While schools across the country grapple with the reality of emergency closings, transitioning to remote learning or suspension of learning altogether, and the possibility of severely limited in-person contact for many weeks, the prospects for staying physically and mentally healthy, let alone continuing to work, seem daunting. The term "global pandemic" can conjure fear and hopelessness, but it importantly reinforces our essential connectedness to others not in the same place as us, and instructs us that it is in community with one another that we will get through this crisis.
As many schools make their operations virtual and the US Department of Education publishes remote learning guidance, we need to ask: "What does school climate mean when school is not physically in session, and how do we maintain our commitment to equity while embracing virtual schooling?" School climate is essentially a measure of the overall health of a school community; while buildings may be empty, the school community remains alive, in need of just as much care and attention as it does when gathered in the same physical space. Students’ core needs for physical, social and emotional safety and connection with caring adults remain and in some cases are even more urgent now that schools are physically closed to them.Beyond their immediate needs, research shows that maintaining a sense of connectedness during times of major disruption develops resilience for overcoming unforeseen difficulties. It is more important than ever to remind students, staff, and families that they are not alone by providing them ways of connecting with the school and one another so they can see and feel their collective strength.
The work of engaging and nurturing community does not look the same everywhere when schools are physically in session, and it surely won’t be the same everywhere now. But it can and should be guided by a commitment to equitably uplifting the potential of all students while helping all members of the school community feel safe, included and engaged. NSCC has guided schools in this work for over two decades, but our best lessons come through engagement with you, our cherished community. In the weeks to come, we will be setting up an online forum for discussion about our mutual challenges and creative means we are discovering to continue to foster positive school community and climate. Please stay tuned for further details.
We are looking forward to learning from and with you as we all try on new ways to engage and support our communities. May we all keep our hearts and minds open as we move through this challenging time.
The National School Climate Center at Ramapo for Children