Supporting Students and Families COVID-19 Resources

School Climate during Distance Learning

This transition to distance learning can be a challenge in many ways—mentally, physically, and emotionally. Science and experience show us that learning is disrupted with trauma, stress and even simple disruption of routine. These challenges affect students, adults, educators and family members. Everyone is having a very different experience. Despite technology, we are isolated and don’t know the experience of others. We must make time to attend to our social emotional wellness and to climate to facilitate any type of learning. We can take time to share our experiences and hear from others, take care of ourselves and use a trauma-informed lens to create new norms and expectations as a school community and to center equity.

Compassion and Community: Virtual School Climate

The work that educators are doing around the state and the country to continue learning for their students is extraordinary. Children need routine and engagement, and schools provide that. The current public health crisis is disruptive not only to learning but to the way education is offered. Trying to replicate the usual routine on-line is not possible. However, the need for community and social emotional learning is as important as any assignment. It is important for students, adults, educators and family members. Adults need to get the support they need from other adults so they are able to effectively work with students.

The suggestions here are perhaps obvious, but when we are feeling stressed, it can be useful to have normal needs identified and confirmed. Here are two areas where academics, social emotional learning and mental health inform and support each other.


Be kind to yourself first. Teaching and working with growing humans is a rewarding but hard work under regular circumstances. Trying to do this when people are uncertain about the future, about the health of their loved ones and friends, and about missing the safety of school is even more challenging. Note the difficulty, keep track of your brilliant ideas, and laugh at the missteps.

  • Be kind to your colleagues. Check in with them first before any business is done. Let people know how you are doing.
  • Be kind to your students.
  • Be kind to your families.
  • Tend to community.

Lean on the three signature practices of social emotional learning and the basic tool of Circle as a means of re-establishing your classroom community. It is odd that we cannot touch and smell and feel the warmth of each other. But we can hear and sometimes see each other. The three signature practices help to frame any meeting or classroom instruction.

Warm Welcome

If your students are familiar with the Circle process, invite them to bring a talking piece to show on camera at Circle. When they hold it up, they can talk. When they set it down, that is a signal that they are finished. Or ask them to say, “Thanks for listening,” when they are done with their turns.

Engaging practices

Circle provides an opportunity for every voice to be heard. Including a go-round where every student can answer a question, either a as a warm welcome about how they are feeling or what they do to pass time indoors, or as an engaging practice, seeing their review of what they learned from the lesson today. Applying the Circle expectation that each student speaks gives the teacher the opportunity to ‘see’ each student. The routine of who speaks first can be set up by alphabetical order of first names or last names or by birthday—whatever can be followed by the students. One of the tasks of the classroom monitor could be to be sure that the routine is followed and that every voice is heard.

Optimistic Close

In these trying times, the emphasis is on optimism. In addition to identifying what you have learned, asking students to identify what they are grateful for or what act of kindness they might do with others can boost the immune system by stimulating the happy hormones.

Community SEL (Students, Caregivers, Educators, Leaders)

A comprehensive approach to supporting the SEL needs of the entire school community is particularly important during this time.

  • The Minnesota Department of Education has grade-banded (K-12, aligned with Early Learning Indicators), benchmarked guidelines for the five SEL competencies (self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making) that align with academics and provide a comprehensive scope and sequence for teaching SEL.
  • The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) has a webpage with resources to guide caregivers, educators and leaders during this time.
  • The Institute for Social and Emotional Learning “empowers educators, young people, and parents to transform their schools into caring, inclusive communities.” The institute’s REALM resource provides a concise framework for planning distance learning (Rituals, Energize, Appreciation, Lighten, Mindful).

Adult Social Emotional Learning (SEL) (Self-Care, Empathy, Anti-Bias Stance)

As schools navigate distance learning, it is important for staff to focus on their own self-care, empathy for others, and interrupting racism associated with COVID-19.

  • The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) recently launched a new initiative, CASEL CARES, which connects the SEL community with experts to address how SEL can be most helpful during our current circumstances.
  • The Greater Good Science Center “studies the psychology, sociology, and neuroscience of well-being, and teaches skills that foster a thriving, resilient, and compassionate society.” The center’s website contains comprehensive resources for well-being during this time.
  • Teaching Tolerance’s mission is “to help teachers and schools educate children and youth to be active participants in a diverse society.” The organization’s website contains comprehensive resources for anti-bias work during this time. One example of their resources is Speaking Up Against Racism around the New Coronavirus.

Trauma Informed

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network’s Psychological First Aid Field guide provides guidance on responding to disaster, violence, or terrorism events using the Psychological First Aid intervention. This version gives school administrators, educators, and staff practical assistance to meet immediate needs and concerns, reduce distress, and foster adaptive coping in the wake of a disaster. The manual includes in-depth information about each of the eight core actions and accompanying handouts for administrators, school staff, educators, students, and parents and caregivers.

Engaging Students

Facing History has a range of webinars and lesson plans to help teachers and students make sense of the current COVID-19 crisis and to help build community, civic awareness and critical SEL skills. Harvard Graduate School of Education Usable Knowledge offers simple ideas to promote belonging and engagement during distance learning.

Student-Teacher Relationships

Harvard Graduate School of Education Usable Knowledge tool for Relationship Mapping provides schools with a virtual activity to help you make sure every student has critical relationships to support their learning and wellbeing during distance learning.


Adults need to process their thoughts and feelings about the pandemic and the shift to online learning. Community and connection is as important as any assignment, for both students and adults, in school and in the home. Adults need to get the support they need from other adults so they are able to effectively work with students. The community and relationship building aspect of the restorative school are especially helpful in meeting these on-going needs

Below you will find resources that you could share with colleagues, students and families. We are including some resource website links to CASEL, the MDE guidance for schools and the MDH guidance for schools.

Student Care


Team Care