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CIS’s ACTIVATE Trainings Support School Staff in a Challenging Year

A fast-spreading virus, a shift to remote learning, a heightened level of stress and anxiety. Schools have faced many challenges this past year, and teachers and school administrators have worked tirelessly to help students navigate these challenges. But it can be tough to guide young people through a difficult time if you are trying to cope yourself.

The airline safety adage goes, “In case of emergency, put your oxygen mask on first before assisting others.” The same could be said for teachers in the school setting. The five strategies of social-emotional learning that CIS of Chicago’s team teaches students (self-management, self-awareness, social awareness, responsible decision-making, and relationship skills) are just as important for adults to cultivate — especially during times of community trauma.

To support school staff and administrators with their own self-care (and their development of social-emotional learning), the CIS of Chicago Partnership Team adapted a few of the trainings they typically provide for our 175 school partners. Last year, the team dedicated two sessions to supporting school partners as individuals, wading through an uncertain environment due to the pandemic.

In normal years, CIS’s School Partnership Team hosts the training series, known as ACTIVATE, to help school partners develop new skills, build relationships across schools, and deepen their partnership with CIS of Chicago. In 2020–21, skill development and relationship building were again priorities, but the School Partnership Team recognized that school staff also just needed a place to decompress and receive the tools and space to invest in their own self-care.

As a result, the team hosted an Adult Social-Emotional Learning session last December with CIS of Chicago’s Together for Students Project Manager Adenia Linker. In the session, Adenia acknowledged the stress and anxiety that the group was feeling with remote learning. Adenia shared how school partners could use mindfulness techniques to ground their energy and improve their self-management (one of the five social-emotional learning strategies).

To help with screen fatigue, Adenia recommended that partners follow the 20–20–20 rule — taking a 20 second break every 20 minutes and looking at something 20 feet away. To cope with feelings of helplessness, Adenia suggested focusing on things that were in partners’ control. Taking time to move, hydrate, relax, and connect with others are all activities that Adenia cited as helping to build one’s self-management and make one feel more productive, motivated, and in control.

At the end of the training, Ms. Sheena Croston, a high school counselor at Ogden International School of Chicago, shared her appreciation for CIS of Chicago’s ACTIVATE trainings.

In April, the School Partnership Team concluded the ACTIVATE series with a session focused on self-care. Ashley Rockwood, the founder of Free Mvmt Shop, led school partners in a virtual self-care power hour. Ashley guided participants through yoga and cardio, providing them an important opportunity to recenter, restore, and decompress at the end of a hectic school year.

In addition to Adult Social-Emotional Learning and Self-Care, the ACTIVATE series addressed other important topics. These ranged from supporting staff in how they educated their students through an equity lens and how they helped students build social-emotional learning skills, like self-management. These topics align squarely with Chicago Public School’s Healing-Centered Framework, an initiative by the school district to become more trauma-engaged and culturally responsive. The Framework aims to support teachers and school staff in their own healing and wellness, so that they can be better equipped to serve students.

The CIS of Chicago Partnership Team recognizes the importance of each member in a school community, and our team is dedicated to meeting their needs through trainings like ACTIVATE, not just during the pandemic, but also in the year ahead when all Chicago Public Schools students will transition back to in-person learning.


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