TeachLab with Justin Reich

Addressing Student Anxiety in Remote Learning with Jessica Minahan

Episode Summary

This week on TeachLab, Justin is joined by Jessica Minahan, a behavior analyst, special educator, author, and school consultant. They discuss how COVID-19 is affecting students with anxiety, how it manifests through behavior, and some simple strategies that teachers can use during remote learning to help students feel a bit more in control during these challenging times.

Episode Notes

This week on TeachLab, Justin is joined by Jessica Minahan, a behavior analyst, special educator, author, and school consultant. They discuss how COVID-19 is affecting students with anxiety, how it manifests through behavior, and some simple strategies that teachers can use during remote learning to help students feel a bit more in control during these challenging times.

“...there are a couple of things to keep in mind as you're planning curriculum and planning different things is we're going to see a spike up in fears around sickness and death, particularly those two themes. So for example, if you're going to read a book where the mom dies, we want to be extra thoughtful about that right now. We want to make sure that we think that through and that's something administrators and teachers can be doing together.”


Note to the audience:

The Teaching Systems Lab and the TeachLab team would like to thank all of our audience for their patronage as we attempt to shift our production and content in the light of the COVID-19 pandemic. We think it is of the utmost importance to continue distributing as much content as we can, and as widely as we can, to assist those who are in need of information in these difficult times. We are working to improve the quality of our content with these new constraints and get back to a more regular scheduling. Thank you for your patience.


Resources and Links

Read Jessica’s Educational Leadership: Special Report “Maintaining Connections, Reducing Anxiety While School Is Closed”

Learn more about Jessica Minahan’s work

Find Jessica’s book “The Behavioral Code” on Amazon

Learn more about emWave biofeedback

Learn more about the mote voice commenting for Google Docs

Check out Do Something!





Join our course on edX!

Becoming a More Equitable Educator: Mindsets and Practices


Produced and edited Garrett Beazley 

Mixed by Garrett Beazley


Follow Us On:




Episode Transcription

Justin Reich:                 From the home studios of the Teaching Systems Lab at MIT, this is TeachLab. I'm Justin Reich. Today we're joined by Jessica Minahan. She's a behavior analyst, she's a consultant to schools, and she's the author of The Behavior Code Companion: Strategies, Tools, and Interventions for Supporting Students with Anxiety-Related or Oppositional Behaviors. Jessica, thanks for joining us on TeachLab.

Jessica Minahan:          Thanks so much for having me. Happy to be here.

Justin Reich:                 So Jessica, what kinds of reactions are you seeing among young people to the extended school closures in the coronavirus? How are kids responding to all the challenges that everyone in the world is facing right now?

Jessica Minahan:          Well kids, like everyone, are responding in different ways, and it's impacting kids in different ways. There are some things that we're noticing. In typical times, pre pandemic times, the rates of kids with anxiety is about 31.9% according to National Institute of Health. That's a lifetime prevalence. So presumably that's higher right now, and so a lot of kids show that they're anxious as opposed to say that they're anxious, as well as teenagers, which is a little more complicated than adults. Although adults can do that too. So we might be seeing all kinds of different behaviors from kids, and-

Justin Reich:                 What do you mean by show that they're anxious versus say that they're anxious? What does that look like?

Jessica Minahan:          So behavior is a form of communication, and so for little kids, things to look for that might be a behavioral way of showing I'm anxious, irritability, excessive crying. For little kids, if you're seeing regression, that's a very normal way of showing anxiety, so they start baby talking or sucking their thumb, or even if bed wedding comes back, we want to translate that to I'm nervous or I'm upset or I'm uncomfortable.

Jessica Minahan:          Excessive worry or sadness. Kids can be doing that. Things like unhealthy eating or sleeping habits, that's a little more apparent for adolescents and teenagers who are staying up til 2:00 in the morning playing video games, and then a lot of high school teachers are reporting to me they miss the first 10 o'clock meeting because they're sleeping now.

Jessica Minahan:          Any acting out behavior can also mean anxiety. We don't think when a kid's ... Irritability and acting out are such off-putting behaviors; our instinct isn't, "Oh, poor thing's nervous," right? So you want to make sure we're translating that. When I talk to teachers, I always say, "I'm a translator. I speak behavior. You speak English. So the next time he calls you a fat bleeping cow, just translate that in your mind to I'm nervous about my math quiz and you look great. That's what he really means."

