There’s no need to go through the litany of difficulties everyone is facing, but they are all overwhelming and urgent. I’m proposing just 3 suggestions to direct our energy out of all the spinning, into quieter and productive spaces.
This bears repeating in this constantly shifting world, and can make a difference when anxiety starts to spin up. I can usually measure my need to stop and breathe by checking my shoulders. If they are up by my ears (or going that way), I roll my shoulders a few times and take a couple of deep breaths- all the way down to my diaphragm. It feels great to reset, even if it’s just briefly.
2. Prepare for tough conversations.
Everyone has their own ideas about the way this world is working right now: race and equity, masks/no masks, distance learning/in-person instruction…and there’s an upcoming contentious election. It’s impossible to expect that students and teachers drop their ideas or beliefs at the door, so we need to brace ourselves for the conversations that will rise in the classroom, or with parents. The University of Michigan’s Center for Research and Technology offers these general guidelines, helpful to both students and teachers:
- Listen respectfully, without interrupting.
- Listen actively and with an ear to understanding others’ views. (Don’t just think about what you are going to say while someone else is talking.)
- Criticize ideas, not individuals.
- Commit to learning, not debating. Comment in order to share information, not to persuade.
- Avoid blame, speculation, and inflammatory language.
- Allow everyone the chance to speak.
- Avoid assumptions about any member of the class or generalizations about social groups. Do not ask individuals to speak for their (perceived) social group.
In addition to the above, Teaching Channel offers Course 5107: Empathy and Comprehension for a Compassionate Classroom. This course is all about helping teachers navigate these tough subjects by teaching empathy, inclusivity, and compassion using Sarah K. Ahmed’s Being the Change. Check it out!
3. Find the bright spots.
I don’t know about your personal experience, but in March-June of this year, my home looked a lot like a monkey zoo, feral children doing the bare minimum so the teacher to knew they were still alive. The juggling of parenting and teaching – in all its forms – was nearly impossible. A gentle reminder: as the pandemic blew up, schools and teaching went into crisis mode. Parents, teachers, and students were working through disruption in routine, unavailable resources, and mental health crises. There was very little time to focus, choose an emotion, take safety precautions, AND show up 100% in everything you’re responsible for in life.
There’s no way teachers could continue designing amazing lessons with tools and materials that evaporated overnight, including technology for every student, and checking in on each student’s social emotional state. The resources they use vanished.
The school year will, once again, be an experiment. How do you plan for something that could change drastically in 24 hours? A great many teachers I’ve talked to, known for their innovative drive and their fierce love for their students, have been spending their summer learning, planning, and growing, despite the ambiguity of what schools will look like and need. They are working on several different scenarios to be ready for all of them, along with variations to each model. I imagine it like one of the world’s largest flow charts.
So, the least I can do is back them 100%. When we talk about the beginning of the year with a positive spin, our kids follow suit. District families respond to what they hear and see, so teachers and administration are working like crazy to shed a positive light. Am I confident and reassured with the plans laid forth? Not really, but my children are not going to know that, and I’ve committed to publicly applauding all efforts to make the best of an unprecedented time. Teaching has taken too many hits in its history to have to endure more through negative behaviors. It takes a village to serve our children, and some of the villagers need more of our support.
These three suggestions are designed to make an impact in our world and with our children. No matter what you are juggling right now, my hope is that you can stop for a moment to share joy and peace. We all deserve a lot of that right now.