NSDWC Convening 2020: Event Recap
Every year, our National School District Wellness Coalition convenes for a few days in October to strategize, brainstorm, and share resources and learnings about policies and programs that improve the mental and physical well-being of students, staff and families. Although this year’s Convening was virtual, participants came away inspired and motivated to bring ideas back to their districts. Here are some of the biggest takeaways based on issues that 2020 brought to the forefront:
The importance of addressing the needs of the whole child with an equity lens:
- Teachers and administrators are moving beyond teaching solely academics in the classroom and are stepping in as mentors, supporters and friends.
- Staff should take a collaborative and holistic approach when trying to gather context around a potential issue with a student – make sure counselors, advisors, school nurses, coaches, and other school staff that may be close with the student are included in conversations and solutions.
- Staff must help unpack the “invisible backpack,” the trauma students carry with them from home and peers, in order to lift up their strengths and gifts.
- In order to develop a healthy rapport, staff should value the individual, celebrate diversity and intersectionality, and focus on students’ long-term success.
How districts are currently addressing equity and reaching hard-to-reach students:
- Creating new roles and departments, such as the Office of Equity, Access and Acceleration
- Hosting anti-racism and implicit bias workshops
- Developing an equity coalition and creating district-level equity policies
- Offering mental health resources to staff
- Providing free wifi hotspots and partnering with companies like Lyft to give free rides to meal pick-up spots
- Teaching Black Lives Matter
- Partnering with a 24-hour help line
- Engaging families through social media, including hosting regular Zoom and Facebook Live check-ins with families
Some of the biggest needs in this area include:
- Professional development on culturally responsive teaching
- More language support for the variety of languages spoken by families across the school communities
- Better ways to identify red flags from a student’s “virtual square” during distance learning
- Providing staff wellness supports to ensure teachers and administrators feel supported and successful in their roles
Workshop recap: “Decolonizing Teaching and Learning”
by Brian Knowles, Manager of African, African American, Latino, Holocaust and Gender Studies at The School District of Palm Beach County
What is the decolonization of education?
To transform education to support the academic, social and emotional needs of students, staff, parents and community stakeholders by reimagining, reforming, and engaging in order to dismantle the status quo established by the dominant group in power. Cultural competency is necessary for everyone, even when school staff is the same race and ethnicity as students. It must occur in every aspect of the institution, from policy to curriculum to professional development to how money is spent.
- Coloniality vs. decoloniality: Prioritizing collectivism and family, native languages, the authentic self, and indigenous approaches to curriculum over individualism, English, code switching, and Eurocentric approaches to curriculum.
- Taking a stand: Recognizing and addressing the trauma faced by marginalized students, not labeling human rights as controversial, and fighting for systemic change.
- Making education more authentic: Make historical narratives more accurate, inclusive, and emancipatory; center indigenous voices and voices of color; and replace pre-packaged curriculum.
- Policy: Allocate funds that support this work, write it into district policy, and commit to hiring and retaining diverse staff.
- Curriculum: Integrate culturally relevant content, review and adopt textbooks that include non-negotiable indicators, offer electives that meet decolonization goals.
- Take ownership of the learning process.
- Challenge the status quo.
- Ask questions and find solutions.
- Encourage a psychological shift.
Why is it necessary?
As the country’s demographics become more balanced but marginalized communities and communities of color still face inequitable education opportunities and poorer health outcomes, we must also shift the systemic balance. Teachers don’t currently reflect the students they serve, making it less likely that Black and Brown students are being taught and mentored by those who validate their experiences. To truly thrive, kids need safe, supportive, and inclusive learning environments.
The importance of student well-being during the COVID-19 pandemic:
- COVID-19 exposed the intensified need to build up students’ feelings of safety and well-being in order for them to be able to learn and thrive. Because of this, districts should focus on meeting these basic human needs in order to address students’ trauma and anxiety.
- Using check-ins to focus on building trusted relationships and help students practice mindfulness and self-care is a necessity.
- Health and well-being must be core components of teaching and curriculum, not just supports, and they must be referenced in all planning meetings.
How districts are currently addressing pandemic-related needs:
- Distributing meals, produce boxes, and supplies (like diapers) regularly
- Giving every student a laptop or comparable device and a hotspot
- Collaborating between teachers in order to share ideas for how to best reach students
- Collaborating between administrators and staff to put kids’ needs first
- Providing mental health check-ins for both students and staff
- Keeping school-based health centers open for access