Jessica Minahan:          And then our instincts aren't perfect. So that's a hard one though because our back goes up naturally. We want to ... Any avoidance of activities, attention issues, concentration issues can also ... somatic complaints like headaches and body pain. And then with our teenagers, we want to be watching for alcohol use, tobacco use or any kind of marijuana use; all those kinds of things might be also the way that they're trying to handle it.

Justin Reich:                 For teachers now who are used to having kids in their classroom who are trying to observe their students through a distance through once or twice a week Zoom meetings or through calls and check-ins and things like that, what do you think are some of the most effective ways of scanning for these behaviors when you're watching for them through a screen or at a distance?

Jessica Minahan:          Well, everything's a little more difficult now. It's a different skillset, and I think if you can establish places for kids to give you more information, I think that would be my number one advice. So a lot of teachers are having office hours where high school teachers will let you drop in on a Zoom meeting if you need extra help. Sometimes office hours is just with one other kid. That's very helpful because you get way more information.

Jessica Minahan:          You can actually establish daily check-ins, and this could be something like have a screening with different emojis, like red heart means you're fine, green heart means you're not having the best day, purple heart means you're really upset, and have a scale like that and just as kids are logging in, do a check in like that.

Jessica Minahan:          And we want to also make sure teachers know how to respond if they get a panic response, like a purple heart that says, "I'm really panicking." We want to make sure they have that response. But I think we need to be a little more cautious and specific about creating spaces to get a little more information from kids, and those check-ins would be helpful. On Google Docs you can have a check in with older kids where they answer some questions, and if you can be doing that weekly.

Jessica Minahan:          Another thing, the districts I'm consulting too, it's sometimes overwhelming for the classroom teacher to contact all the families, especially weekly or so, so you can use the village. So non-classroom teachers, if you divvy up the families in a certain grade level, you use pairs and counselors, administrators, and so everyone's calling 15 families a week, that can also make sure we're checking in. So very important to know that someone might be ill in the family or something else is going on.

Justin Reich:                 Great, so you're imagining a team-based strategy that takes all the different families that a school has and uses more of the staff. Actually, MIT started doing some of that even though we're a higher education institution. They pulled out ... with very capable students and all the rest of it. They invited any staff members across MIT that wanted to join the academic coaching taskforce to help folks out.

Jessica Minahan:          That's lovely.

Justin Reich:                 What are the strategies that teachers use for addressing anxiety that will work just as well now during remote learning times and are there some go-to strategies that we've lost because people are at a distance?

Jessica Minahan:          Well, I think we just have to be a little more creative. In a traditional classroom, there's a couple of things that we put in place for anxious kids to help them regulate that actually might not be as helpful as we think. So for example, frequent movement breaks is something that you can see on almost every kid's IEP. It's one of our most common testing accommodation. But my question when someone says we're giving him breaks is, is he calmer after the break? Is he more regulated after the break? What percentage of the time is that working? And often, especially when I poll staff, it's often 30% or less that they're reporting to me. So I think we forget to ask ourselves are the breaks actually working?

Justin Reich:                 It's 30% or less that are reporting to you that the breaks actually work.

Jessica Minahan:          Yes. So they only work 30% or less of the time. And that's sort of an a-ha moment because I think we forgot to ask ourselves, "Oh, are they working?" Because it's such an intuitive thing like, "Oh I'm sure that it's working." But what happens with kids with anxiety or trauma is if you say, "Go for a walk," they've now left them with their thoughts, so a lot of kids are ruminating over mom's boyfriend that I'm worried about or lots of things to worry about right now, and they come back to class less able to attend, more dysregulated, more work avoidant. So it's a good instinct, but it might be it's just not neurobiologically informed or anxiety informed.

Jessica Minahan:          And so what I teach teachers in the classroom, and this could work distance learning as well, is that we want to teach kids your brain is like a remote control; you have to change the channel to calm down because a lot of kids, their dysregulation is thought based dysregulation. We do this at night. If we can't sleep at night, we read a book or we watch TV that helps us go back to sleep. That same concept, just changing the channel will help kids calm down.

