– Dan Jones –
Possible opening: The pandemic has made everything so different now from the way it used to be, and the only word I can use to describe this change is “crazy!” Let’s be real… this sucks. Why can’t things just be normal again? And yet, I am so glad that this change has forced us to take a long-overdue look at our archaic educational model, something that has so desperately been needed for years. It’s hard to see the positive while we are dealing with the loss of “normal” and a shift to remote learning dumped on us by this external force. When we feel forced, we tend to have tunnel vision. We only see what we have lost instead of the growth potential. But we can move past this natural resistance and create learning that values individuals and fully engages students if we are willing not to get stuck in our emotions.
I am an eternal optimist, and that has helped me to see the opportunities that lie ahead. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t struggled with the return to school. My mind has run the gamut of emotions when it comes to preparing lessons, new routines, and the safety and mental well-being of students, staff, and my own family. Some things have helped me to really refocus and re-energize for the upcoming year. The more positive we can be about the upcoming school year, the more positive our students’ experiences will be.
Many seem to be holding on to hope that somehow, someday we will be able to go back to what we were doing before the pandemic.
Did you know that we are grieving the loss of normal? Bob Tipton created a graphic to help explain transformational change, and unfortunately, it starts with grief. The type of change we all experienced was sudden, tragic, and unwelcomed. According to Tipton, “change is a series of endings followed by beginnings.” The end of the last school year, and the beginning of this one, rocked our sense of the status quo. Our normal routines were not only challenged and changed, they were also set on fire. COVID-19 sent many of us into Tipton’s list of denial, righteous resistance, pleading, and despair, or skepticism. “Awesome” is not typically a word we would associate with this process, but it was a frustrating, panic-inducing, anxiety-driving awesome change.
It has been six months since many of us had our educational world rocked like never before. It is time we stop asking, ”When, God? When will things go back to normal?” And don’t worry, I will not refer to this as the new normal. Let’s just say that our journey has taken a drastic turn and we have found ourselves wondering where we currently are. This foreign land is called progress.
Robert Evans Wilson Jr. wrote an article in Psychology Today called 9 Things to Do When Change Is Forced on You. In this article, he discusses that in order to move forward through change that has been forced upon you, you must look to what you can learn from the situation. Tipton refers to this understanding as growth. It is the upward portion of the transformational curve.
The truth is, normal has died, and we mourn its loss, but take heart, we will get through this stronger and more prepared to meet the needs of our students.
When considering teachers’ responses to this pandemic, many have moved on to tolerance, and some have moved on to acceptance. Still, many seem to be holding on to hope that somehow, someday we will be able to go back to what we were doing before the pandemic. The truth is, normal has died, and we mourn its loss, but take heart, we will get through this stronger and more prepared to meet the needs of our students. Normal is a phoenix that will rise again in new form. Getting through this transition is hard, but there are some things that we can do to help us move forward.
We need to take time to calm our spirit and not spend our energy debating on social media and getting angry about the things that are outside of our control. Robert Evans Wilson Jr. suggests, “The stillness and calm[ing of] your mind …will allow us to achieve some clarity in our thoughts and feelings. We need clarity to help us choose our next direction.” It is hard to rebuild when we are busy putting out fires. A calm spirit is a relational spirit. We develop the clarity to have positive conversations so that we can move forward. He goes on to explain that we must refocus on our goals. “The path to reaching [your goals] may change, but that doesn’t mean you have to change your goals.”
It is essential that we focus on the now. Eckhart Tolle said, “Realize deeply that the present moment is all you have. Make the NOW the primary focus of your life.” Submit to the current situation. Be willing to let go of what was. Change is scary, and we tend to cling to what we know, even if it was unhealthy or subpar because it is familiar. Growth and change take root when we become still enough to let it grow. Will our growth be perfect and clean? Nope. It is going to be messy, but as Philip Stanhope, the 4th Earl of Chesterfield wrote in a letter to his son, saying, “Whatever is worth doing at all, is worth doing well.”
Support is such a crucial aspect of this growth. We need to spend this time building each other up, sharing ideas, problem-solving together, and expanding our networks because we are stronger together. A support system will aid us when we get stuck, help us decompress when we are frustrated (and a word to the wise, decompress in a small, in-person, safe setting… social media is not that space), and expand our options when thinking up new ideas.
We have an obligation to make this year, not just one that students will remember, COVID-19 has already done that, but we need to make it a year of growth and expansion of what was to what can be for our learners. Grieve, but let’s not get lost in our grief. Draw strength from it and become a new creation that is ready to meet the educational challenges that lie ahead.