Sometimes to move ahead you must look back.
The global COVID-19 pandemic created a crisis in education and thrust educators and students into a period of unprecedented change and uncertainty. Educators were tasked with shifting remote and in-person learning requirements, while also prioritizing issues of safety, equity, and wellbeing. At a time when successful school leadership was more critical than ever, there were “no precedents, no ring-binders, no blueprints to help school leaders” (Harris & Jones, 2020, p. 246). The demands and consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic have taken a very significant professional and personal toll on education leaders. In our study, The Future of Schooling in the COVID-19 Era, the responses and reflections of education leaders in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) identified impacts on school leaders’ professional roles and identities, and highlighted changing school leadership practices and values. We discuss these below.
Challenging school leaders’ professional roles and identities
School leaders’ roles changed during the pandemic. The importance of fulfilling public health mandates for the health and safety of students and staff placed considerable new demands on school leaders. As an elementary vice-principal commented:
“Most of what we’ve done and most of our attention is sucked up with making sure we know the protocols and the rules and checking this and that. It’s like running a public health unit.”
The priority focus on public health and safety shifted the role of school leaders, resulting in concerns regarding their ability to focus on leading school improvement and supporting teaching, learning, and equity:
“So basically, all of these layers have added to the complexity of our job. It’s actually taken away from the time that as school leaders we have to support staff and students with those school improvement plans, and board priorities that we want to do.” —Secondary school principal
The challenges of sustaining school improvement had a significant impact on education leaders’ professional roles. The priority focus on ensuring student and staff safety also came with a heavy responsibility for education leaders’ professional lives:
“[Parents] needed to know that they could trust us as much as possible to keep their kids safe. And it really got down to the point where I felt like those parents… especially this [past] fall without the vaccine, that they expect me to keep their kid alive. And so that’s a really, really heavy piece to walk around with all the time, but that’s what we’ve been focusing on with the parents.” —Elementary school vice-principal
“Every night she goes to sleep and she just prays that nobody dies either from illness from COVID, or from illnesses related to stress. We are all living in fear and we feel deeply responsible for the people in our care, whether staff or students.” —System leader
Unfortunately, the school leaders that we spoke with felt largely unsupported and undervalued. This affected their sense of competence, confidence, and professional identity:
“I feel kind of like an old piece of bologna. So, like, we’re just sandwiched between everybody above us sending policies and do this and make sure this happens and don’t miss this and a giant email… so many emails.… And then the other piece of the bread is, like, the staff and the students and the families, right… and we are just in the middle sort of feeling like we’re floundering, but doing a really great job. But you don’t feel that way.” —Elementary school vice-principal
Highly experienced educators were faced with unfamiliar emergency situations requiring urgent and ongoing attention. These shifts in professional roles and identities were challenging:
“We’re used to feeling competent… So we take people who have been in this profession for a while, and who think they have some things figured out, and know some things about students, and are used to feeling competent in that role, and we’ve up-ended that for them. So it’s no wonder that that’s how… we’re feeling. Because on good days, I like to think that I’m feeling fairly competent in what I’m doing, and it’s not there.” —Elementary school principal
There were also negative consequences for education leaders’ wellbeing, which was being impacted by increasing work intensification and unsustainable workload. A system leader explained:
“I can’t remember the last time I haven’t worked through an entire weekend. I work 16 hours a day. I don’t know that my principals work less than that. They often call me at 7:00, 8:00, 9:00 at night. The downloading of public health processes on principals to track who’s here, who’s not here, who’s vaccinated, who’s not vaccinated.…”
These findings are consistent with other research identifying the pressure of navigating through the pandemic for school leaders in Canada (People for Education, 2021; Osmond-Johnson & Fuhrmann, 2022), and internationally (Jopling & Harness, 2022).
Changing leadership practices and values
To respond to this time of crisis, educational leaders had to adapt their leadership practices to be more responsive, creative, and flexible:
“That was definitely a part of the strategy for last year; just being very flexible about expectations, very flexible about ways of reaching out.” —Elementary school vice-principal
Rather than instructional leadership, much of the work of school leaders shifted to practical support for the operational management of schools and staff:
“… I can’t get to school improvement as much as I’d like to. My building relationships with students and staff has been impeded because we are managing a facility and trying to keep students safe.” —Secondary school vice-principal
Modes and frequency of communications needed to be adapted and professional collaboration became more important (Thornton, 2021). As an elementary school vice-principal described:
“Just being transparent as much as possible about what we did know because we were all trying to figure it out and we were all trying to learn what was going on. So, just for staff to see us as part of that change, that we didn’t know all the answers, and so I think that, you know, it showed our own humanity and empathy throughout the process.”
Leadership values came to the fore. People needed to be supported with compassion and care through a sense of shared humanity, togetherness, and collaboration. These values informed not only leadership practices, but also leaders’ vision for what matters most in education:
“It was more of a mindset. And I think that worked, which was just being very open and being very compassionate to the challenges that everybody was facing… and being available, on whatever level you could be available, whether it was delivering things or tech solving or, you know, just listening.” —Elementary school vice-principal
Therefore, school leaders’ values became especially important and their leadership practices needed to change to respond flexibly and appropriately to the changing pandemic context.
Arising from our study of education leaders during the pandemic, we offer the following recommendations:
Within a school, the work of school leaders and teachers is crucial for students’ learning and student outcomes. We must demand that this new chapter in education takes into consideration the voices and lessons learned from its leaders to prioritize what is essential for supporting students’ learning, equity, and wellbeing.
First published in Education Canada, September 2022
Armstrong, P., Rayner, S. M., & Ainscow, M. (2021). Bridging the digital divide: Greater Manchester schools creating pathways to success. In On Digital Inequalities: Analysis and ideas on addressing digital inequalities (pp. 37–41). University of Manchester. https://policyatmanchester.shorthandstories.com/on-digital-inequalities
Campbell, C., Arain, A., & Ceau, M. (2022). Secondary school teachers’ experience of implementing hybrid learning and quadmester schedules in Peel, Ontario. University of Toronto. www.oise.utoronto.ca/preview/lhae/UserFiles/File/Peel_Teachers_Experiences_of_Hybrid_and_Quadmesters_May_2022_Campbell_Arain_Ceau_Final_for_Publication.pdf
Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CTF/FCE). (2022). But at what cost? Teacher mental health during the pandemic: Pandemic research report. https://acrobat.adobe.com/link/track?uri=urn:aaid:scds:US:1cc80bf3-6c8e-4060-81e4-7493f178d1af
Ehren, M. C. M., Madrid, R., Romiti, S. et al. (2021). Teaching in the COVID-19 era: Understanding the opportunities and barriers for teacher agency. Perspectives in Education, 39(1), 61–76. doi.org/10.18820/2519593X/pie.v39.i1.5
Harris, A., & Jones, M. (2020). COVID-19 school leadership in disruptive times. School Leadership and Management, 40(4), 243–247. doi.org/10.1080/13632434.2020.1811479
Jopling, M., & Harness, O. (2022). Embracing vulnerability: How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected the pressures school leaders in Northern England face and how they deal with them? Journal of Educational Administration and History, 54(1), 69–84. doi.org/10.1080/00220620.2021.1997945
Osmond-Johnson, P. & Fuhrmann, L. (2022). Calm during crisis: Leading Saskatchewan schools through COVID-19. Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation. https://www.stf.sk.ca/sites/default/files/stf-001139a_20220412_ec_web.pdf
People for Education. (2022). “A perfect storm of stress” Ontario’s publicly funded schools in year two of the COVID-19 pandemic. https://peopleforeducation.ca/wp-content/uploads/2022/05/People-for-Education_A-Perfect-Storm-of-Stress_May-2022.pdf
Thornton, K. (2021). Learning through COVID-19: New Zealand secondary principals describe their reality. Educational Management Administration & Leadership, 49(3), 393–409. doi.org/10.1177/1741143220985110
During the pandemic, school closures affected almost all the children on planet Earth, with billions more parents, educators, and school staff impacted as well.