Jessica Minahan:          So what we want to do is maybe put a basket of I call them cognitive distractions, which are things that are incompatible with anxious thinking. So for little kids, you could do Where's Waldo books, hidden pictures. When they can read and write, you could do Mad Libs, sports trivia, Star Wars trivia. When older kids, you can be more abstract, like count all the green things in the room. Do the alphabet backwards. Try to think of the first 10 lines of the Star Wars movie. Try to think of the second verse of your favorite song. That's very important, especially when we're worried about depression.

Jessica Minahan:          Any kid with suicidal ideation, you don't want them ruminating in the hallway like that. So that's an example of a well-meaning strategy that may not be helpful for someone with anxiety. Online, we can do the same thing. There are lots of apps that help with distraction, lots of little. I think if you watch teenagers actually, they do do that. They started looking at memes or little ... Like Tik Tok, I think, in a way is a very ... Some of it is weird and some of it's really helpful for distraction. That two minute little reset can can get us off of catastrophic thought. You have a few minutes to physiologically calm and maybe you can reengage in the past.

Justin Reich:                 So it sounds like a particular challenge of this moment is that if we have kids in the classroom, we can observe these kinds of unproductive thinkings and propose these kinds of distractions. Part of what we may need to do more now is to help young people be able to implement these strategies on their own, or to communicate it as teachers more of these strategies to parents and say, "Hey, if you find that some fraction of the oppositional behavior that you're experiencing during homeschooling may in fact be anxiety or frustration or other kinds of things and here's some strategies that might be able to help." Does that make sense? That we would need to be doing more, having kids figure out how to do more of this on their own or helping parents do it?

Jessica Minahan:          Yes. I think explicitly using the word strategies, we use it for academics, that word a lot, but we don't necessarily say strategies for emotional, behavioral issues. I think you can model it as well. I love it when teachers ... Test anxiety is really universal. So say they have to do some participation task or a quiz. Not that we're grading kids right now, but we do do some comprehension checks. You could say, "You know what, this might be causing some anxiety. Let's all change a channel. Let's do a thought break," and you can put up something that's funny. Then now we try the test. Did you see that you were calmer? You can just be real open with it and model.

Jessica Minahan:          It's lovely when teachers let kids know that it helps them, if that's true. Most adults love movies, and that's the main reason, is because it does shut our inner voice off. We stop telling ourselves about laundry and all that stuff when we're watching a movie. So it's lovely to share that it also helps me as a teacher and to be open with it, but I think you can infuse it even within a class.

Justin Reich:                 So as a teacher, these ideas for getting people briefly off track of unproductive thinking, make a lot of sense to me. How many young people can get through these challenges just by changing the channel, and what fraction of the folks who experience anxiety really need to work through some of these underlying issues? I have a sense that for some people you would say, well it's not enough to just keep trying different distractions. We have to figure out what it is that is making you anxious and address some of those feelings and those thought patterns and those kinds of things.

Jessica Minahan:          For sure. The cognitive distraction or thought break really supplants or replaces the frequent movement breaks, so it's a quick ... You're disregulated, we need you to get a little more regulated. It's just a quick intervention. If you're in a conversation with a kid who is really panicking, distracting them and trying again will be more productive, rather than talking to someone who's a little stuck in their thinking and so forth. But yes, I think a lot of kids, of course, need to start working on distress tolerance and managing anxiety in general, and so we want to use other emotional regulation strategies after that for sure. One software that I have been very happy with is something ... Well, t's a biofeedback software and there's several that are school friendly.

Jessica Minahan:          One is called emWave. What happens is you get a little sense pulse oximeter that goes on your finger and it plugs into the USB port or the phone charger, whatever technology you're using, and it shows on the screen how stressed you are. emWave Pro, for example, comes with activities. So what I used to do in school is I would have kids plug in and they would see a black and white picture of a forest. The longer they stay calm, the colors start to pop in, the flowers turn red and the leaves turn green and the little deer turns brown and the whole thing's colored. I'm now calm. A couple of reasons I like that, one is it's not person dependent. So I made the mistake, when I was in school, is I would rescue kids from the classroom, wrap them back up and put them back in class nice and calm. So what kids learned was I was the strategy and the teachers learned to call me because they didn't even see what I was doing.

