This is all during a time when students are being expected to step up their efforts to mitigate the pandemic's effect on academics — it’s no wonder many are feeling overwhelmed.
At Stella Elementary Charter Academy in Los Angeles, a strong emphasis on relationship-building and social and emotional development are at the core of Founding Principal Anoli Muñoz’s day-to-day approach.
Muñoz set out from day one to foster strong relationships by having her team hold listening conferences during the first week of school where all families were invited to sit down and voice their priorities to teachers and instructional aides.
During a time when a great degree of uncertainty still remains regarding what’s best for their children, these listening conferences gave parents the opportunity to feel heard on important matters such as health and safety, social and emotional well-being and instructional growth.
With parents’ concerns in mind, Muñoz then launched a multi-faceted approach for promoting social and emotional development for students and teachers. Key points include:
Incorporating students' social and emotional needs into her school’s professional development plan
Making self-directed work time available so teachers have the option to leave the school building immediately after dismissal if no meetings are scheduled
Checking in with all 30 staff members personally on a regular basis to address health and well-being
When teachers are healthy, rested and have time to plan, they can give their students more support. These actions help ensure a strong foundation is in place for meeting the individual needs of the entire school community — even while stress remains high.
Around the country, as students return from pandemic remote learning, students have increasingly been experiencing mental health and behavioral issues. Like elsewhere, there have been incidents of minor classroom disruptions and even escalated physical behavior from students at Stella Elementary Charter Academy.
But with their strong foundation in place, Muñoz and her team have mitigated such occurrences through behavior support and safety plans, counseling lessons and advisory meetings.
It’s been a long journey over the past 20 months, and despite the latest delta-driven COVID surge, there is reason to feel hopeful about the future. For now, though, the key is to continue being the best educators we can be for our students on a day-to-day basis.
By fostering strong relationships and prioritizing mental health and well-being, we can continue moving forward together in the 2021-2022 school year.
Dr. Catherine Burns is chief academic officer of
Accelerate Institute, a Chicago-based nonprofit organization working to close the achievement gap for America’s underserved students.