Last spring, schools across the nation went remote. Not enough time to prepare. Everyone in shock from the pandemic.
What helped my school? Our culture. The environment that had been established way before life changed.
When life has ups and downs, the culture helps people to rise or fall.
Nothing was as good as it should have been. Not enough was known about much of anything, and I’m not just talking about education. A crisis of massive proportions arose across the globe, and we functioned as best we could.
Our principals and leadership met with groups of staff each week, so we stayed connected, made decisions and processed together and cared about one another. Culture.
Teachers taught, but we spent a lot of time having conversations with our students through video meetings, emails and phone calls. Culture.
Whether students or staff, we knew we could rely on one another. We knew to supply grace to each other. We knew we were a community and the culture helped us feel like not all was lost.
What said even more were families and students sending staff emails. They encouraged us. They asked if we were okay. They shared what we meant to them.
They supplied light back, because of the light we provided in darker times. A culture like that creates a safe place to function, no matter what.
Now, in a matter of days, our students will start the new school year. It most definitely will not be what it used to be, except for our culture.
Knowing that the cornerstone of our school is a community of learning while also teaching to the whole child, every child, we’ve been learning. Through the summer. Through extra professional development. Through our own feelings of what if what we’ve always known to do and what we’ve learned isn’t enough. Because our culture means we go above and beyond, always, because our students and their families matter. Details matter.
The pandemic hasn’t gone away. It’s why we changed from students either being remote or hybrid to all going remote to start. Culture we can still maintain, but without safety, it’s hard to learn and grow.
A school cannot have a culture that could take us through a pandemic time, without the right leadership. Principals who have led us with grace, understanding, realness and wisdom, even as they’ve made changes and admitted some of their own struggles through this process.
They’ve given us leadership roles to not only delegate, but to show their faith in us, even now.
They’ve given us time and shifted their original plans, so we could grow, but not break.
They had us make videos of ourselves so this year’s students and families can see us, hear us, and know how much we can’t wait to teach and to also support them all.
Even more powerful than all of that was having us email and call the families of those students who we will be with at the start of each day. We let them know what to expect so they’re not feeling nervous for the first day and beyond, for the students and their parents. To answer questions. But most of all, to help let out a breath, knowing we care enough to call and be there for them even before we have met their children. Culture.
On my end, I adored talking to students who were excited to hear from me. I realized how much I missed hearing the awkwardness of being the age of middle school kids. I soared when parents shared how happy they were to receive my call, how much better they felt and how supported they felt. But, what made my teacher heart fill to completion was getting emails from several of my new students asking me questions they had and then thanking me for my help.
CULTURE! We haven’t even started our first day together, but our culture’s base has already been laid down.
Our school’s vision is to engage, empower and excite our students to grow and learn. Without a building, through emails, calls and soon via video conferencing and other online tools, they will thrive. They will learn. They will feel supported.
And we will be their school community, doing what we know is best for them. Content, we already knew. Learning new ways to engage, empower and excite our 2020-2021 students is simply a part of being educators. What more we may need to move forward? Well, we will grow together, stronger and our culture will be even better than it’s ever been, no matter what life throws our way.
Dedicated to Blake Revelle, Tara Mahoney and our Amazing Knights Community. Love working with all of you!
Before I ever stepped foot in a school, my mom had already taught me the basics of how to read and write, among other useful life skills. She was amazing at what she did with me, as I discovered that her actions set me up for a love of learning and started me off, advanced for my age. Though she wasn’t an educator, she was to me. What my mother did in my life, in those young formative years, still impacts me and all of my students, to this day.
Through those experiences, I remember being a child, prepping my dolls, stuffed animals and my little sister for my favorite game of playing school. I would include books, paper, pencils and crayons to teach my sibling. At some point, an adult gave me an abacus, which fascinated me, and I added that to the learning process. Later, I would buy textbooks at garage sales to make my “classroom” more official.
My sister was my only human student during those times, and as I taught, I was enchanted by how she reacted. Her eyes would light up. She would look at me attentively and smile her big smile, especially as I encouraged her in her “lessons”. At first, it was truly a game. In time, as I saw that she was learning and grasping, the play time became a passion.