Jessica Minahan:          I didn't model it, and so when we used emWave, we got a grant. We put it in a couple of the go to people's offices, like school nurse, assistant principal, counselors, myself, and when the kids came out, we all had the same mantra. You first want to validate someone's feelings. So I would say, "I'm sorry you're upset." Then I would say, "And I'm here," but we'd point to the computer and say, "You got this," and we'd teach them to start using it. Actually, my kids started to ask for an emWave break, not so much us. We actually started putting it in the classrooms, in the common corners. I had a biology teacher who put it on three of their Chromebooks that they use every day and put red stickers on the ones that had that, and so kids calm them down during class.

Jessica Minahan:          The other way I use it is to teach kids regulation strategies. So when they're plugged in, as a behavior analyst, I have the physiological data if they're calm or not. So especially when they're upset, when they first see me, I'll plug them in and then we try different emotional regulation strategies so that we can figure out which is the best help. Then it really does lead to more independence because they can do it right on their phone later. So I think some technology can be really useful here as well.

Justin Reich:                 I think one thing that's great about those concrete suggestions is that part of what educators need to be doing right now is asking ourselves, okay, what are the things that I used to do in schools that I can figure out how to do or how to support remotely at home? I mean I think there's been lots of guidance from states, from districts saying, "Hey, we really need to continue to support students with disabilities during remote learning." But there's been much less concrete descriptions of, okay, how exactly do we support students with disabilities during this time? So this idea of oh, actually, software is not the magic bullet to solving all things. But here's a software product that may in fact work that you might be able to recommend to some of your families and they might be able to figure out how to support the support young people in using.

Jessica Minahan:          Right.

Justin Reich:                 As you are seeing people develop their weekly schedules, weekly rhythms, in addition to the office hours and other kinds of check ins, are there other things that teachers can think about putting into their weekly, biweekly routines that can support students with anxiety or growing anxiety, or just build social, emotional learning in their routines?

Jessica Minahan:          Sure. I think one thing, it's a small thing, but greeting kids every single day is very important. I think in upper grades especially, we forget to do that, but right now, they haven't seen you in hours. A lot is going on, and you want to be very comforting. So I think doing a greeting, saying, "I'm so happy to see you. I'm happy we're together," making a point of doing that is very important right now and very impactful for kids. It's also really useful to use the child's name more than you normally would. So if I was to call on someone, I would say, "Jessica, thank you for saying that. Oh thanks Jessica." I would almost say it twice, because when a kid logs off, if you said their name, they feel validated. They feel seen. It's really hard for them to dismiss that that interaction occurred or not encode it, or think about it, so that's very important.

Jessica Minahan:          There's a couple of things we can add. For example, if grading a Google Doc or giving feedback, I know we're not grading, but giving feedback on a Google Doc assignment, there's an extension on Chrome called Mote, M-O-T-E, and it allows you to do voice commenting as opposed to just writing the comments. I think at this time, that would be particularly advantageous, or just right in the beginning of the paper, leave a voice note or right at the end. Because that's what we would do in school, is we'd pass out papers and say, "I loved how you ended this. You really took my feedback and I really appreciate that." You say a few things. That's what's missing right now, and so that's one example of where we can do that a little more. So I would recommend that as well.

Justin Reich:                 Great, so cranking up the personalized connection, the personalized communication, which I'm sure also feels hard for teachers. Because when you're looking at a screen full of Zoom names and you're worried about who's not there, and those kinds of things.

Jessica Minahan:          Well one thing I would love to make a plug for too is writing letters and having phone calls home. It sounds very time consuming and overwhelming so I would almost think about if your kid hasn't a logged in or your thinking sleeps through your first meeting or something like that, those are kids... You have 10 to 15 that you're really worried about. Leaving a phone call or writing a letter gives you more bang for your buck in terms of connecting because they can reread the letter a lot. Often, they will keep the letter. A lot of homes are stressed right now and so parents are not as accessible. Especially if they're ill, but maybe they lost their jobs and different things. We know that other stressors in the home, if anything was underlying, is now at risk to be higher, domestic abuse and child abuse.