In Canada, schools were closed for between eight weeks (in Québec) and 26 weeks (in Ontario) from March 2020 to June 2021. Many schools closed again in January 2022 because of the Omicron variant. By now, we know the drill. When schools close, classes move online: teachers use a combination of synchronous and asynchronous instruction and activities to help students learn, and parents of younger children pick up their unofficial teachers’ assistant roles.
Schools are where children and youth play, build relationships, create, develop their sense of selves, and need to be active. They are also, fundamentally, a place where students gain academic skills. Those skills include literacy and numeracy, which are the two most often measured. They also include developing scientific foundations, and learning about history, geography, and citizenship. Students’ learning and academic progress is a key determinant of health, income, happiness, and civic participation across the lifetime. Unaddressed gaps in these outcomes are very likely to contribute to the continuation, or deepening, of long-term social inequalities.
The overwhelming weight of international evidence1 suggests that, on average, students made less academic progress during pandemic-related closures than they would have in normal years (e.g. Hammarstein et al., 2021). Research shows that relative to previous years, there were greater gaps for younger children and in math achievement as opposed to English/language arts. Many studies looked at issues of equity. Where data is disaggregated, there have been consistent findings that such groups as low-income students, Black and Latinx students, students with special education needs, and English-language learners have fallen disproportionately far behind (see Gallagher-Mackay, Srivastava, et. al, 2021). Those same groups have also been disproportionately affected by the hardships of the pandemic – a higher burden of illness, household stressors such as unemployment, less access to technology, and so forth.
More recent large-scale studies with data from spring 2021 – 15 months into the pandemic – have showed that students who experienced more time in remote learning did, on average, worse during the pandemic than those who had more time learning in person (Halloran et al., 2021). Further, students who gained ground with a return to in-person learning lost it again during subsequent closures – even with significant support from synchronous learning (Renaissance/Educational Policy Institute, 2021).
In Canada, most large-scale assessments – which might allow us to benchmark progress using comparable data – were suspended from 2020 to 2021. One of the few investigations using standardized measures was led by University of Alberta’s George Georgiou, who compared the reading scores of elementary students captured in an annual September assessment. He found that younger students demonstrated greater learning loss than older students, and those in Grades 1–3 who were already struggling before lockdowns were up to six months behind where they should have been by September 2020.
Though there have been investments in safety measures, Canadian commitments to educational recovery have been far lower than other countries (see Gallagher-Mackay et al., 2021). For example, the federal government in the United States has committed $25 billion (of a total $124 billion for K–12) to education recovery, alongside investments by individual states, which have constitutional responsibility for education.
Where there has been large-scale recovery funding there has also been a profusion of programming, research, and active experimentation into effective ways of helping students catch up. The resources available through Brown University’s Annenberg Institute (https://annenberg.brown.edu/recovery), for example, provide terrific roadmaps to best practices for learning acceleration and to address key challenges faced by educators and school systems. There are a number of specific approaches worth highlighting.
Small group tutoring (one tutor with up to five students) is a complement to – not a replacement for – the more complex work of a classroom teacher. Our recent evidence review (Gallagher-Mackay, Mundy, et al., 2021; see also Nickow et al. 2020) highlights evidence that “high dosage tutoring” – at least three times a week – is one of the most effective educational interventions, especially when it is closely linked to in-school curriculum. For example, in rigorous studies, full-time college graduates in a national service program were able to gain two and a half years of learning in math over the course of one year. School-based tutoring has been a key plank of recovery efforts in the U.K., U.S., and Australia.
There is promising evidence that high-quality voluntary summer programs of at least five weeks duration – programs that include both academic instruction and enrichment activities to promote attendance and pleasure in learning – can boost achievement for participating students (McCombs et al., 2019). Small groups (fewer than 15 students) and specialized supports for students with special education or English language learning needs led to more powerful impacts. This research was conducted on in-person summer schools, and many students – including those with the greatest needs – may not choose to participate.
Large-scale data from France showed a surprising outcome: most of the learning losses found in Grade 1, 2, and 6 tests from 2020 were regained by September 2021. Moreover, achievement gaps based on socio-economic status (SES) initially widened, but by September 2021, the gaps had narrowed (Rosenwald, 2021). One factor that may have played a role in the French case is class size: in 2017, a new policy halved class sizes for Grade 1 and 2 classes in priority (low-SES) areas across the country. During the 2020/2021 school year all priority-area Grade 1 and 2 classrooms served a maximum of 12 (rather than 24) students (OECD, 2020). It is possible that the smaller class sizes in targeted regions across the country helped swiftly mitigate learning losses among particularly vulnerable groups.
Wraparound services to reconnect families and community
COVID-19 has fractured or further damaged relationships between schools, family and community. Safety measures have kept families out of schools, while underscoring the need for broader social supports beyond what schools are set up to provide: from settlement services to social work, mental health supports or opportunities for recreation. Unfortunately, current staffing doesn’t make room to build these enriching connections. There is a long history of research on community schools (see Maier et al., 2017). Canadian research shows that even a 0.5-time position dedicated to strengthening community can be transformative – providing a great return on investment in terms of bringing resources into the school (Lamarre et al., 2020).
There is evidence to suggest certain approaches should be avoided. In particular, having students repeat years of schooling is extremely expensive and has been associated with heightened risk of drop-out in a large volume of studies. Compressed curriculum – without additional supports – has not proved effective (Allensworth & Schwartz, 2021). Narrowing the focus of the curriculum to the purely academic, at the cost of physical activity, social-emotional learning, and opportunities to engage in creativity and citizenship learning would fail to reflect the many aspects of children’s development supported by schools.
Whatever approach we undertake, tracking student outcomes matters. Consistent aggregation of teacher-administered diagnostic assessment data would support this goal, if large-scale assessments aren’t going to be used.
We need this data to identify gaps, to support an appropriate, targeted strategy for deploying resources, and to better understand the effectiveness of whatever recovery measures we finally undertake.
There have been significant learning impacts related to the pandemic, but there are also promising educational interventions and supports that can help students thrive and recover academically, support educators facing enormous challenges, and help address some of the system’s long-term inequities. Canada needs to get moving.
First published in Education Canada, March 2022
1 While the overwhelming majority of the studies reviewed show significant losses (e.g. Kuhfeld, Tarasawa, et al., 2020), some studies in Germany and the Netherlands found that many students improved in limited subjects through practice in online environments over the pandemic (e.g. Spitzer & Musslick, 2021). Studies based on general tests of knowledge and skills – either national/state assessments or diagnostic, including in the Netherlands – all point to significant losses.
Allensworth, E., & Schwartz, N. (2020). School practices to address student learning loss.
EdResearch for Recovery Project. https://annenberg.brown.edu/sites/default/files/EdResearch_for_Recovery_Brief_1.pdf
Gallagher-Mackay, K., Srivastava, P., et al. (2021). COVID-19 and education disruption in Ontario: Emerging evidence on impacts. Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table. https://covid19-sciencetable.ca/sciencebrief/covid-19-and-education-disruption-in-ontario-emerging-evidence-on-impacts
Gallagher-Mackay, K., Mundy, K., et al. (2021). The evidence for tutoring to accelerate learning and address educational inequities during canada’s pandemic recovery. Diversity Institute at Ryerson University.
Halloran, C., Jack, R., et al. (2021). Pandemic schooling mode and student test scores: Evidence from US states (No. w29497; p. w29497). National Bureau of Economic Research. doi.org/10.3386/w29497
Hammerstein, S., König, C., et al. (2021). Effects of COVID-19-related school closures on student achievement – A systematic review. PsyArXiv. doi.org/10.31234/osf.io/mcnvk
Kuhfeld, M., Tarasawa, B., et al. (2020). Learning during COVID-19: Initial findings on students’ reading and math achievement and growth. NWEA. www.nwea.org/content/uploads/2020/11/Collaborative-brief-Learning-during-COVID-19.NOV2020.pdf
Lamarre, P., Horrocks, D. & Legault, E. (2020). The community school network in Quebec’s official language minority education sector. Concordia University. https://learnquebec.ca/clc-history
Maier, A., Daniel, J., & Oakes, J. (2017). Community schools as an effective school improvement strategy: A review of the evidence. Learning Policy Insitute/National Education Planning Centre. https://learningpolicyinstitute.org/sites/default/files/product-files/Community_Schools_Effective_BRIEF.pdf.
