How to Learn, Socialize at School during a Pandemic


The time for creativity and student learning during the pandemic episode has risen its head with the explosion and augmented chances of school staff and students contracting COVID-19, a potentially deadly virus.

In light of the pandemic, educators must consider taking earnest steps to practice precaution and safety measures to prevent contracting COVID-19 while teaching academic and life skills for students’ total well-being.

To work with peers has been the status quo of learning for decades and now this style of learning teeters on students working individually while maintaining 6-feet apart from their peers during the pandemic.

Because of the pandemic, teachers should critically think of applicable rules that are necessary to support creativity in instruction to prolong student interest in learning during the pandemic; in other words, teachers need to add to their instructional repertoire steps and tips and strategies to connect with their state-assigned subject matter standards. At the same time, they must maintain safety for themselves and their students under the threat of the pandemic. This task will not be easy.

Although American schools have adopted few rules for schools (see rules below) to follow that may help quell the spread of COVID-19 virus, educators must also contend with the high possibility that some students may suffer emotionally and academically by their being separated from their peers, whom they have become happily connected while learning.

During the pandemic, in many schools, students are separated at least six-feet from other students in the same classroom, allowing a maximum number of 15 students in one classroom at a time.

Elementary children may be “okay” with the new norm of “separate 6-feet” more readily than their middle and high school students because “collaboration” or “teamwork” usually starts with elementary students, who normally work in sections, pods, or placements. However, because of a young start, child-students can be easily instructed otherwise.

For older students (middle to high school students) a necessary change may be less malleable than their younger classmates. For middle and high school students, the 6-feet apart requirement can be traumatic for some students because they are used to sitting close to their classmates or are used to working in groups.

One of the most enjoyable aspects about attending schools is students socializing with their classmates and friends. Studies have found the importance of relationships and connections with students relates to their overall health.

Being together with peers is an important learning element for teens: They need to be involved with one another for teen-emotional support; they need friends to blab about nothing, so to speak; they need schools for the guidance to lead them through academic success and through life; they need communities, reveals research. Without the proximity of human contact, students may possibly suffer emotionally and academically.

Educators helping children develop social and emotional skills is one of the most important things educators can do to prepare students for a healthy future.

From an early age, research posits, acquired social skills can promote whether a child goes to college or to prison, and whether the child ends up employed or addicted. This study is significant in exploring the necessity of “togetherness” among students while they learn, especially during a time of distress, such as enduring a pandemic.–children-with-strong-social-skills-in-kindergarten.html

Furthermore, human beings are social species: The connection of “togetherness” is essential to nearly every aspect of health and well-being. Lack of connection—or friendship——has been linked to inflammation, health risk, suicide, and many immoral activities, explains seminal research.

Research shows, for example, that listening and participating in a two-person conversation is actually less mentally taxing for the brain than giving or listening to a monologue. Other studies show children learn better by interacting with others rather than by observing others (American Institute).

Thus, during a pandemic, the question must be asked, “How will teachers manage students’ learning?” “How will teachers support students’ emotional health and sense of relatedness by keeping students six feet apart while they learn in a classroom setting?”

School-Guidelines for coping during the pandemic have been set and appear manageable, yet acknowledging the proximity that students crave to connected with other classmates for socializing, for learning is a noticeable void in the guidelines. See guidelines as follows:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has drafted new guidelines for how schools and other organizations can safely reopen. . . In their initial form, however, they make the following recommendations for maintaining social distancing and limiting the sharing of materials within schools:

Value teaching and learning by student-social distancing, which is imperative to students’ happiness and emotional well-being and academic achievement, and minimize movement throughout the building, and restrict mixing between groups.

  1. Try to keep the same student and staff groupings together throughout the school day as much as possible.
  2. Cancel all field trips. Limit gatherings, events, and extracurricular activities to those that can maintain proper social distancing.
  3. Restrict nonessential visitors, volunteers, and activities involving groups of people at the same time.
  4. Space student desks and seating at least six feet apart.
  5. Close communal-use spaces such as dining halls and playgrounds if possible; otherwise, stagger their use and disinfect them in between uses.
  6. Have students eat meals in classrooms. Serve individually plated meals.
  7. Stagger arrival and drop-off times or locations, or put in place other measures to limit direct contact with parents as much as possible.
  8. Keep each child’s belongings separated from others’ and in individually labeled containers, cubbies, or areas.
  9. Have enough supplies to minimize the sharing of high-touch materials to the extent possible (art supplies, math manipulatives, science equipment, etc.), or limit the use of supplies and equipment to one group of children at a time and clean and disinfect these items between uses.
  10. Avoid sharing electronic devices, books, games, and other learning aids. Students might need their own bin of materials that they use for learning—and these materials will need to be cleaned regularly.

The aforementioned guidelines are helpful yet add no This delineation of CDC’s guidelines may be enhanced with the use of creativity added to instructional practices.

Thus, to complement the directives set forth by the Center Disease Control, the writer of this article offers five suggestions to help promote student learning while they social distance themselves.

ADDITIONAL TIPS for Teaching during the Pandemic

  1. Allow students, while learning in the classroom, to connect via use of computers.
  2. Allow students to complete small group
    assignments, situated six feet apart, wearing masks.
  3. Allow students—working individually—to recognize Course of Study standards by researching and creating lessons based on the standards.
  4. Allow a 10-minute standup, walk around greet and meet social time—few students at a time—by maintaining social distancing and wearing masks.
  5. Allow students to write about their feelings pertaining to the pandemic and to ask questions for the teacher to give immediate feedback.

The five suggestions can serve as a start for more creative instruction. Of course, many more ideas are available, for teachers innately know what to do. They only need to think creatively. Ideas are warranted.

Students must not be left outside the connection they need with their classmates to persevere in school. They are young in age and will grow better than normal with the support of safety, knowledge, proximity, relatedness, and friendships.

Educators, put on your creativity hat.

Cynthia Mathews, Ed.D (2020)
Professional Development Consultant

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Published by cynthiamathews

I'm an innovative spirit, one who seeks new and practical ways to learn about life. I enjoy exploring innovative styles to motivate people to persevere in a challenging world. Having a doctorate in Educational Leadership and Curriculum & Instruction, I am inspired to maintain a life long learning experience that will allow me to share my knowledge with others. My expertise includes detecting apathy in individuals and prescribing ways to motivate them to be their best. To initiate this endeavor, I create and conduct personal and professional development programs. I write briefs and pamphlets and instructional guides to inspire, and I speak--upon request--to those who need a reminder of their inner excellence. My blog's main focus is to document my research on motivation and curriculum instruction and to share with subscribers the understanding, the ideas, and the strategies that result from my research. I am a native of Alabama, a teacher, and an author. I look forward to learning with you.