Jessica Minahan:          A letter or something that can be a lifeline really for some kids as well, even though it takes time. Or a postcard is another thing. I would also love teachers to consider putting a share folder on Google Classroom or Zoom, or whatever they're using because some kids, their caretakers, like I said, are too distracted right now to, when they draw pictures, say, "Oh, I love your picture." and that's what we used to be the surrogates when we were in school for kids. They would come in with a new backpack and we'd say, "Oh, I love your backpack." And now those kinds of small interactions that validate the child and any effort they've put into an assignment are not there anymore. If you could ever just put a share folder, like what'd you do this weekend? Kids can take a picture and put stuff up, like I made this Lego tower, or some of our high school kids are artists, they can put stuff up. It's really important for us to be able to then validate them and give positive reinforcement, which they may not be getting enough of.

Justin Reich:                 It sounds like a theme across these advices. Just we need to ramp up the kinds of communication, especially ramping up the kinds of personal communication that really help young people feel, seen, feel heard, feel acknowledged. And we can do that in sort of bigger, more time consuming ways, writing letters, writing postcards, sending self addressed stamped envelope so that kids can write back. But even in those little micro-interactions, ramping up the messages that we send to people, notes that we live on papers, using our student's name and really making sure that they feel seen and heard. Teachers are trying to balance so many different things and challenges right now, but that seems like an area which is actionable. I can try to say each of my kids' names two more times next time we meet or those kinds of things.

Jessica Minahan:          Yes.

Justin Reich:                 What are you seeing school leaders do to be effective in supporting school communities during this time?

Jessica Minahan:          I think they're really upping the communication. A lot of school leaders are having more frequent staff meetings over Zoom and so forth because we want to be cautious about teacher anxiety. And I love thinking about it that we're all first year teachers again. And having a whole building of first year teachers is a lot of stress. I mean a lot of people are really taking to technology and are very fluid with it, and some people are really struggling and it's a huge learning curve. And we just want to acknowledge that this is not what we are used to doing. I think the frequent check-ins, again, with the staff is really, really useful. Making sure teachers have resources, not everything translates easily over online.

Jessica Minahan:          There are so many resources and a lot of educational companies are giving free resources out right now. And I think I've seen a lot of administrators make sure they have banks of that, make a Padlet of them or some sort of Google Share on that. I think the other thing I have seen and would love to see more of is to prepare teachers to respond to kids who are very distressed because I think a lot of teachers feel that that's not their competency area. In normal school days we would send the kid to the counselor or talk to the counselor and the teacher's room, and get advice and then know what to do. But right now you're getting thrown off by a kid's response or an essay that says something very panicky.

Jessica Minahan:          I think it would be lovely for administrators to have some sort of a cheat sheet of how do we respond to distress. And so teachers have cheat sheet, can rehearse it. It actually is really just about a couple of things that people have to remember. The first thing you ever want to do is validate the person's feeling. If a kid says, "My grandma's in a nursing home and I think she's definitely going to get sick, they're all going to get sick," We want to just validate that feeling. "I'm sorry you're worried about your grandmother," so that they've been heard and you're validating that emotion is reasonable. The other thing I always tell teachers is you want to watch your intonation and your body language because kids are watching you as much as they're listening to you. And if you look calm, it's helpful, and that's just a small thing that you can do.

Jessica Minahan:          The most calming voice you can use or when you're talking is to mimic the intonation and the volume you would use if you're reading a bedtime story to a toddler. If you talk like that, that is also, through behavior, communicating we're safe, I'm not worried. You shouldn't be worried. That's very useful when you validate the feeling. And then the next thing I would love teachers to know how to do is just a simple reframe. And what reframe means, kids are at risk for catastrophic thinking right now. And so that's too big and too vague. And what a reframe means is you just get kids smaller and more accurate. And in this particular pandemic, you want to make sure that they feel more in control or you remind them what they're in control of. Because when you have had a trauma or anxiety pre-pandemic, you lose a sense of control.