McCombs, J. S., Augustine, C. H., et al. (2019). Investing in successful summer programs: A review of evidence under the Every Student Succeeds Act. RAND Corporation. www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR2836.html
Nickow, A., Oreopoulos, P., & Quan, V. (2020). The impressive effects of tutoring on PreK-12 learning: A systematic review and meta-analysis of the experimental evidence. (NBER Working Papers, Vol. 1 – Working Paper 27476). National Bureau of Economic Research.
OECD. (2020). Education policy outlook: France. www.oecd.org/education/policy-outlook/country-profile-France-2020.pdf
Renaissance Learning, Educational Policy Institute. (2021). Understanding progress in the 2020/21 academic year (p. 42). Department of Education. www.gov.uk/government/publications/pupils-progress-in-the-2020-to-2021-academic-year-interim-report
Rosenwald, F. (2021, November 29). The 2020 French school lockdown and its impact on education: What do we know so far? [Forum presentation]. OECD-AERA forum: How education fared during the first wave of COVID-19 lockdowns? International evidence, broadcast on Zoom. https://www.aera.net/Events-Meetings/How-Education-Fared-During-the-First-Wave-of-COVID-19-Lockdowns-International-Evidence
Spitzer, M. W . H., Musslick, S. (2021). Academic performance of K-12 students in an online-learning environment for mathematics increased during the shutdown of schools in wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. PLOS ONE 16(8): e0255629. doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0255629
Shanna (eight) has always been a sensitive child. She feels nervous about many things, and these feelings have only increased during the pandemic. It is becoming increasingly difficult for her caregiver to get her to school in the mornings.
Yasmin (11) has struggled with her adjustment to Canada and gets frustrated that school is so difficult when she was a strong student in her home country. Her worries about her family that are still back at home can feel overwhelming, and often distract her from her classes.
Jesse (14) is finding it really difficult to navigate their queer identity in different spaces, including different levels of acceptance at the home of each of their parents. They are feeling increasingly isolated and have thoughts of harming themselves.
What do these seemingly diverse students have in common? They have different strengths and different challenges, but are all struggling with the everyday expectations placed on them, including at school. Further, they could all benefit from opportunities to improve their mental health. For many students, mental health can be promoted through creating welcoming environments and teaching skills such as self-regulation, communication, and healthy relationships. For others, additional opportunities to learn coping strategies might be required. Still others may need more specialized services. As a major piece of children’s ecosystems, schools must be intentional in how they support positive mental health. We need to look beyond academic rankings for schools and recognize that successful schools support mental health, both for compassionate reasons and because strong mental health underlies future success.
Canada is often identified as a great place to live on international lists and rankings. However, our performance on children’s mental health is not a source of national pride. Even prior to the pandemic, the last UN report card ranked us 31st out of 38 rich countries on children’s mental health and happiness. We also have one of the highest rates of adolescent suicide. We would not accept such a ranking for our math scores; to score this low in mental health is cause for a significant call to action.
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected every aspect of our lives and routines. Not surprisingly, children and youth are paying the price with decreased well-being. Data collected by SickKids looking at impacts during the second wave found that more than half of 750 kids aged 8–12 reported significant symptoms of depression; 70 percent of adolescents reported significant depression. Furthermore, the pandemic has exposed and amplified the inequities that were there all along. Equity-seeking groups have been harder hit by pandemic impacts, and this includes worse mental health for youth who belong to marginalized groups. The jury is still out on long-term impacts of disruptions related to the pandemic, but there is no question many of the negative impacts will linger.
Before we talk about the central role schools can play in promoting student well-being, I want to clarify what is meant by mental health. All too often, mental health is considered synonymous with mental illness, as if it only exists when there is a problem. Of course, we all have mental health the same way we all have physical health. Thinking about mental health in a deficit-based manner is analogous to saying we only have physical health when we are sick. The Public Health Agency of Canada defines positive mental health as, “the capacity of each and all of us to feel, think, act in ways that enhance our ability to enjoy life and deal with the challenges we face.” Within that definition, we can see there is significant overlap with the role of schools. We need to expand our ideas around what makes a school successful and recognize that one indicator of a successful school or school system is that proper mental-health supports are in place and education is seen as truly being about the development of the whole person.
There are many pragmatic reasons to think about an expanded notion of school mental health. Many skills that underlie positive mental health can be taught, often within a social-emotional learning framework. Promoting facets of mental health, such as self-regulation and optimism, improve learning outcomes. Most children and youth attend school, thus minimizing access barriers. Educators see children daily and are familiar with a wide range of what might be considered normal and healthy in a particular age group; as such, they are well positioned to notice changes.
Obviously, teachers are not social workers, nor should they be expected to take on that role. The answer lies in a tiered school mental-health approach, with role clarity at each tier. This tiered approach is often conceptualized as a triangle, and although different names are given to the tiers in different models, the notion of three tiers that represent universal, selected, and targeted intervention is widely understood in any comprehensive public health approach.
TIER 1 is where universal prevention or promotion happens. It can include everyday practices that create welcoming spaces for all students. At Tier 1, educators can introduce social-emotional learning concepts in short activities and reinforce them during teachable moments. There are also excellent programs that are effective in promoting well-being and align well with curricular expectations.
Over the past five years, my team has partnered with the London District Catholic School Board to implement and evaluate a program called MindUP. In our research with students with 580 students in 42 kindergarten classrooms, we found that students in MindUP classrooms experienced significant benefits. Problematic behaviours were reduced (Crooks, Bax et al., 2020). Their prosocial behaviours and executive functioning showed gains, suggesting that new and mental-health promoting skills were being developed. This project shows how mental health promotion can lead to much wider benefits than simply less depressed children. Improvements in executive functioning could be expected to translate to improved academic performance – a contention we were in the process of investigating when COVID hit and ended our research!
Furthermore, educators reported decreased burnout and an increased sense of personal efficacy (Kim et al., 2021). They talked about creating calmer classrooms that in turn led to a greater sense of personal well-being. By implementing a program that was aligned with curriculum and board priorities, this initiative reduced educator stress rather than leading to work intensification.
“I’ve become a lot more mindful as a teacher. You always recognize those kids who have difficulty, but there’s a whole different perspective now… as to how we look at children and how we deal with them.” – MindUP educator
TIER 2 is where students who may be considered vulnerable can be offered additional support. The source of this vulnerability may not be the individual child at all; effective programming at this level for identified equity-seeking groups might help buffer against experiences of discrimination or past trauma. Tier 2 work is often implemented by mental-health professionals, but educators still have an important role in identifying students who would benefit and supporting their involvement. We have developed or evaluated several programs through our intervention research over the past 15 years.
For example, our Uniting Our Nations mentoring program for Indigenous students promotes healthy relationship skills and coping, within a cultural framework. In the elementary school version, students meet weekly in groups with an adult mentor. The secondary school version uses student mentors and mentees who are also guided by an adult mentor. Our longitudinal evaluation found that students who were involved for two years had increased positive mental health, were more culturally connected, and achieved better credit accumulation than their peers (Crooks et al., 2017). This is an important study because it counters the prevailing notion that focusing on social and emotional well-being and cultural connectedness somehow competes with academic achievement. In this study, the opposite was true. By focusing on social and emotional well-being with an identity-affirming approach, students were able to shine with their academics.
