I've been writing this post in my head for a few months now. How does one be mindful during a pandemic? What follows is more of my thoughts and observations while doing all I can to keep a mindful perspective. Despite what what your political persuasions are, this is all about what our current situation FEELS LIKE and hopefully nothing to do with anything else. At least that is my intent.
The problem I've had is the story kept changing. The story KEEPS changing. I've been in education over twenty years. One thing I've always tried never to say is, "I've seen it all." Mostly, because I don't want to see see it all! However, never in my wildest dreams did I consider working in schools during a pandemic. Heck....I never considered living in a WORLD with a pandemic. But here we are. Together. It doesn't always feel like we are together. I don't always feel connected, unified or all on the same page. Instead, I've found myself experiencing a wide range of emotions since I returned to work.
Anger, frustration, exhaustion, confusion, sadness, excitement, impatience, sorrow, disappointment, hopefulness, hopelessness, disappointment.
Hellooooooo.....elephant in the room, anyone?!
I've been feeling so negative about all of this! However, there are some positives. While much of what I'm going to share may look like things are terrible, I am not prepared to make that statement. I've spent a lot of time reminding myself of this:
Keep focused on the now.
While quarantined since March, I shared in a previous post that I spent the first five weeks in March behaving like I was back in college. Then, it clicked. I needed to make the most of this time at home. I had to get healthy, back in shape. So I dove into my current weight loss journey, working out and Calma was born along the way, finally.
The pandemic felt like something that was "over there" that everyone was making a fuss about. I felt like I was living "around it." The trip to the grocery store warranted a face covering. Some friends were making sure to socially distance themselves, while others weren't as strict about it. My wife and I would discuss our own thoughts about what the news tells us. We made sure to educate our teenagers. "Ok....this is not so bad," I remember thinking. "What is all the fuss about?"
People keep asking me, "How's it going at school? How are you doing?"
This is me trying to answer...
I just cant' seem to get it all out, to articulate, pinpoint or even get close to how I have been feeling.
This sign hangs in my office as a reminder to teens about staying positive, but in all this I can't decide.
So I've decided to get it all out here. To practice what I preach:
Check in! What are my THOUGHTS telling me? How is my BREATH when I am thinking about this? What is my BODY communicating to me? I love me a check in practice. I tell my clients, "You can check in whenever you want. You don't have to be sitting or lying down with your eyes closed in formal practice. Check in throughout your day wherever you are, however you want." After all, recognizing you are off the tracks IS mindfulness.
So here it goes. This is my list of observations/what I've noticed. I've categorized my thoughts topically as well as pleasant, unpleasant and neutral:
A bit of a nuisance. Breath smells for sure after awhile and then in my face all day!
Hard to see the expression of others.
Difficult to emote to others.
Can't hear others well at times...especially students who mumble to begin with.
It's a constant, physical, tactile reminder of the entire situation which I did not have to contend with during quarantine.
It can be hot!
It's kind of fun to accessorize, match and find fun ways to "cover up."
Students are starting to get creative with them. My favorite mask so far said in very little letters, "If you can read this, you are too close to me." 😭
There is a sense of unity and togetherness. Everyone and I mean EVERYONE has a mask or some sort of covering on. It was really a non issue with students. I think because they have been living with this since March. Seeing everyone look and feel just like them, I think allows us all to feel in the same boat contending with the same issues together. While there are varying opinions on mask wearing, it is nice to feel as if we are all on the same team, something we all need more of.
This really bothered me the first week. After a week with students, I noticed how much they all had to sit facing a certain way, in a certain order, next to only certain people. It felt so rigid, restrictive and has to ignore all senses of social/emotional context. For adolescents, belonging and socializing are paramount. Social distancing lacks any acknowledgement of such things, making it very difficult for students to connect, socialize and grow emotionally. This saddens me.
Class sizes are super small! Our building has 1,400 7th and 8th graders. I've spent years concerned how large our school has gotten. Due to so many students staying home to do virtual school and bringing only half of what's left to do a hybrid schedule, we have class sizes anywhere from 1 to 17 students. Many classes have less than 10 students in them. This can make for students really getting a lot of individualized attention. It is also a much quieter building. Students are more calm, laid back and not as wound up during passing periods, before and after school, etc.