Jessica Minahan:          And now we all sort of feel out of control. We can't plan too far in advance, we don't know what's happening. Within a reframe, you can do those things. For example, if a kid says, "I'm going to get sick," you could have a cheat sheet. And I share this with teachers all the time of responses, "Well you're washing your hands, you're socially distancing, your taking your vitamins, you're doing a really nice steps to prevent that." And so you're reminding them, you have control over this, you can do it. I think another thing that's really useful is to remind kids to look for the helpers. Mr. Rogers is comforting to people at all ages, of course. And what he used to always say is, if a kid's watching something scary on the news that you should focus on the helpers mentioned in the news briefing.

Jessica Minahan:          And so for kiddos who do that, a teacher could easily say, "Can anyone list five helpers that they heard about?" For older kids they need to practice writing and persuasive essays and different things. Why not have it be about things that are going well or people that are helpful? There are some good news outlets that only give good news and that's a really helpful thing to tell some of our kiddos who go and find information on their phones or by themselves. Good News Network is one, InspireMore. There's also Some Good News is a YouTube channel.

Justin Reich:                 [crosstalk 00:28:44] John Krasinski.

Jessica Minahan:          That's right, a good Boston accent he has. It's just only good news about the COVID and that would be nice even to just show a clip right before you're leaving people to help people feel like, okay, maybe this not everything's so bad. That can be helpful.

Jessica Minahan:          Another thing to consider is volunteering. A lot of people are helping others, you get your neighbor groceries or something. If you watch how you feel the hour after you've done that or even the whole rest of the day, it actually is very calming because you feel like I did do that, I can't control this big thing. There are some volunteer options for kids to help them feel more in control of everything. I did do that. I saw that little part, so I like the website, DoSomething. It has a whole bunch of online volunteering options and most of them are very conducive to social distancing. I can't emphasize enough how much comfort people will get from helping. And teachers can think about arranging this. I have a teacher friend who had all her kids paint rocks and she went around and collected them from the apartment building front stairs and she put them in the bed of the hospital, had a rock bed around the hospital and she colored it with these painted rocks and took pictures. Everyone felt good. I felt good after she sent it to me and I had nothing to do with it. That can be really helpful.

Jessica Minahan:          And one last thing I would say for that, giving kids a sense of control that teachers can partner with them in is primary source journaling. So, this has never happened before. An eighth grade teacher can't look up, "What did an eighth grade teacher do five years ago in this situation?" So really everything could be a historical artifact, any kind of journal. So, our most famous child journal is Anne Frank, which obviously billions of people have studied and that would be nice to fold into a lesson. "Well why don't you keep a journal and you may be creating a historical artifact for future generations?" That might be just something that keeps a kid afloat. "I can concentrate on this. I'm being helpful, I'm being a historian." That's another idea and teachers are creative. I would say that administrators and teachers coming together with those kinds of ideas and folding it into curriculum would be really helpful.

Justin Reich:                 In our house, our third grade teacher assigned a time capsule exercise, which is very much like the last thing that you described and that was a big hit to be able to say, "Some of it was describing what's happening now. Some of it was just what do I like, what I don't like, what am I listening to, what am I watching, which of my friends do I miss?" And that was enjoyable quite a bit. But I do want to summarize, there are two great things that you had that were baked in there. One was having school leaders give teachers a sort of a basic template for addressing feelings of anxiety around validating feelings, staying calm, reframing negative comments, especially kind of catastrophic sorts of thinking to more directed, here are concrete things that you're doing that are making a difference right now. And then reminding students to look for the helpers. That was sort of the set of steps that you have that I think is really helpful.

Justin Reich:                 And then another point that you introduced all of this with is that for those who are in school leadership positions, I think when school leaders create conditions where teachers feel really good, they pass those good feelings and good work onto their students. So if we want teachers to be checking in with their students and families pretty regularly, it's pretty important for us to have school leaders that are checking in with teachers and their families really regularly because that makes us go, "Oh I really liked it when that person checked in on me, how can I pass that along?" As people are looking ahead to the fall, my sense is here in early May that some of the schools in the South, they're going to be wrapping up in the next couple of weeks. In other places there's only about five or six more weeks of school, most of which I think will be kind of coasting. I think most people have sort of gotten their remote learning plans set and are just running with them now. But what should teachers and school leaders be thinking about as they're imagining and developing new routines for the fall?

