5 Ways to Support Student Healing

5 Ways to Support Student Healing

The past few weeks have been highly emotionally-wrought for many. The AAPI community continues to experience rampant acts of racial violence and injustice; Colorado residents mourn the deaths in Boulder’s mass shooting; many, especially the Black community, feel the emotional burden of Derek Chauvin’s murder trial; transgender and nonbinary people recently celebrated International Transgender Day of Visibility.

These events are a stark reminder of the intersecting and multifaceted experiences students, educators, and staff undergo. As such, schools are not only places of academic growth, but also for social and emotional development

During these difficult times, it’s crucial that school leaders check in with students, collectively process recent events, and create safe spaces for all students to partake in long-term healing. 

How can we ensure all students feel supported as we process traumatic events and approach difficult subjects?  In this issue, we’ll explore how to help all students feel heard, understood, and empowered in the classroom while continuing to build an anti-racist, equitable education system moving forward.

Let’s get started.

1. LISTEN Restorative Practices to Heal and Connect

It’s crucial that we create safe spaces for students to process emotions meaningfully with the full support of their teachers and peers. 

Why it matters: Restorative practices like listening circles create a space for students to reflect and process their perspectives, feelings, and actions together. 

By design, restorative justice circles ensure students feel seen, heard, and valued.

Below are the five elements of restorative justice circles.

  • Opening ceremony: Signal the official start of the circle by introducing topics and setting community norms
  • Talking piece: Choose an item to pass from person to person to facilitate equity of voice
  • Community agreements: Ensure that everyone can be honest and open without fear
  • Prompt or rounds: Questions or phrases that help guide the discussion
  • Closing ceremony: Thank everyone for contributing and bring closure to the discussion

Extra Credit: What is a Restorative Justice Listening Circle and How to Use It

2. BUILD Teacher Diversity Builds Educational Equity

Teacher diversity impacts all students. While increasing representation in our schools, building out a diverse staff and adopting anti-racist hiring practices are necessary places to start, it’s not enough. 

Why it matters:

“As students’ identities continue to shape and evolve, having diverse teachers in the classroom is ever-critical—ensuring that students have empathetic mentors in their lives who can relate to, understand, and guide them in their learning.”


Renowned scholar Travis Bristol and a group of Teach Plus Fellows spoke with XQ about how  educators of color can perpetuate equity in their classrooms by:

  • Molding students’ understanding of diversity, inclusion, and access
  • Building community to work towards an equitable future
  • Empowering and finding community with other educators who believe in creating a better education system for all

Extra Credit: Diversity States with Teacher: Creating a Community to Keep Educators of Color in the Classroom

3. ALIGN Safe, Effective, and Engaging Classrooms

The Trinity Academy for the Performing Arts (TAPA) builds scholar-artists who use their voices, talents, and a lifelong love of learning to transform communities and the world— while building academic, career, collegiate, and social-emotional excellence.

Why it matters: TAPA’s commitment to “high love, high rigor” proves that we can achieve social justice for our students by supporting and building meaningful connections while maintaining high academic rigor.

“By holding our students to high rigor, the TAPA team sends them a message of love that they deserve and will master high expectations. The curriculum itself says that our students—many of whom are poor, students of color—can do the rigorous work. That—in and of itself—is social justice.” – Ammar Zia, Director of Teaching and Learning, TAPA.

Here are some ways TAPA is achieving “high love, high rigor:”

  • Prioritizing a rigorous math curriculum while integrating its importance in social justice, civics, and literacy
  • Building authentic arts-integrated experiences into every aspect of the school day
  • Providing increased social-emotional and trauma-responsive support throughout the pandemic and social justice crises

Extra Credit: Social Emotional Learning Resources for Educators

4. SUPPORT Prioritizing Social-Emotional Learning

This past year has reminded us that the world can change quickly and can ask us to adapt without a moment’s notice. To help prepare our students to deal with the injustices in the world, it’s important to infuse our pedagogy with social-emotional learning.

Why it matters: As educators, we must focus on uplifting, encouraging, and supporting relationships with students. This will prepare them for academic and lifelong success—especially during times of multiple, intersecting crises.

To do so, we need to weave social-emotional learning into our schools to meet students’ needs equitably, even during remote or hybrid learning.

Some ways to integrate social, emotional, and academic support include:

  • Collaborative group work to support peer-to-peer learning
  • One-on-one time between teacher and students and students with other students
  • Hands-on activities that support exploration and creativity
  • Formative assessments and more formal presentations that help build verbal communication skills

Extra Credit: Social Emotional Learning & Why It Matters in the Wake of COVID-19

5. AMPLIFY Students Speak Out

When it comes to creating a truly anti-racist and equitable school environment, we must encourage student advocacy and amplify student voice and choice. In 2020, students from Rhode Island shared their thoughts on educational justice and the future of learning

Why it matters:.

In order to understand how to rebuild the system, we must first ensure we’re truly addressing the needs, concerns, and desires of all students. Students have and will continue to play an important role in leading us towards a more equitable future. 

As such, it’s critical that we listen to students, to not only identify the issues they care about, but also help them create solutions that tackle the roots of those issues. 

The students from Rhode Island expressed how they’re supporting each other and approaching pressing issues that deeply affect Gen Z. 

In listening to these students, we learn that they:

  • Are looking out for each other and advocating for the needs of their peer
  • Accept the adaptations they need to move forward and succeed
  • Are confident that educational justice can be achieved
  • Are resilient and hopeful for a better future

Extra Credit: Student Voice: Racism against Asian Americans in the Wake of COVID-19

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