps us to create lasting changes and improvements. We are able to be more productive, successful, and achieve our goals when we work towards specific targets and objectives. Think about the new school year ahead and use the questions below to help you to identify goals for the 2021-2022 school year.

    1. Reflect on your previous 2-3 school years: What have been your areas of academic strength? What are areas that need improvement?

    2. What clubs, volunteer opportunities, or part-time jobs have you worked? What have you learned about yourself based on these experiences? What extracurriculars would you like to participate in during the upcoming school year? What skills or experiences do you hope to develop by joining these clubs/activities?

    3. What overarching goals do you have for this school year? What do you think would help you to successfully achieve those goals this year?

2. Utilize the SMART Goal setting system

  1. Ask yourself the following questions:

    1. Question 1: What is my main goal?

    2. Question 2: What are the steps in my action plan to help me to accomplish my main goal?

    3. Question 3: What might be some of the potential obstacles that I need to overcome?

3. Planning & Prioritizing: Create the steps needed in order for you to reach goals while also being able to decide which things are most important to focus on to complete the tasks.

  1. Tackle mental stress by creating a To-Do List.

  2. Take 5 minutes each morning to plan out and organize your day.

  3. Prioritize wisely (e.g. due dates, total number of upcoming assignments, level of complexity, and determine the amount of time needed to complete individual small tasks within larger assignments).

  4. Maintain realistic expectations.

4. Stop SHOULDING on yourself!

  1. “Shoulds” are negative self-imposed, value judgments: “What I should feel," “What I should have already accomplished," “The type of person I should be."

  2. The self-talk that originates from the voice inside our head can be pretty mean and critical at times. It can set us up to have negative feelings and views about ourselves.

  3. Acknowledge that things take time to improve and progress.

  4. Focus on self-reflection (objective, based on concrete facts) versus self-judgment (subjective, based on emotional perceptions).ns).


About the Author:

Dr. Noreen Stewart empowers young people to unlock their potential by overcoming their unique challenges. She is the founder and CEO of Stewart Learning Inc., a Senior Psychologist at Bay Ridge Prep in Brooklyn, NY, and an Adjunct Professor in NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development. At BRP Dr. Stewart creates the academic mentoring course curriculum, counsels and teaches students daily with learning and attentional difficulties within a general education school. At NYU, she teaches graduate students earning advanced degrees in counseling. Dr. Stewart provides workshops for mentors, students, educators, and parents. She specializes in equipping learning and support environments (e.g. schools, mentoring programs, professional certification organizations, etc.) with the training needed to prepare students for life during and after high school.


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