A whole-child approach is important during normal times, but it’s imperative during a crisis. A whole child approach reflects
a school’s willingness to take into account the culture and context that shapes the child and how that context impacts the
child’s response to the academic environment. This becomes particularly important during times of crisis. We know that
students’ and their families’ stress responses are influenced by past life experiences, prior interactions with systems that
are intended to support and protect such as schools and healthcare settings, and their expectations based on their cultural
backgrounds. When schools are able to be responsive to this context during crises, it enables students and families to re-
spond to stress with trust for the school system and more control that leads to better decisions. However, when schools fail
to recognize the role of culture in shaping student and family responses, unintended consequences can result from well-in-
tentioned actions and become blind spots leading to distrust between students and the schools.
A key to effectively engaging culturally-responsive approaches is to approach
student and family interactions with compassion and curiosity instead of judg-
ment. Even when cultural misunderstandings and mistakes occur during inter-
actions, students and families who feel teachers and the school system are
acting with compassion are more likely to trust the intentions of educators and
work collaboratively to create the best academic experience during a crisis.
Educators and school staff
Educators and school staff can consider the following best practice strategies
during crisis and actively avoid blind spots that can undermine these best
- Best Practice: Learn what your students feel is most stressful and most
helpful during the crisis by inviting them to share how their families and
communities are dealing with the crisis.
– Blind Spot: Don’t assume student behavior during the crisis reflects
how they feel about the class materials or themselves. This may
miss how their behaviors are affected by stress and sources of help
that are connected to their family or community.
- Best Practice: Believe students’ stories about family members and others in their community who did not receive
hospital services or who have minimal access to technology to engage in school. Communicate empathy and concern
when these stories are shared.
-Blind Spot: Avoid minimizing students’ experience by trying to convince them that they are misreading the situa-
tion. Also, avoid encouraging them to focus only on the positive; instead, acknowledge inequities or biases that
may exist for their families or communities.
- Best Practice: Actively seek out resilient behavior from students and reframe cultural responses to stress in an at-
tempt to understand how it serves a purpose for managing crises or thriving after crises.
– Blind Spot: Avoid assumptions that responses to stress can only happen one way. Do not assume, when the stu-
dent and family are not responding in the way that you feel is best, that their response is wrong.
Administrators can consider the following best practices to support staff, students, and families, while avoiding these com-
mon blind spots.
- Best Practice: Provide support and guidance for staff to engage conversations about how race, gender, socio-economicstatus and other important identities are sources of both stress and strength for the student during the crisis. Simi-
larly, remain aware of how these social identities impact levels of stress and hopefulness among staff.
– Avoid dissuading staff from receiving consultation about topics related to social identity because of fears that
this might lead to staff or administration discomfort. Actively share with staff how these experiences may impact
students and their families.
- Best Practice: Encourage staff to ask colleagues, students, and their families how to make the virtual classroom more
welcoming to students and their families during the crisis.
– Blind Spot: Avoid creating a virtual workplace environment for staff that promotes assumptions about students
and their families’ experiences without checking in to see whether the classroom environment is helping students
feel safer and more trusting of the school.
- Best Practice: Actively seek to address inequities experienced by students of color within the school and healthcare
system by encouraging staff to act as advocates for students’ needs and to become particularly attuned to the most
vulnerable student needs.
– Blind Spot: Resist the desire to “treat all students the same.” Different students have different needs and when
we don’t acknowledge these unique needs, we risk more significant harm to our most vulnerable students.