Just Be, and Be Well
Updated: Apr 23, 2020
There’s a lot of education-related pandemic content out there. How to implement remote learning, ways to engage students at home, support for parents who are finding themselves wearing a new and challenging hat as a teacher, etc. This is not that. This is my best attempt at sharing some of the messages that have resonated most with me as I navigate being alive right now. They are certainly applicable for school leaders who have the immense challenge of providing support and structure for school communities who are searching for ways to stay connected, healthy, and learning. Read on for a few humble lessons for this moment, and links to a few much better longer reads for when you have time.
It is okay to do only what is necessary.
Right now we’re all under a lot of stress and many of us are experiencing anxiety levels that are way above our normal ones. It takes psychological energy to process and stay (or get) well. If you’re feeling the pressure to “make the most” of this time and trying to be ultra-productive, let it go. We are in a crisis and survival is the priority. It’s okay to be overwhelmed and be unproductive. I play guitar, and it’s been really comforting to play in the evenings, but I’ve tried to reject the voice in my head that says I need to use this time to become a virtuoso. It’s not realistic, and honestly, it’s too much pressure. There will be a time for the grind again, I’m sure, but that time is not now. We won’t see learning outcomes skyrocketing in these next months, despite any and all grandeur we apply to remote teaching plans, expectations, and accountability. Yes, schools should establish some common sense approaches to remote learning that aim to be as equitable as possible, but we’ll all be better off if we let ourselves (and teachers, students, and parents) off the hook for trying to maximize this time.
You have permission to feel all the feelings. There’s a great deal of research that people who allow themselves to fully experience the range of human emotion - fear, joy, anger, sadness, desire, etc. - have far better health outcomes. It’s not just feel-good advice to lean into emotions, it’s very practical and good for your health. It’s more important than ever that we give ourselves grace and that we try not to muscle through anything. Sometimes I feel sad and overwhelmed, but then I tell myself that I shouldn’t because I should be grateful that I’m feeling well. But this is a form of denial, and it’s not helpful. It’s okay to feel whatever you’re feeling. In this excellent article from Harvard Business Review, the author talks about how we’re feeling grief right now, and that grief, like all emotions, needs to move. “When you name it, you feel it, and it moves through you.” If you haven’t named your feelings, and encouraged those around you to do so as well, I encourage it. If you’re struggling, tell someone you are having a hard time and watch the feeling melt away a little. As leaders, if you can manage to talk to your staff with vulnerability, you will make it easier for others around you to feel and move through their emotions, too. This is a powerful way you can build community right now.
When you can, have fun.
We can take this crisis very seriously (and we really should), but we don’t have to be serious all the time. This author’s therapist writes in a beautiful prayer to her clients that it’s okay to acknowledge the throat-clenching, tight-chested anxiety and set it down, “somewhere nearby so you can pick it up again when you need to.” The permission to set down my anxiety was so powerful that I actually envisioned putting down my worries in a heap next to me. What a load I was carrying! And then I put a 90s hip-hop song on and danced it out. Then laughed at myself. There’s no shortage of fun and funny content out there to enjoy, and it’s okay to let yourself enjoy life without guilt. In fact, it’s probably more important than ever. Look for the ways you can encourage your school team to set down their worries for a little bit and laugh, too. Maybe even turn yourself into a potato? (Just kidding.)
Take care of yourselves. Please don’t feel pressure to be at your very best right now. Try to fully embrace whatever it is you’re feeling and let it move through you. And try to remember to laugh when you can. Just be, and be well.