Two Major Contributors to Mental Health Needs are Isolation and Stress. This Pandemic is Fraught With Both.

By Morgan Beidleman

Morgan Beidleman
Co-Founder of REACH Learning Services

As educators, we have some of the greatest opportunities for contact with children outside of their family unit. It is imperative that all educators are provided with enough training to know what to do when or if a situation arises. Here are three ways that schools and districts can be strategic in their support of the mental health needs during this time of online schooling.

#1 Do what you can to get ahead of mental health needs. 

Prepare all educators with ideas to build and sustain connections with children in this new learning platform. Beef up your tier one social-emotional learning. I recommend making it part of a daily check-in with students.  Relatedly, because children and families are likely feeling isolated, it is important to look for any opportunity to connect with a student. A virtual or telephone connection is possible, but forces us all to think differently about how we connect. For example, the other day I met with a student over a web-based platform. We were talking about her pets. I showed her my dog, but before I did so, I admitted that I had unfolded towels on my couch. Because my dog was sleeping on the pile, I had the opportunity to choose authenticity. I took the moment to show my imperfection. The student was shocked and laughed. The sentiment being: you have laundry on your couch too? Little moments like these provide a rare opportunity for connection that we don’t often get in a traditional school. I encourage educators to consider age-appropriate authenticity as they build connections with students in this new learning environment. 

 #2 Put a protocol in place to support intensive mental health needs that arise and train all teachers accordingly. 

A likely scenario is that a student says something that indicates potential harm to themselves or others, or that they disclose something happening in the home when working with their teacher. All teachers must know how to respond if and when this situation occurs. Please make sure to confer with district leaders and follow the process they have outlined. If needing to determine a process, one suggested response could be to…

  • Keep the child on the line and talking. 
  • If there is a concern of imminent harm, call 911. 
  • Text a mental health provider or providers associated with your school and ask for support. 
  • Conference the mental health provider into the line or add them to the virtual space to conduct a risk assessment.
  • Once the risk assessment has been completed, follow up with the appropriate safety measures. 

#3 Plan for ways to support teachers who may be experiencing vicarious trauma. 

Teachers are often natural caregivers and problem solvers. Being on the front lines of the difficulties that their students and families may be facing will be challenging and may lead to vicarious trauma. Vicarious trauma is indirect trauma that can occur when exposed to difficult images/stories second-hand.  Stressors could also exacerbate their own mental health needs during these unprecedented times. If possible, I would highly suggest forming vicarious trauma groups or workshops within your schools/networks to hold space for educators during this time. 

In addition to the above three recommendations, I’ve included five resources below that may be helpful to support connection and mental health during these times.  Addressing these needs in a proactive way will help ensure your students’ and staff’s mental health needs are better met and set them up to more successfully navigate online learning.

  1. Ideas for Building Connection: This resource is family focused, but could be adapted for schools or shared with parents. If shared with parents, consider giving a menu of options each week instead of the whole list to reduce overwhelm. 
  2. This video by Jeffco educator Stacey Wells highlights some tools that can support building routine and connection for students. Here is her resource playlist
  3. REACH Learning Services – Top Tips for Virtual Engagement
  4. The CASEL Foundation has an excellent COVID-19 resource page focused on social-emotional learning. 
  5. This resource may be helpful to mental health providers for following up and designing supports when a need is identified.

Morgan Beidleman, M.Ed., M.A. is the Co-Founder of REACH Learning Services and has been consulting with the Collaborative for the last year to bring her expertise in Multi-Tiered Systems of Supports in the areas of Social Emotional Health and Trauma to Colorado schools through professional development and consulting.  Go to the Reach Learning Services website to learn more.

FREE SPED & MH WEBINARS

Some of you may be thinking that you don’t know where to start, well we are here to help!

Starting this week we will be holding free webinars to both shed light on the updated messages from the US Dept of Education and also provide guidance on how to provide high quality online services.  Please register for these today to save your place:

Newly Added! Developing a Universal Approach to Mental Health on Online Platforms Wednesday, 4/1/20 02:00-03:00 PM MDT

Supporting the mental health of all students is critical during these unprecedented times.  Join this webinar with Morgan Beidleman, a Collaborative consultant, to discuss mental health support from a tiered perspective to help all students manage as best they can. It provides a 4-step process that can be used to design supports for tier two and tier three needs.  Register Here

Newly Added! Instructional Approaches that Support Executive Functioning – building awareness of student needs and developing skills Wednesday, 4/8/2020 02:00-03:00 MDT

An area of concern is helping students figure out how to organize their time and work.  In most traditional schools, this has always been done for students. Join Morgan Beidleman for an hour webinar focused on how to help students access, organize, and complete work in a virtual environment. We will also discuss ways to reinforce and engage students in alternative ways. Register Here

SUPPORT & COLLABORATIVE PLANNING OPPORTUNITIES

Please do not hesitate to reach out if you need a thought partner! We will also be hosting opportunities to receive support and to collaborate with other special educators and related service providers weekly. Please register for those today to save your place:

Special Education Teacher Support Group Weekly on Mondays 1:00-2:00 PM MDT (Starts 3/23) – Register Here

Collaborative Planning for Online Services: Moderate to Severe Autism Disabilities Weekly on Tuesdays 3:30-4:30 PM MDT (Starts 3/31) – Register Here

Collaborative Planning for Online Services: Mental Health Providers Weekly on Tuesdays (starting 3/31) 2:00-3:00 PM MDT (Starts 3/31) – Register Here

Collaborative Planning for Online Services: Severe Behavioral & MH Needs Weekly on Wednesdays 3:30-4:30 PM MDT (Starts 4/1) – Register Here

Collaborative Planning for Online Services: Moderate to Severe Cognitive Disabilities Weekly on Thursdays 3:30-4:30 PM MDT (Starts 4/2) – Register Here 

Newly Added Collaborative Planning for Online Related Services: Speech Providers  Weekly on Thursdays 2:00-3:00 PM MDT (starting 4/2) – Register Here

Collaborative Planning for Online Services: Leading Schools Through COVID-19 Every other week on Mondays 3:30-4:30 PM MDT (Starts 4/6) – Register Here

Links to Resources:

Links to Recent Webinars

(3/25/20) Collaborative for Exceptional Education & CDE: Special Education and COVID-19: What This Means For Colorado Educators

(3/27/20) Utilizing Online Platforms for Providing Special Education Support & Services 1.0: Introduction to Zoom for Online Services

 (3/27/20) CEC/CASE webinar #3

Links to recent state guidance:

Links to recent national & federal guidance:

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