Educators have so much on their plates right now.
Many of us are juggling both virtual and in-person learning. There's anxiety about standardized testing. And the cumulative stress of the many changes and upheavals that we've experienced over the past year? One can only imagine what the long-term effects will be.
Many educators have left the field this year. It's possible that many more will follow them.
And in the midst of it all, there are our students.
Students who are struggling, but also showing incredible strength. Students who are grieving, but still showing up for one another. Students who are experiencing a historical event - the consequences of which we may not know for quite some time - and are still here. Still persevering. Still learning. Still living.
As the 2020-2021 school year draws to a close, exhausted educators must also plan for the future. Hopefully, the 2021-2022 school year will include a return to in-person learning, while simultaneously incorporating the best parts - namely, the accessibility - of this past school year. Hopefully, students will return to school ready to learn and happy to reconnect with their peers. Hopefully, this next school year will be a good one.
But as we fervently hope for a bright future, we also need to be prepared for a possible storm.
Many of our students have experienced incredible loss over the past year. A loss of normalcy, a loss of consistency and structure, a loss of social connections, and for far too many, a loss of loved ones.
Perhaps the majority of our students will bounce back and easily resume the regular flow of their lives. But many others will still be grieving. Others will be suffering from the after-effects of great trauma. And some, particularly those who are neurodivergent or have mental health conditions, will need additional support as they try to rebuild their daily routines.
For all of these reasons, and so many more, educators need to be prepared to talk about mental health.
Educators do not need to be counselors. No one should have to take on new job responsibilities. Instead, educators should prepare for the next school year with mental health in mind.
Even the smallest changes can make a huge impact on our students' lives.
You don't have to be an expert. You don't have to devote hours to learning new skills and frameworks.
You just have to tell more stories.
And so, to this end, we are happy to share with you new Resource Pages -- for teachers, librarians, literacy coaches, and other education professionals.
The resources come from great websites like Geek Club Books, Not an Autism Mom, Think Inclusive, Children's Health, and Understood.org. These resources provide valuable information about neurodiversity and mental health, share practical tips and teaching strategies, and links to places where you can find additional information and guidance.
Some key resources include:
The Libraries and Autism grant
Self-Care videos from the MGH Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds
Our Resource Pages have categories such as: "Learn More About Mental Health," "Awareness Events," and "The Power of Stories." The pages will be a living document, with content added as we discover it. (And as always, we are open to suggestions and recommendations!)
We hope the Resource Pages offer you guidance and inspiration as you continue to use the books on our site to help the young people in your lives.
Our students need to hear that others have also struggled with grief and loss. Our students need to know that taking care of your mental health is a lifelong endeavor. And our students need to know that having a different mind doesn't mean that your life isn't worth living.
Stories, and the connections that we share when we hear and tell them, can be the first step toward helping a student in need.
You don't have to have all the answers. You don't have to always know what to say. The simple act of sharing and connecting can mean so much to someone who is feeling disconnected and alone. It can lessen the weight of all that stress and fear. Just a bit. And that feeling of connection can be the catalyst that sets a student on the path toward getting help, and healing.
The books on our site are all about fostering and strengthening that connection. The stories within these books have the potential to inspire empathy and compassion. Stories like these can simultaneously help widen our view of the world and our understanding of ourselves.
We hope these stories can help you shine a little extra light into the darkest of places.
Adriana White is our newest staff editor at A NOVEL MIND. She is an autistic school librarian and a former special education teacher. Adriana leads professional development sessions on neurodiversity and mental health in children's literature. She has Master’s degrees in Education and Information Science, with specializations in Special Education and Storytelling, respectively. She has also contributed to the upcoming second edition of the American Library Association book, "Programming for Autistic Children and Teens." She writes about autistic authors, intersectional autism, and autism-friendly schools and libraries. Links to her work, including her Geek Club Books column on books by autistic authors, can be found on her website.