Then, during high school as I was talking with my father about what I wanted to do when I got into college, I told him emphatically that I was going to be a teacher. This turned into many conversations of other careers he tried to persuade me towards, as a way to earn more money than teachers make.
I told him, “Sure, I can choose those careers, but I cannot imagine not teaching. Yeah, the pay is far less than teachers deserve, but I want my life to make me happy and to make a difference. I know that money is important to live, but God has a way of making things work out when you do what you are meant to do, and I am meant to teach.”
Do I wish we were paid what we are worth, when what we do allows younger humans to be the next world changers? YES.
But, helping to create world changers and sending them forth is a gift that pays in ways most may never understand.
Teachers do what we do, to inspire.
After over twenty years of teaching, I still love what I do, very much. I know that I make a difference. Each year I have roughly 150 to 180ish students. To this day, that look on their faces when they “get it” and finally realize what they can do, when they trust themselves, when they realize they are already world changers who can continue on to make a difference, it still fills me with joy.
When a student gets ready to move on to the next grade, knowing what they want to be because of their experiences with me as their teacher, is worth far more than the money I get paid. As moments happen throughout the school year and they share their words or tokens of gratitude as a way to say, “Thank you! You were right. I am ________, and I’m so glad you believed in me,” it’s a humbling gift.
Whether we have these students for one year or more, they each become part of my “kids”. As they get older, they’ll stop by to visit from time to time. Later, as they have grown up into these amazing adults, they often reach out to me through social media to reconnect.
THEY INSPIRE ME. It is why teachers have a hard time not giving so much of ourselves, because every one of those humans’ lives are worth it.
Teachers do what we do, to help others be their best selves.
As I share a short period of my students’ lives with them, helping them to be the best people they can be, I know that some grew a little, some grew a good amount and some grew in leaps and bounds. They don’t all display it in the same way, but teachers become pretty good at reading each individual to see the signs of how far they have come.
We are forever grateful for the parents who do all they can to raise their kids and partner with their schools, so their children can thrive. We are thrilled when we have administrators and/or support staff of all kinds who are doing what they do, because of the kids. We are happy when we are shown that what we do and think matters.
This is why, during this pandemic, educators shifted gears drastically to educate and help our students during a very stressful time, as best we could. We appreciated hearing so much, by emails and social media that we don’t get what we deserve after parents realized how their kids can be when with them for longer periods of time and when they saw what they knew only we could do, like we do.
Now, as the time comes near for school to begin, it’s troubling when leaders don’t say the words or do what is right for the sake of students’, school staffs’ and our families’ lives.
You see? While we may not have even met our next group of students, we already care about them, like a parent waiting for their unborn child. We also care about our own families, even more deeply. To not even consider protecting any of them from the coronavirus is indefensible, but to not consider protecting us well enough means also hurting them.
Imagine a world without teachers.
For you see, “Teaching has transformed from a simple educational function into a complex profession. Teaching develops the minds of children and young adults, and prepares them to become worthwhile citizens of society. The history of teaching can be traced to Confucius (561 B.C.), who was the first famous private teacher. Many ancient Greeks hired private teachers to educate their children. In the Middle Ages, learning institutions such as Cambridge University were founded and teacher training became required.”
Beyond the time educators take to get their yearly professional development hours, we love learning and when we have our times off from teaching, we don’t shut down. We are constantly evolving into better versions of ourselves, just as we expect our students to do beyond our classroom. We couldn’t do anything less, if we are to do right by the generations that are entrusted to us, year after year.
We just wish, especially during these uncertain times, that more of our society made it clear how valued we are by doing what’s right by us, for the sake of our nation’s children.
Teachers do what we do to show others they are not alone.
One of the greatest skills and gifts we provide as teachers is the concept that we are not meant to do life all on our own. I see my students as individual humans, each with gifts they are barely aware may exist, to transform this world in the most phenomenal ways.
However, as kids get older, life tries to tell them they are not enough. That they shouldn’t let too many know who they really are and what they’re capable of, because as they try on those parts of themselves and stumble along the way. They make mistakes.