Mentors are showing other kids that you can succeed and still be First Nations. That’s the key; it’s showing kids they don’t have to lose who they are in order to be successful. We are not asking you to assimilate or give up everything to succeed. We know that you can keep connected to your culture and succeed. – Indigenous educator
Supporting Transition Resilience of Newcomer Groups (STRONG) is a small-group resiliency-enhancing intervention for newcomer students who are struggling with some aspect of their adjustment. STRONG brings together groups of six to ten students with a clinician (and often a co-facilitator, who may be an educator) to teach youth resilience skills such as relaxation, coping, problem-solving skills, and goal setting. In addition to the individual skill development, youth benefit from the relationships they develop with other participants, and a decreased sense of being alone. Preliminary evidence suggests that STRONG increases coping strategies, connectedness, and resilience (Crooks, Kubyshin, et al., 2020).
HRP for 2SLGBTQA+ Youth is a group-based intervention for secondary school students who identify as gender, romantic, and sexual minority youth (and their allies). It was designed to be facilitated by educators in schools in the context of gender sexuality alliances (GSAs). The program includes key relationship skills and coping strategies appropriate for all youth, but has an expanded focus on being identity affirming and addressing stressors that are more specific to 2SLGBTQIA+ youth. Our focus groups with youth and educators suggest that students enjoy the program and benefit from the skills they learn, as well as the connections they make to others (Lapointe & Crooks, 2018).
Clearly, having effective programs for equity-seeking groups does not reduce the need to fight racism, colonialism, and homophobia on a larger societal level, but these strengths-based programs can help students develop important skills and strategies while also developing a sense of community.
TIER 3 refers to the domain where students’ mental health needs are of sufficient severity and complexity to require specialized services. Within a comprehensive school mental health model, the vision is for schools to hand over the care of students to qualified mental health professionals in the community at this point, while staying involved as part of the circle of supports for the student. In reality, there is a significant shortage of mental health resources in the community and schools are often left trying to support students with Tier 3 needs. Some boards are even exploring taking on this work more intentionally, in the face of the shortage of referral options.
The three tiers of a comprehensive school mental health approach are not isolated, and students may need different levels of support at different times. Also, referring to this integrated and comprehensive approach as school mental health does not let those beyond the school setting off the hook – we all have a role to play in promoting well-being for children and youth.
So, what do we need to advance the vision of comprehensive school mental health in every school in Canada? We need to move beyond piecemeal initiatives and create a comprehensive and coordinated strategy. Organizations such as the pan-Canadian Joint Consortium for School Health (www.jcsh-cces.ca) can facilitate the sharing of effective practices across jurisdictions. This work cannot be achieved on the backs of individual educator and administrator champions. We need all the implicated government ministries to commit to this work and provide the appropriate resources.
What would a co-ordinated, comprehensive approach include?
Finally, we need to remember that schools are embedded in and reflect larger societal values and dynamics. As Canada continues to navigate reconciliation and attend to systemic racism, we need to think critically about how school mental health initiatives can be aligned with these movements and not reinforce negative systemic influences.
First published in Education Canada, March 2022
For two-page summaries of the research mentioned in this article, see “Research Snapshots” at: www.csmh.uwo.ca/research
Crooks, C. V, Bax, K., et al. (2020). Impact of MindUP among young children: Improvements in behavioral problems, adaptive skills, and executive functioning. Mindfulness, 11(10), 2433–2444. doi.org/10.1007/s12671-020-01460-0.
Crooks, C. V., Exner-Cortens, D., et al. (2017). Two years of relationship-focused mentoring for First Nations, Métis, and Inuit adolescents: Promoting positive mental health. The Journal of Primary Prevention, 38. doi.org/10.1007/s10935-016-0457-0.
Crooks, C. V., Kubishyn, N., et al. (2020). The STRONG Resiliency program for newcomer youth: A mixed-methods exploration of youth experiences and impacts. International Journal of School Social Work, 5(2). doi.org/10.4148/2161-4148.1059.
Kim, S., Crooks, C. V., Bax, K., & Shokoohi, M. (2021). Impact of trauma-informed training and mindfulness-based social–emotional learning program on teacher attitudes and burnout: A mixed-methods study. School Mental Health, 13(1), 55-68.
Lapointe, A., & Crooks, C. (2018). GSA members’ experiences with a structured program to promote well-being. Journal of LGBT Youth, 15(4), 300–318. doi.org/10.1080/19361653.2018.1479672.
The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have increasingly shown the critical role schools play in promoting the health and wellbeing of students and staff. Now more than ever, a coordinated approach that takes action at all levels of the education system is essential to addressing mental health, safety, and belonging in schools. An approach that is gaining recognition among school districts across Canada for its value in promoting the wellbeing of students, teachers, and other members of the school community, is Comprehensive School Health (CSH).
Increasing knowledge, understanding and skills of the school community through formal and informal learning opportunities:
Creating policies, guidelines, and practices that:
Collaborating and engaging with:
When a Comprehensive School Health approach is taken, entire school communities can experience improved wellbeing, healthier educational spaces, and improved student learning outcomes. However, research points to the need for schools to invest time and resources into building a health-promoting environment that supports the wellbeing of students and staff. While this may seem like a daunting task, there are small steps everyone – school leaders, colleagues, parents, and community members – can take to drive change. An important first step is to continue educating ourselves and others about Comprehensive School Health and its benefits.
Byrne, J., Pickett, K., et al. (2016). A longitudinal study to explore the impact of preservice teacher health training on early career teachers’ roles as health promoters. Pedagogy in Health Promotion, 2(3), 170–183. doi.org/10.1177/2373379916644449
Byrne, J., Pickett, K., & Rietdijk, W. (2018). Teachers as health promoters: Factors that influence early career teachers to engage with health and wellbeing education. Teaching and Teacher Education, 69(1), 289–299. doi.org/10.1016/j.tate.2017.10.020
Koenig, A., Rodger, S., & Specht, J. (2018). Educator burnout and compassion fatigue: A pilot study. Canadian Journal of School Psychology, 33(4), 259–278. doi.org/10.1177/0829573516685017
Kolbe, L. J. (2019). School health as a strategy to improve both public health and education. Annual Review of Public Health, 40(1), 443–463. doi.org/10.1146/annurev-publhealth-040218- 043727
Langford, R., Bonell, C., et al. (2015). The World Health Organization’s Health Promoting Schools framework: a Cochrane systematic review and meta-analysis. BMC Public Health, 15(1), 130–130. doi.org/10.1186/s12889-015-1360-y
Russell-Mayhew, S., Ireland, A., et al. (2017). Reflecting and informing a culture of wellness: The development of a comprehensive school health course in a bachelor of education program. Journal of Educational Thought, 50(2&3), 156-181. www.jstor.org/stable/26372402?seq=5#metadata_info_tab_contents
Squires, V. (2019). The well-being of the early career teacher: A review of the literature on the pivotal role of mentoring. International Journal of Mentoring and Coaching in Education, 8(4), 255-267. doi.org/10.1108/IJMCE-02-2019-0025
Viner, R. M., Russell, S. J., et al. (2020). School closure and management practices during coronavirus outbreaks including COVID-19: a rapid systematic review. The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health. doi.org/10.1016/S2352-4642(20)30095-X
By now, most of us have become acutely aware of the way the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted schools, students, education workers, and families and communities right across the country. We’ve heard of the gaps, the fractures, and the fault lines that have been revealed in our systems of education. And while a few of these can be attributed to the crisis, most have existed for years if not, decades. But it’s time for our observations to give way to action. Those familiar statements about what we see must now be turned into questions about what we intend to do.
This is Education Canada, powered by voiced Radio, a unique approach to knowledge mobilization that connects insights from Canada’s research, practice, and policy communities. This cross-platform professional learning experience gathers researchers and practitioners from right across Canada to help us explore some of those big-picture questions facing all of us about the future of education post-pandemic. The first essential question we will focus on is:
How will we teach in a (post)-pandemic Canada?
To deepen your knowledge, read these in-depth articles and join the conversation featuring the researchers in this very podcast episode.
