How to get your Students to Stop Trolling

Ughhh, that was tough!

That was all I could say as I wrapped up my second week of virtual teaching.

The first few weeks have been nonstop: professional development, grade level collaboration, individual Zoom meetings with each student and their family, packing up and delivering learning materials, lesson planning, teaching lessons on Zoom, providing feedback on student work, troubleshooting technology problems, and more- all from an empty, quiet classroom.

I go to work feeling tired and stressed and leave feeling exhausted and overwhelmed. But the 6- and 7-year-old faces that fill my screen on gallery view keep me motivated. They are my why.

During one of our morning meetings last week, I noticed one of my students looked sad, withdrawn, and just not his normal smiley self. Since I couldn’t walk over, squat down next to him, and check-in how I normally would; I asked (through a private chat) if he would like to stay on Zoom and talk about how he was feeling. He immediately replied, “yes plez”. As the other students unmuted and waved goodbye, this student gazed at me through teary eyes. Our conversation unfolded:

Me: “Thank you for staying on to talk with me.”
Student: (half smile, half frown)
Me: “You are doing a great job. It is hard to be learning from home. How are you feeling?”
Student: “I just feel… a bit… a bit like a troll…”
Me: “A troll? Tell me more.”
Student: “I feel like, like a troll… who is losing his color.”

Cue the tears. If you have seen the 2016 animated movie Trolls, you know that a troll losing his color is about the saddest thing ever. In the movie, one of the trolls, Branch, turns grey after losing his Grandma. The loss of his colors symbolizes the loss of his happiness and hope.

Me: “Why do you think you feel like that?”
Student: “I miss my friends. I wish I could give you a hug. I want to play tag.”

So simple, yet so complex.

Not only are our youngest learners struggling with expressing themselves, so are parents, teachers, and administrators. This global pandemic has caused grief, anxiety, and confusion for everyone. I have experienced the joy I get from teaching dim, just like Branch’s colors, during remote learning.

As a teacher, I have noticed and felt the impacts of COVID-19 on everyone’s social-emotional well-being: students, parents, and teachers. I have a message for each one of you.

Be proud of what you have accomplished! No adult has ever gone through what you are going through. Not seeing your friends, having to learn at home, having birthday parties and graduations cancelled… these are hard things. You are resilient, you are strong, and you can do this. Keep reminding yourself to do your best!

Parents and Caregivers
You are your child’s first and most important teacher. You know your child inside and out. You are doing the best you can with all the circumstances and what you are doing is enough. Model grace for yourself, patience when things don’t go quite right, and determination when things feel difficult. Your children will grow and learn just by your responses.

Make time to be fully present with your students. Keep weaving community building activities into your daily lessons. Provide opportunities for student voice. Create time and space for students to navigate their feelings and actions. Celebrate student effort. Give yourself time to decompress and do what you need to to fill your cup, because when your cup is full you can give more freely to those around you.

As for my student who felt he was losing his color, we have made progress. The partnership between his mom, me, and him has a strong foundation. I commend him for having the words to express his feelings. In our most recent conversation he told me, “I believe in myself, I can do anything with time and practice.” The opportunity to witness his colors grow brighter and stronger is heart-warming and inspiring.

Bottom line- we all need to consciously choose to lift each other up to model compassion, patience, courage, grace, and grit for the good of our youth.

How do you create time to nourish your students’ social-emotional wellness during this time?


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