Seven Takeaways from the Pandemic for Educators

I have been speaking to students, parents, faculty, staff and administrators pretty much nonstop these days. Sometimes it is in Zoom webinars for teachers, teens or parents on how to stay grounded in all of the uncertainty, and sometimes it is in one-on-one coaching calls with educational leaders who are managing a very complicated decision tree. Here are the top seven thoughts that keep coming up:

  1. This is hard.People are having all kinds of experiences that range from introverts who are loving the quiet alone time to extroverts who are suffocating in the solitude. There are teachers with young children to take care of and others with elderly parents they are responsible for. Some people who are loving the family time and some people who have had plenty of family time, thank you very much. While some people can’t get any alone time in the house, others have way too much. The commonality is that everyone is experiencing some amount of uncertainty, Zoom fatigue, longing for real human connection and dissatisfaction with the current online model compared to their expectations for a great education. These feelings range from mild background noise to overwhelming.
  2. We can do hard.A huge lesson for all of us especially young people is that we are capable of living (even thriving) through adversity and the discomfort that comes with it. Confidence means “with trust.” We have a lot of reasons to trust that we are up for all of this. Education was converted from an in-person to an online endeavor in an incredibly short period of time. People are absolutely amazing and profoundly resourceful when we commit to something. There is very good reason to believe that this will continue to be the case. Even as the voice in our heads tells us that it is all too much and that we can’t take another day, we continue to rise to the challenge. The opportunity to discover and nurture our resilience is huge.
  3. It helps to keep our mind where our body is.Bringing our attention back to our feet on the ground and the breath in our body is a useful and healthy break from spinning off into the unknown future. Even planning must take place in the present. Opening our posture and breathing into a relaxed lower body helps down-regulate the survival functions of the brain that are threat-focused. This part of our brain perceives danger easily, so we want to make sure we are not fueling it unnecessarily. We can practice resting our palm on our chest and reminding ourselves that of course we are feeling discomfort we are human.
  4. There is so much to be grateful for.Right in the midst of all the uncertainty, challenge and discomfort, there is so much kindness, compassion, commitment, ingenuity, creativity and love. And the sun keeps coming up, birds keep singing, flowers bloom, children laugh, our toes wiggle…The list of small miracles that exist in daily life is endless. Taking time to cultivate gratitude and wonder does not negate the hard stuff it expands the container for it. It is a very important practice to remain connected to the miracle of life in the presence of the challenges that it includes.
  5. Moving through this effectively requires realism and faith. My favorite leader right now is Jacinda Ardern. In a swift, clear response that was informed by scientific fact, she led New Zealand to an outcome from the pandemic that borders on the unbelievable. The response was not based on hope it was based on a realistic set of scenarios, the courage to implement what needed to be done and the faith that people were up to it. This is what schools need right now. We need to use the most responsible information available to develop contingencies for next school year. And people need time to prepare for those contingencies. Faculty and parents need as much information as we can give as early as possible as they prepare for online/hybrid/social isolation education in the fall.
  6. A crisis response is not enough for the long haul.Moving forward, schools will need to take what we have learned this spring and innovate within the new constraints. We are discovering a lot about the opportunities and limitations of online education. To simply offer more of what we created out of necessity, without incorporating what we have learned, will strain the goodwill of parents and students. Of course people will need some downtime and then there will need to be time invested in reflecting, learning, planning and innovating. It is one thing to adapt to a crisis it is quite another to grow into something better. We need to give serious consideration to the latter.
  7. Human connection is primary.If there is only one thing we take away from this situation, please let it be a deep appreciation for the importance of human connection in education. Let the hunger to be in the same room with our colleagues and our students inform how we do school from now on. Information and ideas are wonderful to be sure and, without people, these are nothing more than vibrations in the air or squiggles on a page. Education is fundamentally a human endeavor. Let us take this insight tangibly into every lesson, classroom, athletic and artistic venue when schools physically reopen. If education does not make us more fully human and more fully connected, then why do we do it?

Dave Mochel ’88 is a coach, speaker and author who teaches people how to live, love, work and lead peacefully and powerfully. After a career teaching neuroscience, human development, mindfulness and physics, Dave founded Applied Attention Coaching and Consulting to help executives, athletes, educators and parents apply principles and practices for focusing attention and energy where it matters most. A past lecturer at Stanford’s School of Health and Human Performance, he can be reached at [email protected]. The original version of this article appeared on Medium.