Why NOT to Quit After First Attempts in Online and Hybrid Learning By Valerie Irvine, Assistant Professor, Education Technology, University of Victoria
A Focus on Human Flourishing By Kristina R. Llewellyn, Professor, Department of Social Development Studies, University of Waterloo
“How Can This Be More Accessible?” By Ian Matheson, Assistant Professor of Special Education, Faculty of Education, Queen’s University, with Co-author Jeffrey MacCormack, Assistant Professor of Educational Psychology and Inclusion, Faculty of Education, the University of Lethbridge
Reconciliation: A Chance to Heal as a Nation By Kevin Lamoureux, Instructor, Faculty of Education, University of Winnipeg
Watch the 5-minute highlights video of the 90-minute live conversation that took place on Monday, December 6th, 2021. This first live conversation provided an opportunity for the researchers and audience to weigh in on this important question from their own unique perspectives.
THIS ARTICLE DRAWS on four high school teachers’ experiences to show how a multiliteracies approach can be practised in the classroom. Multiliteracies envisions inclusive education that encompasses:
The examples we discuss are drawn from a national research study, funded by a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Insight Grant. Our research explores multiliteracies in Grades 7–12 classrooms and adult community spaces.
Lifelong learning is not just about acquiring workplace skills. It offers a vision for a more just, compassionate, and creative society based on the values of “participatory democracy” (Brookfield & Holst, 2011, p. 5). Ideally, adolescents’ education prepares them to become adults who will engage with passion, intelligence, and integrity in shaping the world. Teachers foster a disposition for lifelong learning in their students by opening up opportunities for students to think deeply and holistically about meaningful contributions they can make to their societies. Many of the students in our research indicated they felt more engaged in courses when teachers allowed them to follow their own interests and included topics or assignments that explored cultural diversity.
In our study, a Visual Arts teacher provided an interdisciplinary opportunity for her students to collaborate in a multimedia exhibit with the English department’s Indigenous literature course. The teacher noted, “Even through interviews they [students] had conducted with First Nations elders, they wanted to distill it symbolically within a work, and that process alone, coming from an abstraction, and realizing it visually, is a very difficult thing to do.” Shifting from the oral mode to the visual mode, students needed to find ways to visually symbolize their interpretations of the interviews they had conducted with the elders. The teacher observed that students opened up more about their own cultural backgrounds when asked to be a part of this art exhibit. The students’ artwork was shared with a broader audience of teachers, administrators, parents, guardians, and community members. Thus, this exhibit bridged students’ school and home lives.
The New London Group coined the term “multiliteracies” and called for civic pluralism, involving the “formation of new civic spaces and new notions of citizenship” (New London Group, 2000, p. 15). Our research revealed examples of teachers bringing civic pluralism into their pedagogy. The Civics teacher reflected,
“I think it is my job as a teacher to prepare them [students] for life as citizens of the community that they are in, and I try to make sure that whatever I do, whether it be computers or careers or communications technology, it shows them how best to participate in society.”
This teacher involved students in the community’s Youth and Philanthropy Initiative. Students chose a social justice issue, found a local charity that addressed that social issue, and interviewed someone at the charity. The students then created a presentation to convince the Initiative that this charity deserved their $5,000 grant. Through this assignment, the students had to consider, in philosophical and practical terms, what citizenship meant to them. Initially, the teacher encountered some resistance from students about having to go into the community for this assignment, but ultimately they became enthusiastic, and some students even continued working with the charities afterwards.
Teachers in this study modelled inclusive education by reaching out to their students with significant learning disabilities, using multimodalities and differentiated assessment and evaluation tools. As one Special Education teacher reflected,
“What’s necessary for some, is good for everyone. And so, ensuring that you are helping every student at the ‘just right’ step of their process of learning, enables them to have the confidence and the tools to show you what they know. And just writing it down on a piece of paper is not the best vehicle for every student.”
As this teacher recalled, she often had students create “a three-dimensional landscape of where the story takes place. And so, they would tell me why the character starts here doing this… they’re either giving me the plot or they’re focusing on character.” Another example of an alternative assessment involved creating graphic novels that highlighted an important scene or summarized the plot of a literary story through visual means. For example, one student created a graphic novel in English but also translated it into Hebrew. (See photo.) Alternative assessments like these give high-school students the opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge without solely relying on the written mode to express themselves.
In another secondary classroom for students with special needs, a Biology teacher similarly engaged in a multimodal teaching strategy. She explained how she worked with her students to build a model of lungs using balloons. She wanted students to physically see how the diaphragm’s contraction makes the lungs expand. The teacher commented that building the model helped the students “concretely grasp” this abstract concept.
This teacher’s assessment used multimodalities: tactile (blowing on balloons), spatial (making organs proportionate), visual (getting colours and shapes accurate), gestural (ensuring movement mimics human respiration), and oral (team discussions). To follow up, she consolidated students’ knowledge by having them create an interactive book about the respiratory system. (See photo.) Theorists such as Kalantzis et al. (2016) believe that “knowing how to represent and communicate things in multiple modes is a way to get a multifaceted and, in this sense, a deeper understanding” (p. 234). Teachers in this research promoted student success and a deeper understanding by building multimodalities into their assessment practices.
An Art teacher in the study questioned, “What would life be like without people wondering and making and doing and creating meaning and connecting culture and using our humanity to inform the good work of the future?” She believed in the importance of identity exploration through various artistic forms. One of her students explored religious identity. This teacher recalled that the student created “a portrait of a girl wearing a hijab – or as an Arabic [sic] student would say a ‘hijabi girl’ – and there were colours all over the hijab that revealed she was wearing [it] as a crown.” Later, that same student painted a portrait of Martin Luther King Jr. Her teacher commented on the power of students creating portraits to represent diversity in a positive light. Serafini (2014) makes the point that “visual literacy combines psychological theories of perception with sociocultural and critical aspects of visual design” (p. 29). Through visual literacy, these young student-artists negotiated ways to visually communicate their interpretations of cultural diversity. In an interview, another student said, “I think it’s important to maintain what was brought down from different cultures. And that way we get to see different views on teaching and different styles.”
Recognizing the importance of cultural and linguistic diversity on students’ experience, a Civics teacher discussed an assignment she used that encouraged students in a rural, monocultural school to think analytically about their community. She explained,
“What I have the students do is create a cultural brochure that introduces immigrant workers to differences that they might face working in Canada as opposed to in their home country. So, it forces the students to actually examine what culture is like here.”
This assignment allowed students to reflect critically on their own culture, which they were so fully immersed in that it might have felt invisible to them. This teacher, as a person of colour herself, recognized that it is vital when teaching a homogenous student body to engage in critical thinking about cultural diversity to encourage students to be prepared for their futures in an increasingly globalized, heterogeneous society.
THE MULTILITERACIES PROJECT web platform (www.multiliteraciesproject.com), founded on this research, is designed for classroom teachers and adult educators to provide them with free resources and ideas for teaching using a multiliteracies approach. The theory of multiliteracies offers a practical way forward for teachers to foster an inclusive classroom that allows students of diverse backgrounds and levels of abilities to thrive in their school classrooms and beyond.
All Photos: courtesy of authors
Brookfield, S. D., & Holst, J. D. (2011). Radicalizing learning: Adult education for a just world. Jossey-Bass.
Cope, B., & Kalantzis, M. (Eds.). (2000). Multiliteracies: Literacy learning and the design of social futures. Psychology Press.
Kalantzis, M., Cope, B., Chan, E. et al. (2016). Literacies. Cambridge University Press.
New London Group. (2000). A pedagogy of multiliteracies: Designing social futures. In B. Cope & M. Kalantzis (Eds.), Multiliteracies: Literacy learning and the design of social futures (pp. 9–38). Routledge.
Serafini, F. (2014). Reading the visual: An introduction to teaching multimodal literacy. Teachers College Press.