It’s like society forgets that in learning to talk, we start off babbling. While learning to walk, we trip, fall and pull ourselves back up. While learning to trust others, we often had a lot of trust instilled in us first, when we still lived most of our time in the bubbles of our homes.
It’s why I do all I can to instill in my students a sense of team. From day one to the last day of school, my students know that I believe in them and that mistakes are simply stepping stones to help you rise up through what you learned. As they recognize the sincerity in that every day reality of who they are, in my classroom while learning the subject matter, they are also learning to trust one another.
Rather than talking words of destruction, they are to speak words of life.
Rather than seeing someone struggle, they are to come alongside and offer assistance whenever able.
Rather than watch a person in pain, they are to get help or be the help.
Rather than tear down the gifts of another that they don’t possess, they are to celebrate the gifts others provide to help themselves and the rest of our little community.
For isn’t all of that what makes for a better society for the next generation? Isn’t that worth giving every consideration for the sake of our babies, our children, our teenagers and the adults who spend huge amounts of hours with them? Isn’t that worth valuing the families who sacrifice time with their educator partners/spouses and parents, because teaching consumes a lot of our time both in and outside of school?
As the pandemic continues, give school districts and teachers grace, by coming alongside your school districts.
The medical community does what they do, knowing that it could risk their lives. While teachers know they might have to protect their kids from an intruder, most educators are scared of returning to our school buildings, without being safe from COVID-19. We are concerned for those students we know and those we already care about who we’ll have.
We are worried about what it would do if even one student, one staff member or one family member of any of us contracts and God forbid dies, from the coronavirus. The mental health of students, staff and families matter.
It’s hard to cope, teach and learn in the midst of deep grief. This reality can happen. It’s why school districts are working hard to make the right choices for how to manage this particular school year.
The general consensus across our nation’s school districts appears to be remote online, hybrid or in school, in some variation. This makes deciding how this will happen VERY difficult for those involved, with a huge awareness of knowing that not everyone will be happy and nobody wants to make anyone more anxious, but it will occur anyway.
Nobody ever thought that our nation would face a worldwide pandemic, let alone one that would shift so many parts of our lives. Even after school districts decide how school will operate, the virus can very well still cause some of the new plans to shift again. Let’s hope not, but it could happen.
Know that the majority (I would like to think & believe.) of educators, school administrators and Boards of Education don’t want more distress for anyone. I mean, this has been an intensely stressful summer break for us, when it’s usually a time of refreshing.
The present may suck in many ways, but we must never give up on ourselves or the potential that exists in the younger generations.
If your minds and emotions are feeling a sense of overload in how to manage your life and that of your families, please remember that so are ours. Plus, we are trying to figure out how our students’ lives and the lives of their families and ours will be impacted. THAT’S A LOT for us.
We will continue to do all we can for the sake of the wellbeing of students, while also keeping all of us safe. We can all learn how to take deeper breaths and let go of what we cannot control. We can all spend more time focusing on some of the positives more on a daily basis, because they do exist. For me, I will be doing all of that, plus praying, trusting God and cherishing those who are still in my life.
I know how hard this has all been. I know what it’s like to lose loved ones to this virus. I know that I would love nothing more than to be in my classroom, as usual, connecting with my students and inspiring them that they are truly the amazing human beings I know they are and that they can still change the world for good.
We’ve always had unknowns in our lives. I know that this generation of students will be some of the most resilient, most innovative and most compassionate people this world will ever see. This time will propel them in ways that will inspire them to make the years ahead far better than this year has been, thus far.
How can I say all of that and believe it? Because I’m a teacher through and through, and I believe in these kids and teens. I really do. Together, we can do far more good for all.
Believe in us. Knowing you trust us in the midst of all of this, helps us know that we are valued and as a community, we will get through this.
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It’s hard to believe that on February 2, 2020 our Kansas City Chiefs won the Super Bowl, fifty years their last championship win. Don’t get me wrong. I was in full-fledged, “Let’s go Chiefs!” mode. However, since that day and the parade that came after, life quickly changed worldwide.
Think back to the start of 2020, when the holidays were over and people felt generally hopeful, as often happens during each new year.
