Our Kids Are Not Okay Post-Pandemic: How to Help
September 28, 2021
Our Kids Are Not Okay Post-Pandemic: How to Help | Dr. Maureen O'Shaughnessy, Education Evolution Podcast

The pandemic has impacted us all. Financially, emotionally, physically, and in ways that we probably haven’t realized yet. We’ve also watched our kiddos struggle, both at home and at school.

It’s time to think of our kids’ brains as more than a vessel to store the information we’re throwing at them. They’re more prone to depression and anxiety than we may realize.

On this episode, we’re exploring how our kids are handling the pandemic and its aftermath (not well) and what we, as educators, “safe adults,” and parents can do to support them. I give you three suggestions on how we can lessen the pressure that our youth are feeling and spotlight the amazing progress that one Colorado school has made.


Jump Through the Conversation

  • [2:17] Pandemic statistics on mental health
  • [4:00] How children’s brains and mental health have changed during the pandemic
  • [5:43] Three suggestions for how we can lessen the toll of the pandemic
  • [6:01] Psychological Safety
  • [9:03] Creating Stability
  • [10:43] Safe Adult or Champion


Links and Resources:

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Maureen O’Shaughnessy  0:03  

Hello fellow parents and educators. Thank you for joining me at Education Evolution, where we are disrupting the status quo in today’s learning models. We talk about present day education, what’s broken, who’s fixing it, and how. I’m Dr. Maureen O’Shaughnessy, your host and founder of education evolution, micro school coalition, and co founder of active, I consult and train with schools and leaders who are fiercely Committed to changing the narrative, reimagining the education landscape, and creating learning that serves all children and prepares them to thrive. 


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  0:49  

If you are new, welcome to the podcast. Please subscribe on our website to get it delivered to your inbox weekly. If you’ve been around a while, have you left a review?


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  1:08  

I love it when we break out of our own small communities and networks to collaborate, especially to benefit our youth. That’s the goal of the newly formed EdActive Collective that met last week to come together from various perspectives of Youth Advocacy, and create schools with more real world learning and learner agency. Stan Litow, the P-Tech founder interviewed in Episode 73, was our recent active guest speaker. Check out the many EdActive resources on the website. The link is in our show notes. 


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  1:45  

Over the past few months, my own local Seattle Times education lab has partnered with reporters at AL.com, the Dallas Morning News, Fresno bee, Christian Science Monitor, and the hechinger report, with support from the solutions journalism network to produce learning from lockdown. And this is a series of solution oriented stories about promising education practices. 


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  2:13  

Mental health is always something on my mind. Even before the pandemic, one in five children in the US showed signs or symptoms of a mental health disorder in any given year, a situation experts call a silent epidemic. Now new studies warn of the pandemics potentially debilitating effects on children’s psychological developmental, and educational progress as anxiety, depression, and loneliness increased over the last year. 


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  2:45  

The National Institute of Mental Health states covid 19 pandemic and lockdown has brought about a sense of fear and anxiety around the globe. This phenomenon has led to short term as well as long term psychosocial and mental health implications for children and adolescents. The quality and magnitude of impact on minors is determined by many vulnerability factors like developmental age, educational status, pre existing mental health condition, being economically underprivileged or being quarantined due to infection or fear of infection. 


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  3:25  

Wow, lots of different variables. So this journalism collaboration is producing information and resources to deal with the pandemic toll. The many ideas are as diverse as how to support newly arrived English language learners in Texas, to community college remediation success stories. There are two articles in the series that I am focusing on in today’s episode. Of course, the overall series link and these two articles are in my show notes. 


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  3:58  

In the first article, Times reporter Hannah Furfaro contributes to the series with a story about how children’s brains and their mental health changed during the pandemic, and what factors helped some kids persevere. educators and parents alike are concerned about children’s development in terms of behavioral and mental health. Now more than ever, Hannah spoke with the University of Washington, and Harvard researchers who are tracking hundreds of adolescents over time. The pandemic has forced these researchers to pause their in person research, including brain scanning, but they weren’t able to survey youth and their families about mental health and pandemic stresses. 


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  4:44  

So far, they found that many more adolescents were prone to anxiety and depression during the pandemic. More than half of the children were reporting these symptoms around six months into the pandemic. No surprise, Right? And it’s only gotten more intense for many of those youth. The researchers’ latest findings on depression and anxiety are a dire signal that the pandemics toll is steep. 


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  5:15  

At my micro school lead prep, we have stayed in close contact with our families since the onset of the pandemic. It’s really taking extra communication, hearing what’s going on at home and sharing what’s happening at school, and comparing strategies and celebrating success stories. So communication is more necessary than ever so we pull together in our teams of support for each child.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  5:42  

In my episode, today, I have three suggestions on how we can lessen the toll of the pandemic on the brains of our youth, as we navigate this unpredictable path back to in person learning. My first suggestion is one you’ve heard me talk about before psychological safety. We know that all humans need to feel psychologically safe in order to learn and grow. And I dived into this topic recently with psychologist Michael Vargas, in Episode 72. Be sure to check it out. 


