Schools around the world are in uncharted waters right now as they strive to balance shutdowns and social distancing regulations with the need for educational continuity as schools begin reopening.
Most have turned to remote learning as a viable alternative during this disruptive moment in time, knowing that with good technology, teacher support, and parental buy-in, we can make it through anything.
One tool we leaned heavily on during this upheaval is our student safety platform. Implemented about nine years ago, Gaggle helps us quickly identify problematic or dangerous content in student email and documents.
During COVID-19, the number of reports had initially become more frequent, likely due to the higher volume of “socializing” that’s now taking place online (versus in person).
Abruptly switching 10,000 students to remote learning was quite an undertaking, but like most districts, we managed to make it work. Along with starting to deliver an engaging academic experience, we also are paying close attention to our students’ social and emotional well-being while they are away from campus.
Here are four steps we took to support students during the shutdown:
1. Stick to the protocol. We followed the same chain of command and protocols that we would if everyone was still physically at school. For example, I’m notified on all potential issues and so is our assistant superintendent—from an email that contains inappropriate language to an incidence of self-harm, and all points in between. Sticking to this protocol worked extremely well while everyone was working online, and our response times have become even shorter as a result.
2. Follow up on every alert. Students are spending a lot more time online–not only academically, but also as a result of social distancing rules. That means they’re relying on their school accounts to engage with friends and neighbors online for personal reasons as well. This initially produced an uptick in reports from our student safety platform. Fortunately, the majority of those alerts were not incredibly alarming, but we do follow up on all of them. That gives us great peace of mind during this time when teachers, counselors, and staff aren’t able to see students in person.
3. Pay attention to what’s going on at home. When students learn from home, they can be exposed to problems that they may not have had to deal with while in school. An abusive domestic situation or other home-related crisis can significantly impact a student’s emotional well-being. The fact that they’re dropping their feelings into Google Drive and emails, and exchanging thoughts with one another, gives us the chance to intervene and help out with situations that we may never have known about.
4. Learn to recognize a cry for help. These difficult times have impacted a lot of people’s mental health–students included. It can be particularly difficult on teens who didn’t have the opportunity to finish their senior year with their teachers and friends. For other students, being at school may have been their escape from a difficult home life. We’re able to flag potentially detrimental situations and both recognize and address cries for help before they grow into more serious problems.
During the normal school year, when kids may be home for the weekend, they don’t have access to a counselor, a teacher, or another individual in a position of trust. The same goes for being home during the pandemic.
We just owe it to our students to keep them safe from harm, and to help support their social and emotional well-being. Having a student safety platform gives us that extra safety net for kids, even when they’re not in the building.
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