My teaching career began as a high school mathematics teacher, yet my focus over the last ten years has been in elementary, both researching and now teaching. I am currently teaching math to two Grade 5/6 classes, with half of them having IPPs. They are a complex group.
My interest in elementary math began by watching my own kids struggle. What was holding them back? Why did some students struggle more than others? Both of my kids, early in school, were labelled with learning disabilities in mathematics. Now both are achieving at a high level, one in high school, the other in junior high. My work with them was a journey that ebbed and flowed between barriers and progress. It often felt like going through a maze, heading in one direction, and then hitting a barrier. So, we would turn around and try another direction. Over time, patterns emerged in those barriers, and one telltale characteristic began to reveal itself: memorization. Through this recognition, the barriers became easier to avoid. Upon hitting a barrier, I would ask, “OK, what in this task am I expecting them to just remember without understanding?” Once identified, we would go back and focus on developing the conceptual understanding or image in their mind for this idea or symbol. Once they were no longer expected to memorize a process or a symbol without understanding, they would progress in leaps and bounds, often exceeding my expectations. Where there had previously been a brick wall there was now a passageway.
The barrier for many students is not the math but the ability to remember. Presenting students with symbols along with a series of steps that represent concepts before they have sufficiently grown their own personal understanding or image for that concept can be a major barrier. Students who memorize easily have an advantage, but is that advantage rooted in mathematical understanding? I have worked with many students who can find an answer but do not understand the underlying math.
How can we be more inclusive while focusing on the growth of understanding for the majority? It was this question that took me down the path of exploring how we absorb information and what types of activities contribute to the growth of our mental images for mathematical ideas. Are there ways of offering students information that are richer than others?
May I suggest three categories for offering information, ranked according to their ability to give us information as directly, originally, and optimally as possible:
The first mode of presenting a mathematical idea is through the oral discussion of mathematics and its written symbols. This is the emptiest way of presenting the meaning within a mathematical idea. We absorb information through our senses, and these symbols visually look nothing like the ideas they represent. If a student has not grown the understanding of these symbols, we are not offering them anything with meaning. Symbols are just the tip of the conceptual iceberg; the meaning, which is so much bigger than the symbol, lies underneath the surface. The symbol for four (4) can represent a distance, position, or quantity, which can be represented in an infinite number of ways. The shape of the symbol (4) itself offers no meaning; it is the students themselves who bring the meaning.
The second form, the imaginative, is the act of visualizing. Zimmerman and Cunningham (1991) state that the intuition that mathematical visualization affords is not a vague kind of intuition; rather, it is what gives depth and meaning to understanding. This internal offering of information for the idea through your personally developed images has much to offer in terms of growth in understanding. Images beget more images, leading to deeper understanding.
It has been well documented in both sports and music that growth occurs through the act of visualizing. As a teenager, my husband’s swim coach would ask the swimmers to lie on deck with their eyes closed while he orally described a swim race, guiding them through it, while they imagined themselves in the race. The description by the coach is a signitive offering, but where each swimmer takes those oral descriptions imaginatively is different for each person. In a meta-analysis done to answer the question Does mental practice enhance performance? (Driskell et al., 1994) the researchers concluded that “mental practice is effective for both cognitive and physical tasks; however, the effect of mental practice is significantly stronger the more a task involves cognitive elements” (p. 485). In this discussion, it is noteworthy to mention that physical practice was the most effective form, and that those who were experienced in physical practice (perceptual) benefited more from mental practice (imaginative) than those who were novices in the task. The reason suggested for this is that, “the novices who mentally practiced a physical task may not have sufficient schematic knowledge about successful task performance and may be spending their effort imagining task behaviors that could turn out to be somewhat counterproductive” (p. 490). This supports the idea of the importance of establishing the perceptual level of activity, which allows for continued growth when visualizing.
Our world is perceived not only in terms of object shapes and spatial relationships, but also in terms of environmental possibilities for action. A perceptual experience in mathematics, I suggest, is the acting out of a mathematical idea. It is within the spatial acting out that meaning is given or “lived” in the most direct, original, and optimal way, for we are experiencing the mathematical idea through our senses when, for example, we physically cut the shape into equal parts, connecting us to the concept of fractions. This physical act will allow for growth when we later imagine this act.
It is important to distinguish and emphasize the importance of this third category (perceptual) because it is a sensory act. It is this act that allows for the deepening and continual growth of images. So, when a student is stuck and struggling to understand, some kind of perceptual experience must be offered, some level of active interaction with the environment to promote further growth.
The imaginative and perceptual are closely intertwined. In fact, they are hard to discuss as separate entities, for together they are one idea – spatial reasoning. Spatial reasoning is more than just passively receiving sensations; it is the intentional act of perceiving and then engaging our bodies purposefully (Khan et al., 2015). Through acting out a mathematical idea there is a co-evolving that occurs in both our mental and physical skills. The actions being discussed are not only physical actions, spatial reasoning encapsulates mental actions as well. Visualizing is very productive within mathematics, as spatial reasoning ability and mathematical ability have been shown to be intimately linked (Mix & Cheng, 2012). Mental interactive playing and exercising of our images can stimulate growth in and of themselves without actually engaging our environment, but a foundation for this imagining must first be established (e.g. physically counting, organizing, regrouping, building, drawing, etc.). It is through these physical acts that our imaginative and perceptual experiences interact seamlessly with each other, building and strengthening images.
The idea that the math classroom benefits from the interaction between the signitive, imaginative, and perceptual is the arena in which my research lies. The perceptual and imaginative strengthen and evolve as we engage with our environment, but also within mathematics there is a strong signitive element that must be attached (memorization) to our mental images. How can these elements interact to the mutual benefit of all three?
The classroom teacher and I worked with her Grade 5 students in a school for students labelled with learning disabilities. We began with the foundational ideas of fractions. In our preassessment the students presented as having minimal understanding, many not knowing how to write a fraction (signitive). We had four days with them, offering perceptual experiences that were always combined with the signitive to encourage the association with their growing images. We would have them physically cut shapes (perceptual), practising the concept of splitting into equal parts. Yet before they cut the shapes, we would discuss and imagine how to ensure that they would end up with equal parts (imaginative), i.e. we would fold the shapes and then cut them. Next, the students would write the symbols representing the fraction pieces (signitive). This interaction with pieces offered them a visual, embodied, and imaginative experience connected to the mathematical concept. Later they would combine (perceptual) these different pieces and write the fractions (signitive) using an addition symbol.
Although we started with the basics, we continued stretching the complexity of the topic to see how far their images/understanding would take them. By day four, we played a game called imagine-build-steal, in which we offered them a signitive question first, such as 2/4 + 1/2 The students were then asked to imagine and give a solution. None were able to answer the question based solely on this signitive offering; they had not yet grown sufficient images. They needed more from their environment to deepen their own images. To promote this further enhancement, the students were asked to build (perceptual) using the fraction pieces that they themselves had cut out. This they could do; they had grown sufficient images for looking at the signitive offering and building the solution. So, we continued with this cycle of signitive first, then asking to imagine, and then offering a perceptual experience. Their images continued to grow until by the end of that period, students began to offer up imaginative solutions to expressions like 2/3 + 2/6 + 2/8, based solely on the signitive offering. They had reached the point of sufficient growth of their personal images to solve this complex expression without having to build it.
The growth of mathematical understanding is a complex process, as seen over and over again with my own kids, in my research, and in the classroom. It is also personal; each student must grow their own images for the mathematical ideas in order to be able to visualize and make use of them. For some, they can be slippery. This is true of both the student who finds it easy to memorize and the one who does not. I find spatial reasoning tasks to be a great equalizer in a classroom. The student who struggles to memorize and therefore follow steps may reason and visualize with ease, but those who can follow a series of steps to an answer may struggle to visualize the mathematical concept. Math, however, is about ideas and concepts, not a set of memorized rules. My experience and my research support the claim that mental images are a key element to mathematical understanding that is often underappreciated. Far too frequently, the goal is to get the student as quickly as possible to an answer rather than to deep understanding of the idea.
