It has been one month since the 2020-2021 school year opened. The year of the pandemic. The year of great uncertainty and instability. Seven months earlier schools closed around the nation – a closing we thought would be a few weeks or a month. Seven months later, reconnecting with our students this fall (whether it be in person or through a virtual platform) has reignited our purpose. Thank goodness for them. BUT – This is hard!
As a school leader, I often play the role of “emotion manager”. I need to keep a pulse on the emotions of my staff and help them stay afloat – for they are the most direct line between the school and the students and parents. They are the voice and face of our schools. Families of our students are reaching out in need. They are trying to survive. They need the school and we need them. The intense feelings of all involved are bigger than anything we have ever experienced. Teachers, parents, support staff, and administrators feel worried, inadequate, concerned, and most of all OVERWHELMED.
At the end of this week and through the weekend I was able to step away from the daily grind of school re-opening business to connect with other school leaders through MEMSPA (Michigan Elementary and Middle School Principals) and by participating in #EDCampLEAD 2020. I needed that. Re-opening schools this year has been so heavy that I needed to step away from it for a moment to truly reflect on the heaviness and see a light at the end.
In my contemplation, I drew a parallel between what is happening in schools right now and what happened with hospitals this past spring. Hospitals were overwhelmed. They didn’t know if they had the equipment they needed or the funds to secure it (even if it were available). This virus was new. There was no best-practice medical treatment developed yet. The doctors had to rely on what they know about past viruses and attempt to apply the ‘tried and true’ practices to this situation and wait to see what results they got. They would tweak, adjust, abandon, and try again. Each medical and safety decision they made had to come with worries that maybe it is not the best approach. All hospital personnel were working harder than they ever had before under the most challenging of obstacles. They were exhausted and overwhelmed.
Through the challenges and obstacles, new treatments were realized. With these new treatments, more promising results were advancing. More and more patients were improving and there was a decline in the number of tragic outcomes. This summer I ran into a friend who is a respiratory therapist and I asked her how things are going at work. She shared, “It is much better. Work feels somewhat normal again. I know what to do. I am not so exhausted and overwhelmed.”
Re-opening schools right now reminds me of how it may have felt for hospitals this past spring. It is overwhelming for everyone – staff and families alike. Our students are looking to the adults around them for assurance and guidance. We do not want to mess this up. We don’t know how to do this. We want to do it right the first time, but we won’t. We will make mistakes. We will tweak, adjust, abandon, and try again. We will improve because of what we learn through the journey. We are stepping into the journey not knowing the answers, but to figure it out – just as the medical field did. They are stable now and their work within the pandemic continues to improve. We will get there too.
I am a school leader. I worry about every decision I make right now. What if it is the wrong decision. What if there is a better way. I cannot open a book or a journal to review the best practices of school safety and educational practices in a pandemic. I cannot call on an expert. I have to figure this out with my colleagues, my staff, and my families because the children are counting on us. We will not be perfect. We will be okay. The children will be okay. This is the beginning of a new journey in education. It is overwhelming and exhausting. That is to be expected. We will worry – because we care. We will feel inadequate – because there is so much we don’t know, yet. But there is light at the end.
To share the wisdom of my friend, the respiratory therapist….
It will be better. It will feel somewhat normal again. We will learn what to do by being in the journey. In time, we will not be so overwhelmed.
My educator friends, make decisions in your knowing and with your heart. Monitor the results and adjust. Fly the plane. If it crashes, rebuild it with the knowledge of what you learned in the crash. Be aware you are also on a learning journey. You’ve got this! We’ve got this!