National News

How grown-ups can help kids transition to

How grown-ups can help kids transition to ‘post-pandemic’ school life

School counselor Meredith Draughn starts every day by greeting the students who fill her campus hallways, with a cup of coffee in hand. There are about 350 of them, and she knows all their names.

“Kids want to feel known and want to feel loved. And greeting them by name is one way we can do that…Research shows that that helps us build a positive culture and a welcoming culture.”

Draughn works at B. Everett Jordan Elementary School in the rural town of Graham, N.C., and she was recently named 2023’s School Counselor of the Year by the American School Counselor Association (ASCA). The selection committee praised Draughn’s data-driven approach and passion for her students.

Establish regular routines and a sense of control

The pandemic disrupted everybody’s daily routines, and that lack of structure was especially difficult for children. Draughn says rebuilding routine takes time and consistency.

One way she likes to build consistent habits for students is by setting goals, big or small, like being respectful or following directions. She begins the day with a “check-in,” where students share what they’d like to accomplish, and ends it with a “check-out” to see if they met their goals.

Like a number of districts across the country, Draughn says hers is continuing to combat elevated levels of chronic absenteeism, which is when students miss 10% or more of the school year. She says reintroducing school as a part of the daily routine can help students feel more connected to the classroom. That, in turn, gives children a sense of belonging that can improve attendance and set them up for success in later grades.

“Successful habits build a successful life,” Draughn says.

Every behavior communicates a need

Children express themselves through behavior—that’s nothing new. But Draughn says if educators or parents are dealing with particularly challenging behaviors, it’s essential to pay attention to the story those actions might be telling.

“All behaviors, at least in children, our communication.”

Draughn points to an example of a child caught stealing food from another student. Rather than place blame, Draughn looks to what that behavior might tell her about the child’s life outside of school.

“What is that behavior indicating? Sometimes that is an indication that basic needs are not being met. That is our first question. Not, ‘Why did you steal?’ ”

Children often behave in attention-seeking ways, and that’s also true when they’re acting out. One way to encourage positive behaviors is to consistently celebrate things like following directions or standing patiently in line.

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