“I have cried almost every day this week…either from exhaustion, being overwhelmed or just from seeing so many people step up and support one another”- these are the words of a district administrator as this very long week comes to an end. As educators in North America adjust to the new normal; working from home to continue to support students and their families, trying to find the best ways to bringing learning in to millions of homes, discovering new ways to connect with families… and at the same time… being responsible for their own personal safety and the welfare of their loved ones.
There is pressure being felt by teachers and leaders at all levels to supply both online learning opportunities and to ensure that, for families without internet access, there are paper copies. An overload of messages, suggestions, expectations and virtual meetings are causing a tiredness that feels nothing like being in a classroom full of students each and every day.
The hardest part seems to be the grief being felt by teachers and school principals everywhere. Students went home and then schools were closed… indefinitely or with a definite no return date at this point. Teachers had no time to say good bye to the students that are such a part of their lives. The usual end of year events and celebrations that bring closure and provide opportunities to share gratitude and love will not exist this year or at the very best, be in a format that we have never experienced before. The school “family” is now separated in isolated bubbles; everyone is doing their part right now to ensure the health and safety of their communities and this means that any physical support and connection is lost.
Yes, we are all finding ways to stay connected and as I knew would happen, educators at all levels are rising to the occasion and doing their best in a very sad time. Teachers are learning how to respond to parent and student needs from the comfort of their home, principals are figuring out how to set agendas and norms for meetings that have to be held virtually to maintain a sense of normalcy in the new school day. In all of my coaching calls this week, the themes that bubbled up were around building connections, relationships, checking in with people and at the same time, trying to provide some structure and expectations for how this work is different.
In one call, a very wise principal stated that “we are not providing distance education or on-line learning but we are trying to have some teaching and learning during COVID-19“. I like this statement. It is just that… we are trying to do our best to provide what we can at this difficult time. It is not about grading papers or state or provincial assessments anymore…it is about seeing what we can collaboratively accomplish so students can continue to learn. It isn’t about how much they learn right now but perhaps that they also have some sense of normalcy, routine and feel a sense of purpose and accomplishment.
And through all of this, it is taking a minute to find the balance. Sitting outside in the sun, going for a walk if you are able, sharing a home-cooked meal with your family, playing a game, watching a movie, laughing at nothing or… making a snow angel. Returning home to eastern Canada to snow on the ground was an adjustment. Working mostly in the southern states means that I miss most of winter. But, a nice sunny day gave me an opportunity to appreciate my home, my family, my health. My new “normal” is an adjustment as I learn how to meet the needs of my schools and districts without being there to wrap my arms around them.
As sheltering, physical distancing and the lack of in person connection continues to be our world, stay strong and positive. Reach out to others when you need them or they need you -or just because it feels like the right thing to do. Schools provide much more than paper and pencil tests and learning. They provide a sense of community. This has never been more needed or evident then right now.
To my principals, district leaders and teachers reading this- THANK YOU for stepping up and constantly adjusting. My heart has been so touched by the stories of teacher “drive by” parades in student neighborhoods, the constant delivery of food to families, the online “read alouds” at bedtime and so much more. This is above and beyond the “packets” of learning being prepared and sent home. This is all about life lessons. Our students will never forget these acts of kindness and connection during their isolated time at home. You are making a difference.