This one I am conflicted about, so I'm placing it in the "neutral feelings" category for now. While I don't feel fear or anxiousness about the virus, I recognize and respect there are many who do. So the virtual school is a nice option for them. But it is a third party service. I am unsure of our district's reasoning to go with the product we chose. I'm guessing the lack of time to get things done had something to do with it. However, the platform lacks live teachers. Students must be self sufficient, independent and good communicators to find answers to their questions when having issues due to content or tech support. That being said, it allows parent the peace of mind that their child can be at home and still get an education. But....the platform is not synchronous with what is happening back in the building classrooms. So it's very likely the student can be working ahead or maybe be behind when they hopefully transition back into the building. By far this is better than nothing, yet it comes with it's own set of logistics to keep in mind.
There are lot of cooks in the kitchen. It's hard to keep communication streamlined and consistent. At the fault of nobody, we have school counselors (me) who physically change the student schedules. Then, we explain that the virtual platform lacks live teachers, BUT....we have three educational liaisons who will be their connection between our building and the online platform. Whew. This continues to seem a bit much for parents to remember. They don't.
Virtual school promotes any easy way for students to cheat together. Not much supervision happening. This stinks.
It continues to keep kids in front of a screen. Something we all know they need less of. I kind of hate this.
It also makes it hard to socialize. While there are great ways to connect virtually these days, we all know we want our kids physically rather than virtually together. I really dislike this.
It has been cool to see the creative ways educators are starting to use technology. I hope this continues post pandemic, because a balance of these tools is wonderful for all. I just may find a way to have a bitmoji classroom. Pretty fun.
The Hybrid School Approach
I'm conflicted here too. Our students are attending either Monday/Wednesday or Tuesday/Thursday. So every day is like a Friday. And the students who attend Wednesday don't return for five more days! There is no school in our building on Friday now. We meet for professional development, planning, etc. while students attend virtually. While this slows the pace of school down for students, it does not allow much time WITH students especially if we continue this way the entire year. I was told last week if we go this way the entire year a teacher will only physically be with their students 74 times. Scary. Sad. Frustrating. But....I know this is better than not being in the building at all. Something here is better than nothing.
Because of what I described above, I find it conflicting to pull kids out class to work with them as their counselor. Since they are only there twice per week, if they miss 15-20 minutes of class, that's a large chunk of their physical time at school. I don't like this.
The students seem much more chill after a week. At the same time, they have really only been to school three times instead of seven if things were normal. I am concerned this may be due to the fact that it is now harder to hide/blend in with such fewer numbers in the classroom. Maybe the honeymoon phase will just take longer, but from the bus to the cafeteria to the hallways, the kids were super laid back and much more calmer than usual. Maybe because they have a mask on their face all day? 😏
Whew! It feels good to get all this out. So when people have asked me, "How's it going at school?" all of the above has been in my head.
When I stop and notice how I am actually feeling, the following come to mind:
CHAOTIC: Things felt chaotic more administratively. We were creating processes for things that constantly were changing. It became overwhelmingly challenging to maintain. This subsided as the first week came to a close. However, we haven't started to even think about the rest of the year.
FRUSTRATION: School is a place of consistency and routines. This was all flipped on its head and turned inside out. It was frustrating to see what this is doing to our kids. I'm afraid we won't know the impact of all this for some time.
FEAR & ANXIOUSNESS: Not of the virus, but of the fact that this may be the way we educate for the entire year. What will be the impact on our kids? While mindfulness teaches us to hone in on "the now," I found my "future brain" visiting a lot. What if...
EXHAUSTION: The first week felt like a month. It was just a lot.
OK...I feel so much better getting all this out.
May you be safe.
May you be kind.
May you be patient.
May you be hopeful.
In the meantime, it's times like this that create memories like non other. This is me and my friend Danny. He's my old neighbor, and I can’t believe he is in middle school. He is a huge superhero fan and has a sick mask.