If these mental images are the key to deep understanding, then what factors influence the growth of these images? If we accept the idea that images are grown through a dynamic process of restructuring based on a stream of perceptual encounters and conceptual revelations (Arnheim, 1969), then playing with, utilizing, and exercising these images can support their growth. A classroom focused on growing images is one in which students are engaged in imagining, drawing, moving, and regrouping objects while incorporating the signitive to encourage association. If all we offer students are symbols on a piece of paper, only those students who have already grown sufficient images can benefit from such a task. As educators, we are then not providing new opportunities for growth to the various levels of student understanding that every classroom contains.
Arnheim, R. (1969). Visual thinking. University of California Press.
Driskell, J., Copper, C., & Moran, A. (1994). Does mental practice enhance performance? Journal of applied psychology, 79(4), 481–492.
Khan, S., Francis, K., & Davis, B. (2015). Accumulation of experience in a vast number of cases: Enactivism as a fit framework for the study of spatial reasoning in mathematics education. ZDM: The International Journal of Mathematics Education, 47(2), 269–279.
Mix, K. S., & Cheng, Y. L. (2012). The relation between space and math: Developmental and educational implications. In J. B. Benson (Ed.), Advances in child development and behavior (Vol. 42, pp. 197–243). Academic Press.
Zimmermann, W., & Cunningham, S. (1991). Editors’ introduction: What is mathematical visualization. In W. Zimmermann, & S. Cunningham, Visualization in teaching and learning mathematics (pp. 1–7). Mathematical Association of America.
This was a question I kept asking myself when I thought about the youth living through the 2013 Alberta floods. What were their experiences and what could we learn from them? In 2019, I interviewed nine youth who had graduated the year of the flood to find out what life had been like for them during and after the disaster (Markides, 2020). I chose this group because they were transitioning from life in school to life out of school at the time of the event. The stories and advice they shared about living through a disaster has significant bearing for supporting youth during our current pandemic times.
“It’s hard but you need to find time to grieve and it… it’s tough. Being a teenager is tough by itself.”
While the disasters are different, the needs of the youth of today are likely similar to those of the youth from the study. Following from this assertion, we can expect that the youth will lean on and be held in relationship to others as a means of mutual support. They will need informal and formal outlets for processing their experiences and healing from the trials of pandemic life. Finding work will also be a challenge for many, and accessing resources for school will be of greater need in the years to come. Youth are often hailed for their resilience, and rightly so, but that does not negate the reality that youth will need various supports to bounce back from this experience.
Whether describing their greatest supports or greatest challenges, the youth consistently spoke about their families, friends, partners, and even pets as a source of strength. Some relationships were strained and others changed over time. It became clear who was there for them in their time of need and who was not. The youth value those who can be present for them – to provide a listening ear, a shoulder to cry on, a helping hand, financial support, a place to crash, or a space to visit with their friends. Some youth were able to be a supportive person for others:
“Some of my friends who felt close enough would reach out to me if they needed a place to stay.”
“I just had a campfire one night, so everybody got together and got to feel some companionship.”
With the ever-changing safety guidelines in mind, youth living through COVID-19 have had to significantly reduce their in-person social interactions, which has consequently reduced their opportunities for mutual peer support. The social isolation may be seen by many youth as the greatest challenge they faced during the pandemic. Even over the shorter duration of the flood experience, youth found the isolation from their peers challenging:
“I feel like it would have been better to have a space where we could all talk and converse… Just a place to share stories.”
As restrictions lift, the youth may be re-evaluating their relationships and prioritizing social gatherings. Some have become more reliant on virtual interactions than before, while others have found creative ways to see friends outside of their schools and homes. In the months to come, they will need spaces to gather and reconnect with peers in safe and supported environments. Specifically, youth may need structured support in navigating their changing peer or familial relations.
While the youth in the study did not utilize wellness supports themselves, they all noted that youth would benefit from having access to counsellors and psychologists. They recommended that health-care professionals need to find creative ways of connecting with the youth and letting them know what resources were available to them. They also felt that group settings or online options would be most appealing.
“I feel like there should have been, like therapists and psychologists at those evacuation centres, like right away.”
When we consider the experience of the pandemic, it is clear that no one has been left untouched by the present disaster. However, each person’s experience of it is unique. Youth will need space to share and process their experiences from the past year and a half, as well as having options for professional supports offered directly to them. Families, schools, and organizations working with youth should pro-actively seek out counselling and other mental-health related programming that could benefit the youth. Often youth know that supports exist, but do not know how to access them. Keeping open and honest communication about the challenges of living through a disaster can help to destigmatize the issues and normalize seeking support.
During the post-flood cleanup, many youth had their hours cut back significantly or lost their employment due to business closures. Those who had sustainable employment reported that they appreciated having purposeful work during the summer months and being able to save money for school or to support themselves if they were living on their own. In many ways, they were a largely untapped labour force in the post-disaster recovery. Additionally, one youth expressed gratitude for receiving a scholarship earmarked for flood victims:
“My third year, I worked two jobs while in school…. But actually, I was lucky enough my first year of college they had a grant for flood victims.”
With the pandemic closures and restrictions of 2020 and 2021, the economy has been hard hit. Youth are seeing greater competition for employment and fewer opportunities than in years past. The prospect of finding a job, let alone meaningful work, is more abysmal than ever. With extended time at home, people have been tending to their yard work and home improvements themselves, potentially reducing the positions for summer employment. As businesses begin to open up, increase hours of operation, and cautiously increase staffing, it will be important to consider where youth can be utilized. Youth who are transitioning from high school may also need support in accessing bursaries and scholarship for further education, and in securing apprenticeships and co-operative learning positions. Again, people working in intermediary roles with youth can play a major role in supporting their needs – by approaching industry to provide bursaries and positions earmarked for youth.
The 2013 Alberta floods disrupted many events and plans that the youth had envisioned and prepared for as they transitioned into adulthood. Graduation, summer celebrations, travel, work, and other happenings were cancelled or changed completely. These sudden and often stark shifts created significant breaks between what the youth had anticipated and their lived realities. As Leaf Van Boven and Laurence Ashworth (2007) assert, the expectations of future positive events can heighten emotions and associations in ways that overshadow the event itself. For example, the replacement of an anticipated graduation ceremony with something “other” – such as a drive-thru graduation or online ceremony – can lead to long-term feelings of loss and regret, despite their gratitude for the efforts made to make the day special for them. As one youth explained:
“There was the effort made to make it as best as possible and I appreciate that. And I think it was – I think everyone felt a little bit disappointed.… It’s kind of like the tradition [to have grad in the park] and it was a bit weird not to. It was kind of disappointing not having that, to be honest with you. I find no fault with anyone, it’s just how things worked out.”
In the years to come, youth will look back on the pandemic with a range of emotions and associations that may be difficult to negotiate. They may feel loss, anger, grief, and remorse for various aspects of their lives that changed temporarily or permanently as a result of the worldwide disaster. Oftentimes, these experiences will go unexamined unless there is a purposeful space for the conversation to unfold. As one youth said:
“[I] didn’t really, didn’t overly feel affected from the flood until I… wrote this out and… put all the puzzle pieces together.”
The notion of the “new normal” refers to the reality that life cannot return to what we remembered, anticipated, or wished it to be. It just carries on, different than before. So much of the experience has been out of the youths’ control. Rules, safety precautions, closures, cancellations, and limitations abound. Youth will be looking for ways to assert their autonomy and reclaim power over their lives. Some of these options may be healthy, others may not be. As parents, educators, and people involved with youth, we need to be pro-active in our planning and programming. We need to invite the youth into dialogue – to listen to their experiences, learn about their needs, and support them as they live through the challenges of post-pandemic life.
First published in Education Canada, September 2021
Markides, J. (2020). Wisdom and well-being post-disaster: Stories told by youth [unpublished doctoral dissertation]. University of Calgary.
