Back-to-School: A Time for Care and Connection


A Message from the Director of the Oregon Department of Education, Colt Gill

ODE Director Colt Gill

Care, connection, and community are the heart of education. Each is essential for ensuring healthy, welcoming school communities where students can learn, and staff can teach and nurture students. As students return to the classroom for the coming school year, teachers and staff are being advised to continue to dedicate time and space each school day to foster care, connection, and community. 

A year ago, ODE encouraged schools to emphasize Care & Connection in the beginning of the school year and to continue promoting care and connection throughout the year. The response was enormous and many schools went above and beyond, making those activities a daily practice throughout the year. ODE has compiled some inspiring examples from across the state from 2021-2022.

As we approach the start of another school year, we are reintroducing our Care & Connection tools to make sure our schools are healthy, welcoming communities where students can learn, and staff can teach and nurture students. Like last year, ODE has Care & Connection Activities suggestions and other Care & Connection resources available on our website.

This year, ODE has a new Care & Connection resource, Oregon Classroom WISE, to strengthen mental health and well-being.

Oregon Classroom WISE, A New Care & Connection Resource For This School Year

This year, we’re adding a dynamic new resource, Oregon Classroom WISE (Oregon CW), a suite of free print and video resources, guided tutorials, role plays, and interviews with youth and school personnel. This self-guided content for adults and youth is filled with tools for enhancing mental health and well-being and covers many important topics such as building safe, healthy relationships, best practices for supporting youth experiencing life challenges and distress, and skills for handling challenging behaviors. 

By offering youth and adults additional skills for coping with and responding to the stressors and strains that most of us are experiencing right now, it is our hope that we can work collectively with you to enhance community well-being and stress resilience, and reduce the incidence of emotional, social and behavioral challenges. 

Building On Last Year’s Care & Connection Work

Last year, we were excited to see that more than half of Oregon’s school districts kicked off the school year with Care & Connection. Many of you continued to devote time to cultivating healthy relationships and communities throughout the school year.

We’ve compiled some inspiring examples from across the state from 2021-2022 here.

Each of these strategies focused on key elements of building healthy school communities including:

  • Welcoming students, families, and staff back to school with fun activities, and providing ample opportunities to connect.
  • Promoting a sense of community and togetherness, and engaging students and families in decision-making. 
  • Aligning Care & Connection efforts with health and safety messaging.
  • Connecting Care & Connection activities to strengths-based, trauma- and social-emotional learning-informed, equity-centered mental health/health promotion and prevention.

Building care, connection, and community takes time, but a wealth of research shows that it is a worthwhile investment. In addition to providing time to connect with students and families, we ask school administrators to provide staff and educators with permission and ample time to build care, connection, and community with each other and with students each day. 

About Author

Colt Gill was appointed by Governor Brown as Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction, and as such, serves as the Director of the Oregon Department of Education.

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