Teachers have many jobs these days—educator, IT professional, custodian, and mentor, just to name a few. But arguably one of the biggest jobs for teachers in today’s distance learning environment is being able to provide a sufficient level of support for students’ social, emotional, and mental wellbeing. Children have been isolated from their peers and teachers, and many are in homes where there is trauma from COVID-19 or the economic crisis. Strong, supportive relationships not only help keep students engaged, but also provide a foundation for building a classroom community where all children, including a child in need of help, feel safe and secure.

Safety and security are especially important for children who may be experiencing the effects of violence, abuse, or addiction in the home. While child abuse reports are down nationally by 40 percent since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, experts fear that it has actually risen behind closed doors.

Teachers and coaches have traditionally been on the frontline of spotting signs of abuse and neglect—the move to distance learning has undoubtedly contributed to the low numbers of reported cases.

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Without consistent in-person contact with students, the typical signs of a child in need of help can be much harder to spot, even when webcams are mandatory. Virtual meeting platforms like Zoom are ill-suited for providing teachers with cues they have come to rely on to indicate a child in need: lack of hygiene, atypical or disruptive behavior, or physical marks on the body, for example.

About the Author:

Katie Salen Tekinbas is a Professor of Game Design and Development in the Department of Informatics at the University of California, Irvine, a member of the Connected Learning Lab, and co-founder of Connected Camps, an online learning platform powered by youth Minecraft experts. Katie is also the Founding Executive Director of Institute of Play.

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