Van Boven, L., & Ashworth, L. (2007). Looking forward, looking back: Anticipation is more evocative than retrospection. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 136(2), 289–300.
Emotion regulation requires noticing and naming emotions as they arise (e.g. joy, excitement, frustration, anger), understanding the impact these emotions have in our body, thoughts, behaviour and expressions, knowing what causes us to feel the way we do, and having strategies to navigate our way through them. Research demonstrates that emotion regulation is a skill that can be taught and developed across the lifespan.
It’s important to help learners notice and name their emotions. For example, you can help students identify book characters’ emotions and then link those to their own experience using guiding questions like: how is the character feeling? Why do you think they feel this way? What might they do to change how they feel? What would you do?
It’s helpful to teach a wide range of emotion regulation strategies, including mindful breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, positive self-talk and positive reappraisal (i.e. reframing a negative perspective about something and changing it into a positive one). Start by teaching strategies that are accessible in the moment (like mindful breathing) and that students already know. Explain what the strategy is and why/how/when it might be used.
Practice the strategies when students are “cool” and not “hot.” When anyone is emotionally activated, it’s difficult to think rationally. In a classroom, this might include integrating a daily mindful practice during circle time or class meetings. This practice helps students feel familiar with the strategy and builds neural pathways, making the strategies more accessible when needed.
Integrate support for emotional regulation into day-to-day life (e.g. if a conflict arises, you can help learners draw on strategies they have been learning). Students can also be provided with spaces where they can go to “cool off” if needed. It’s important for children and youth to have autonomy to choose and use strategies that they are comfortable with that meet their particular needs.
It’s important to be mindful of how our behaviours provide implicit instruction and influence student’s skill development. It can be helpful for adults to narrate some of the regulation processes so that children can see/hear how they handle emotions. In a challenging situation, it’s also critical that adults use strategies themselves to stay calm so that they are available to help others respond to the situation effectively.
Parents and teachers play a critical role in supporting and teaching students the skills and strategies needed for emotion regulation. Research has shown that when students are able to successfully regulate their own emotions, they tend to experience improved health and wellbeing, greater emotional resilience (i.e. the ability to recover from stressful situations), more positive interactions with peers, and more success at home and school.
Barrett, L. F., Gross, J., Christensen, T. C., & Benvenuto, M. (2001). Knowing what you’re feeling and knowing what to do about it: Mapping the relation between emotion differentiation and emotion regulation. Cognition and Emotion, 15, 713–724. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/ 02699930143000239
Building Emotion Skills at Home: https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5b8b251189c172835f9398e1/t/5c04497988251b931be5e9aa/1543784825343/Practicing+Emotional+Intelligence.pdf
CASEL (general): casel.org
CASEL (lesson examples): https://www.casel.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/Sample-Teaching-Activities-to-Support-Core-Competencies-8-20-17.pdf
Edutopia (general/SEL): https://www.edutopia.org/social-emotional-learning
Graziano, P. A., Reavis, R. D., Keane, S. P., & Calkins, S. D. (2007). The role of emotion regulation in children’s early academic success. Journal of School Psychology, 45, 3–19. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jsp.2006.09 .002
Greater Good Parenting: https://ggsc.berkeley.edu/parenting
Greater Good (general/educators: https://ggsc.berkeley.edu
Greater Good (SEL/emotion regulation): https://ggie.berkeley.edu/student-well-being/sel-for-students-self-awareness-and-self-management/sel-for-students-emotion-regulation/
Gross, J. J. (1998). The emerging field of emotion regulation: An integrative review. Review of General Psychology, 2, 271–299. http://dx.doi .org/10.1037/1089-26184.108.40.2061
Ivcevic, Z., & Brackett, M. (2014). Predicting school success: Comparing conscientiousness, grit, and emotion regulation ability. Journal of Research in Personality, 52, 29 –36. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jrp.2014.06 .005
Jennings, P. A., & Greenberg, M. T. (2009). The prosocial classroom: Teacher social and emotional competence in relation to student and classroom outcomes. Review of Educational Research, 79, 491–525. http://dx.doi.org/10.3102/0034654308325693
Marroquín, B., Tennen, H., & Stanton, A. L. (2017). Coping, emotion regulation, and well-being: Intrapersonal and interpersonal processes. (pp. 253-274). Springer International Publishing. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-58763-9_14
Stanton, A. L. (2011). Regulating emotions during stressful experiences: The adaptive utility of coping through emotional approach. In S. Folkman (Ed.), The Oxford handbook of stress, health and coping (pp. 369-386). New York: Oxford University Press.
This webinar is primarily for school district leaders, principals, and vice-principals, and school or district wellbeing leads as well as anyone interested in K-12 staff wellbeing.
We know that wellbeing – especially cases of burnout – are issues in Canadian schools. We know a lot of this is systemic – involving organizational culture, structures, priorities, and policies at various levels of the education system. However, research is still evolving about how approaches taken at the school level or the individual level could help educators cope with their daily stress. In a 12-month research project, The Behavioural Insights Team (BIT) set out to develop two simple approaches that could be scaled district-wide.
This webinar broadcasted on June 16, 2021 discussed findings from this research project outlining what worked, what didn’t work, and lessons learned that can be used to support education leaders in ensuring their staff’s wellbeing.
Education Canada Discussion Kits are an EdCan Member Exclusive Benefit for Organizations (School Districts, Faculties of Education, Corporations, Non-Profits), transforming evidence-based literature from our critically-acclaimed Education Canada Magazine into practical group discussion and self-reflection guides that can be used by K-12 staff to question, strengthen, and improve their professional practice across a variety of current and emerging trends in education.
Whether you’re an educational assistant, teacher, school leader, or superintendent, we encourage you to invest in your continuous learning and that of your team through these easy-to-use and affordable professional development resources that encourage critical thinking and actionable strategies for unique school contexts.
This discussion kit complements our Spring 2021 edition of Education Canada magazine – available both in flippable PDF and online – and puts the spotlight on how the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) offer cross-curricular relevancy and invaluable learning opportunities for students to discover their crucial role in solving local, regional, and global problems. Educators are prompted to explore how they can engage students to become active global citizens and authentically address global issues in empowering and hopeful ways.
This discussion kit contains a total of three group discussion and self-reflection guides – available in both English and French – covering topics ranging from creating a to-do list to help K-12 educators take action on the SDGs in the classroom; taking a whole-school approach to teaching the SDGs and making your school culture the catalyst for change; and using outdoor education as way to build students’ awareness of and appreciation for biodiversity.
If you’re an EdCan member, you’ll be able to access the full-version of the Teaching with the SDGs Discussion Kit, including all of our other archived and upcoming discussion kits! Simply fill out the form below! Not sure if you’re a member? Check out our list of members here. If you’re an employee of one of the organizations listed, or a student or faculty member of a university listed, then you’re already a member! Click here to create your employee, student, or faculty account. Note: To access this discussion kit, you must have an organizational membership, meaning that you are an employee, student, or faculty member of the following: Not a member yet? That’s okay! To gain unlimited access to the Well at Work Discussion Kit and all other discussion kits, we encourage you to explore our membership options here. If you require any assistance or have any questions with regards to becoming a member please contact email@example.com.
FOR EDCAN MEMBERS
Full Copy Request Form – Teaching with the SDGs Discussion Kit
If you’re an EdCan member, you’ll be able to access the full-version of the Teaching with the SDGs Discussion Kit, including all of our other archived and upcoming discussion kits! Simply fill out the form below!
Not sure if you’re a member? Check out our list of members here. If you’re an employee of one of the organizations listed, or a student or faculty member of a university listed, then you’re already a member! Click here to create your employee, student, or faculty account.
Note: To access this discussion kit, you must have an organizational membership, meaning that you are an employee, student, or faculty member of the following:
Not a member yet? That’s okay! To gain unlimited access to the Well at Work Discussion Kit and all other discussion kits, we encourage you to explore our membership options here.
If you require any assistance or have any questions with regards to becoming a member please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.