Celebrating how school social workers can help students Bounce Back even in virtual settings

Photo of School Social Worker on Zoom with Student

We celebrated National School Social Worker week from March 7 – March 13, 2021 as part of Social Work Month. This school year provided unique challenges for school social workers (SSWs) as well as opportunities for innovation. During distance learning, SSWs have created meaningful virtual spaces for student healing and connection. Celebrating Social Work Month is a wonderful time to reflect on the positive impact of SSWs on the well-being of students, families, and communities, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.

To learn more about the creative ways SSWs have been engaging students virtually, we spoke with our colleagues in San Francisco Unified School District’s (SFUSD) Student, Family and Community Support Department about how they implemented Bounce Back, a program for elementary students experiencing traumatic stress. SFUSD SSWs had been providing Bounce Back, an intervention designed to strengthen students’ resilience and coping skills, in small groups during the school day until students had to transition to remote learning due to the COVID pandemic. We wanted to know how the SSWs continued to support students with trauma experiences in this group intervention when they couldn’t see students in person.

Our Student Behavior Research Team’s work with Project SECURE, funded by the National Institute of Justice and in partnership with the Student, Family and Community Support Department in SFUSD, has been studying the efficacy of Second Step, a social-emotional learning program, and Bounce Back, an intervention for children exposed to trauma. As schools were closed to in person learning this school year, the team of school social workers involved in the study have found unique solutions to adapting Bounce Back, a group-based trauma intervention, virtually.

Bounce Back Training: SSW supervisors had to consider how to appropriately train SSWs on the Bounce Back curriculum and how to deliver it virtually. Before the pandemic, the training took place in person, over one and a half workdays. Considering the needs of adult learners, the SFUSD leaders recognized that simply switching to Zoom all day wouldn’t be an effective solution. Instead, they broke apart the training into three half-day sessions. Not only did this alleviate Zoom fatigue, but also provided time for the SSWs to pause and reflect about their practice.

The SSWs’ Bounce Back training included activities modified for the virtual setting to demonstrate what kind of modifications would improve the delivery of the intervention in virtual settings with students. In breakout groups, SSWs shared various student engagement platforms that might help students express their emotions, thoughts, and ideas (e.g., Kahoot, Jamboard, Nearpod, Padlet) and discussed appropriate incentives and positive reinforcement strategies they could use with students.

Examples of incentives and positive strategies for student engagement in a virtual environment

In lieu of stickers or points that might lose significance in remote learning environments, school social workers and teachers can offer incentives such as the opportunity for students to:

  • Play a song of their choosing at the end of the session,
  • Show and tell about a special object, or
  • Choose the class or small group’s mascot for the week.

Other positive practices for teachers and SSWs include:

  • Recognizing and praising specific student effort such as pausing to celebrate when students join a virtual session with their videos on,
  • Providing 1:1 communication with students and parents when possible, and Using Zoom reactions for quick positive feedback and encouragement.

Preparation: To support SSWs implementing Bounce Back virtually, SSW supervisors packaged the intervention lessons and manuals in an electronic directory of PowerPoint slides. They organized the slide decks by lesson so SSWs could easily download and access all the materials needed to facilitate each group. Supervisors also made sure each slide deck was engaging and appropriate for children by adding memes and fun visuals throughout the presentations. By prepping all the materials in advance, SSWs could “hone-in” on student engagement instead of juggling various presentations and materials. Additionally, supervisors used the slides during supervision check-ins as a point of reference to discuss how things were going, what worked well virtually, and what improvements could enhance the next session.

Implementation: When SSWs were ready to implement Bounce Back groups this year, most students already had access to computers and a basic understanding of the protocols involved in joining a virtual classroom. Still, there were some minor interruptions and delays related to internet connectivity or gathering Bounce Back participants to the group from their teachers’ virtual classrooms. Leads encouraged SSWs to be flexible with their pacing, focus on student engagement, and to not let session content dictate all that occurs during the group time. For example, SSWs had to use the first few sessions to focus the students on getting online and setting expectations around technology, privacy, and other group norms. SSWs admitted that in virtual settings, they needed more than the typical 10 prescribed sessions to deliver the intervention meaningfully and successfully. In the absence of seeing students daily in school, for example, some SSWs held weekly individual sessions with each of the participating students to build relationships, communication, and engagement.

The solutions above are just a few highlights of how SSWs launched a trauma-focused intervention in virtual environments for elementary students this year. Please stay tuned for further lessons learned about the virtual adoption of Bounce Back and more findings from Project Secure later this summer!

Topics: Elementary school Social-emotional learning Trauma

Tags: COVID-19 Distance learning