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  6:20  

Our team at lead prep has created an extensive advisory model called base camp, we’re using this time to forge community at a deep level. In addition to building this relational base, we are intentionally unpacking social emotional tools for all of our youth. The five point scale we use is often used by therapists. And it’s a wonderful tool for all of us. When we start with what a one on the scale looks and feels like on a personal level, we can unpack what connected and ready to learn feels like. As we move up the scale, we can start to unpack what feeling stressed or overloaded looks and feels like and strategies that work to de-escalate. It sounds simplistic, but when a whole school or family is using this tool, it creates a common language and a go to and it ends up creating a process of support. 


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  7:22  

In school, I recently heard a teacher say, Hey, guys, I was at a two when I came in here, but I’m having trouble getting your attention. And I feel myself shifting to a three. I’m going to take a deep breath and get myself back down to a two while you get quiet and ready to start the project. Yes, common language, yes. modeling, yes, self regulation and taking care of ourselves so that we don’t escalate up the scale. 


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  7:51  

The layers of self awareness and mindfulness that go into self regulation, and the use of a five point scale are profound. Students become aware of their triggers, and their calming techniques. I know there are times in my past I wish I had slowed down when I was out of three and use techniques to not get overloaded. Reaching a five is unfortunate. It can mean an explosion or implosion. It is a definite disconnect from feeling good or being ready to learn. 


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  8:28  

Building in self care breaks, walks, movement, and check ins are tools our teachers use to create psychological safety and a positive learning environment. Helping students with self awareness and the related self advocacy, such as asking, Hey, I need to take a walk or I need to work in a quieter space is a priceless tool to get through this pandemic and build a lifelong habit of self care. I’ve put our simple five point scale template in the show notes. 


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  9:02  

The second strategy I want to talk about is creating stability. We know that children from their earliest days are pushing to know where the boundaries are. Boundaries, routines, and clear and consistent expectations help us all do a better job. We all want to know what is expected of us and to have feedback to help us meet those expectations. This stability is built into our lead prep school home student covenant that is signed in our enrollment packet. 


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  9:36  

We ask parents and guardians to set routines that allow students to get adequate device free sleep, have good nutrition and be supported to bring their school needs to a trusted school adult. We ask students to participate fully and let teachers know what is or isn’t working for their learning. And our teachers commit to creating bridges from where the student is to Where learning happens? We meet our students where they are. And this covenant creates stability and clear expectations with all parties taking their roles seriously. 


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  10:13  

The researchers in The Times article Kate McLaughlin of Harvard, and Liliana Lengua and Andrew Meltzoff, UW professors found that helping kids maintain a daily routine and sleep schedule, for instance, buffered against adverse effects of trauma and stress. No surprise, right? Consistency can be challenging for adults to maintain when they might be also feeling the pandemic toll on their brains, but it’s worth the effort. 


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  10:43  

My third suggestion to help our kids with the total of the pandemic is to give each student a safe adult or champion. One of my all time favorite TED Talks is by Rita Pierson. Rita’s passionate and powerful speech on her advocacy and Schools Program. To give each child a champion moved viewers around the country and globe and quickly became a fan favorite. Rita made a powerful difference through her tireless work as both an educator of 40 years and a staunch anti poverty advocate. Her talk is also in the show notes. 


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  11:24  

The Hechinger Report echoes that suggestion with their article in this series. The article is entitled when kids pick their trusted adult it pays off. They state schools across the nation bring back 1000s of students reeling from mental health challenges. A district in Aurora, Colorado offers evidence based strategies. One doesn’t cost any money, letting each student choose a trusted adult. This sounds just like read a suggestion of every child having a champion in the Aurora public schools at the beginning of each semester. 


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  12:03  

every child has sent a survey with photos of every adult in the building, asking the kids to name someone who they feel they can confide in, who cares for them as a person and who will find them the support they need. These adults are all trained and receptive. That trusted adult is notified and forges a connection, including frequent check-ins. 


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  12:27  

This is just one of the many proactive mental health efforts that this Colorado district has employed. The article shares the multi-year approach that pivoted during the pandemic, their intentional focus on student well being is having a positive impact on graduation rates, and overall student success. Kudos to the Aurora educators and school leaders. 


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  12:53  

Yes, the pandemic is taking a toll on the mental health of our youth. But with intentional efforts to build psychological safety, clear routines, and trusted adult relationships, we can help mitigate the mental health effects of COVID-19 in the lives of our precious youth. And these strategies must continue as a permanent priority in our schools, pandemic or not. Our children are complex beings with holistic needs. Human Centered education is always the right choice. 


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  13:33  

Thank you for joining me today and being a part of the education evolution.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  13:47  

I know how challenging it is to make changes inside your own school or community. I spent years traveling working with schools around the world on creating learner centered programs and it always struck me on how much schools were able to get them with the right tools and guidance. If you’re ready to make changes like this in your school, or to start a new school, let’s talk and put together an action plan. Visit educationevolution.org/consult for a free 15 minute call. And let’s see if we’re a good fit for more work together.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  14:31  

Education Evolution listeners, you are the ones to ensure we create classrooms where each student is seen, heard, valued and thriving. We need you let’s go out and reach every student today. Leaving a rating and review for this podcast lets others know that you find it a value and it gets in the earbuds of more educational leaders like you. 


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  14:58  

Thank you listeners. Signing off. This is Maureen O’Shaughnessy, your partner in boldly reimagining education.


Transcribed by https://otter.ai

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