Jessica Minahan:          Well, there'll be a couple of differences. Well, first of all, the structure of schoolwork we're still unclear about. How many kids come a day and all that kind of thing. But there are a couple of things to keep in mind as you're planning curriculum and planning different things is we're going to see a spike up in fears around sickness and death, particularly those two themes. So for example, if you're going to read a book where the mom dies, we want to be extra thoughtful about that right now. We want to make sure that we think that through and that's something administrators and teachers can be doing together. If it's in the scope and sequence, we might want to reflect on that or have a way of introducing it or reminding kids if you need to be taking care of yourself during this or skip that chapter. Those kinds of things. So that's something I would really be cautious about.

Jessica Minahan:          The other thing is that we'll see more of is a fear of germs. So we might see excessive hand-washing looks fine right now, we're supposed to be doing that. So people with OCD might be very like [crosstalk 00:04:40.] They're like vindicated and validated but we're at risk for having this group of children who are particularly scared of germs. So if someone sneezes in the class, that may cause an anxiety or a panic in some students. And so that is very different then what we're used to. And so you might want to have to create hand washing stations in the classroom. You want to be reminding kids of all the safety things that are going on. You want to model hand-washing but not in a panicky way. So those are things that are also will be different that we want to keep an eye on.

Justin Reich:                 That's good. I'm interested in hearing you talk more about the sort of curricular connections there. I taught ninth grade world history. One of my intuitions is in challenging times to sort of lean into the history of things. Like I would be thinking, "Time to teach the black plague, time to teach the 1918 pandemic." In part because I think it's good to relate to other people in history who have gone through these things and in part to remind folks like society has gotten through these challenges and we have moved forward. I wonder if you have thoughts about, I hear a little bit of your advice saying sort of steer away from some of those topics, but should people be mostly thinking about steering away from those topics or are there constructive ways to sort of lean into them so that people can say, "Okay, death is a thing in human society, but we have ways of confronting?" Both keeping it at a bay as best we can, but when it happens confronting it and accepting it and those kinds of things.

Jessica Minahan:          Yeah. I think what I would say, I wouldn't say a global statement to steer away from it. I would say be very thoughtful about how you're going to introduce things and be prepared because trauma is a little different neurobiologically than anxiety, although similar parts of the brain are impacted. So being triggered is very different. So the child will actually maybe even look okay, but they absolutely stop listening. They are flashing back to a relative who just died or whatever. So you want to be a little more thoughtful, I would say as a group. So, I think there's huge benefits for seeing historical periods of time and that was overcome and you know what society learned from this? Or even reflecting in the future, in five years, "What do you think we'll be doing differently? What are good outcomes from this or bad." Talking about it, you don't want to not talk about, it's the elephant in the room. I would say, in general you don't want to avoid it but I would say you just want to be very thoughtful about it.

Jessica Minahan:          Also, my instinct having worked with kids with anxiety and trauma for so many years is probably September and October, you may not want to go so heavy in presumably the rates of sickness will be going down so you also maybe want to be strategic with that.

Justin Reich:                 Right, if something [inaudible 00:38:02] fits in the curriculum. How do you think about starting in welcoming people into the year and probably like some warm encouraging positive kinds of things and then ramping into the more difficult things that society is wrestling with as the year goes on.

Justin Reich:                 Well Jessica Minahan, it's been enormously helpful having you here and I know that a lot of your advice will be really welcomed to many educators. You had an article in a free and open education leadership special report called Maintaining Connections, Reducing Anxiety While School Is Closed which has a lot of these ideas in it. We'll put a link to that to the show notes. But thanks so much for joining us today. It was really great getting a chance to learn more about your work.

Jessica Minahan:          Thanks. I really enjoyed it. Thanks for having me.

Justin Reich:                 I'm Justin Reich. Thanks for listening to TeachLab. For those of you who are experiencing anxiety, I hope some of the ideas you heard were helpful and I hope you know how many people are so grateful for your work as educators.

Justin Reich:                 You can read more of Jessica's work in our show notes at TeachLabPodcast.com. While you're there, be sure to subscribe to TeachLab to get future episodes on how educators from all walks of life are tackling remote learning during COVID-19. This episode of TeachLab was produced by Garrett Beazley and sound mixed by Garrett Beazley. Stay safe, until next time.