Creating Safe Civic Spaces in Troubling Times - Part 2

by Mary Ellen Daneels, Civics Instructional Specialist

In March of 2018, shortly after the tragedy at Stoneman-Douglas High School, we shared a blog that stressed the importance of creating a civic safe space for students to process current events. Little did I know how relevant that blog would be for the times we live in today.

COVID-19 has upended many of the routines and traditions that undergird our lives. Teachers have been called upon to create meaningful learning experiences to further develop student knowledge and skills in a homebound environment. We must take care, however, to prioritize and model civic dispositions in our interactions with students. Dispositions like empathy, commitment to the common good, community involvement, and personal responsibility are crucial during this pandemic.

As a pre-service teacher, we were required to take Educational Psychology 101 where we learned about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: physiological needs, safety, belonging, esteem and self-actualization. You might remember that there is a hierarchy to this pyramid of needs in that one cannot self-actualize, let’s say master content and skills, unless they have a firm foundation of having their basic and psychological needs met. There are students who are scared of the unknown right now. Others may be upset because they may miss important milestones like graduation and prom. Some students might know someone who has symptoms of this disease and are living in uncertainty because of the current scarcity of testing.

COVID-19 is not our fault, but its repercussions in our students’ lives IS our problem. Those repercussions extend far beyond the traditional content, but reverberate in the very core of the pyramid of their needs. To ignore these realities in our students’ lives is to ignore the foundation that must be present for learning to take place.

Here are a few ideas and resources to support you in creating that safe civic space for your students in these troubling times.
  • Put on your own oxygen mask first. This is a trite but true metaphor for today. Review these blogs from We Are Teachers and iCivics for the support you need to meet the needs of your students.
  • Your students might reach out to you with questions about COVID-19. The News Literacy Project created a web page to address misinformation about the virus that can be a valuable resource for you.
  • This is NOT the time to try out all of the new tech tools you have been curious about. This will only add extra stress on you AND your students as you try to navigate the nuances and glitches of new technologies. Start with what you and your students know.
  • If you decide to try something new, try one thing at a time and look for supplemental tutorials and resources that can support both you and your students. New EdTech Classroom has several YouTube videos to help you navigate How to Teach Remotely Using a Google Slides HyperDoc, How to teach Remotely Using Flipgrid and other resources. There are also several Chrome extensions to support struggling learners.
  • Virtual learning can take many forms as illustrated by this brief blog from Empowering ELLs. See what might be the best fit for you and your students’ situations.
  • You and your students are living through history right now. Consider having them keep a journal of their observations, questions, experiences, and challenges. You can also have them respond to prompts with a daily bell ringer or exit slip. Students can express their lived experiences in words, images, or another medium. They are writing the history others will learn from. In the short run, this can be an important formative assessment tool for you to use to calibrate your teaching. In the long run, these lived experiences can help your students take informed action to inform civil society and policymakers in adjusting protocols and support for future events.
What resources and ideas are you using to support your students during this difficult time? Please comment below. Together, we can prepare ALL students for college, career and civic life.

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