Live in Kansas City for even a short while and you see pretty fast how much community matters to those who live here. As this year began, the entire area was a constant sea of red as everyone seemed to wear Chiefs’ clothes on most days, and not just on the traditional Chiefs’ Fridays that are typical all football season long, in Kansas City.
Our renowned KC fountains and statues were decorated to show our pride for our team. Chiefs’ flags on homes and vehicles were seen flying everywhere. Even the school where I work had an entire Spirit Week leading up to that important date, as we also showed community support.
That’s community. We came together in force, as a group. We showed the nation and our team that we were all in this together.
When trouble came, our community still acted as one.
Then, nearly 6 weeks after the huge national win, our state and much of the nation was in a lockdown for our lives. Coronavirus hit, rattling every community across America, just as it had in lands all over the globe. Yet, community still remained.
While it physically appeared more like a ghost town atmosphere, with everywhere hunkered down as best as possible and stayed indoors. Businesses of all types found ways to help their employees to work from home or close temporarily. Schools shifted, within a short matter of weeks to teaching remotely for the remainder of the year. All for the cause of community, maintaining as much as we could of the area we love even if we had to operate differently, to save as many of us as possible from the horrible virus.
As restaurants were allowed to remain open with curbside pick up, we formed groups on social media to pull together for these beloved businesses to keep them running. For example, a family owned Mexican restaurant was happily overwhelmed by their already loyal clientele and a plethora of new ones who came in droves to make sure they would still remain when this was all over. From their Facebook page video, it was clear that they felt our love.
While places like the hair salon I use had to stay closed for weeks, clients bought hair products and gift cards that were sent to our homes, to help show our loyalty to the amazing owners and staff in a great variety of ways. Moments like this happened again and again all over the Kansas City area. They knew we were here for them, as they have always been for us.
When we got on the other side of fighting COVID-19, it was clear that our community wanted to not lose what makes us who we are, as much as possible.
We all need a sense of community; it’s ingrained in who we are.
From the time shortly after birth we have a tendency to reach out to connect with others. It’s why a newborn holds out their finger and whoever witnesses it takes a hold. It is part of who we are deep within; we want to belong and find acceptance among other human beings.
Our first community is typically our family unit. Even God noticed after making the first man that it wasn’t good for him to be alone. Through that experience, we meet other people in life and continue wanting a sense of belonging, when family isn’t always with us.
With each encounter with others, we naturally look for those who might bond with us. Some of these moments are simply a part of life, such as attending school, while others happen by what appears to be just a matter of circumstances.
Thus, we make connections with people again and again from childhood through the adult years, becoming a part of even more community groups. Friendships, peer groups at work or school, clubs/interest groups, sports and places of worship are just some of the communities in which people normally find themselves. No matter which community you’re a part of, one thing is very true of them all.
The human experience cannot fully be embraced unless we connect with others.
The pandemic made many of us feel a lack of that sense of community dynamic. Thankfully, people are highly adept at being resilient and adaptable as needed to keep community with others.
Just like the newborn scenario above, most people formed stronger bonds with their family unit first. So, it makes sense that as the family unit we are living with during the pandemic spends much more time together, the connections established earlier became reignited in many households. The isolation times have allowed many to reconnect in a variety of ways to help us all to continue managing this unusual time together.
As the pandemic began, there was a sense of global loss of the communities we so often relied upon, in our lives.
Times with colleagues, friends, family who are not living in the same home and so many other groups of communities suddenly were cut off from us. At least it seemed that way, at first.
Though many have had family members, roommates, etc. within their homes during the pandemic, the desire to stay connected to those we have bonded with in other parts of lives caused many to feel a sense of grief. Especially not knowing how long it would be till we all could reconnect again.
To cope with that sense of isolation, once again, resiliency of the human spirit prevailed. Most found ways to show how important community is in our lives.
One of the most well known examples of this deep need for community is this video from Italy that went viral, one of the hardest hit in the world when COVID-19 began attacking with a vengeance.
Then, as the medical communities everywhere became the heroes fighting tirelessly to save as many as possible from the awful coronavirus as possible, that sense of connection turned into moments like this:
This is why, even though there wasn’t a lot of time, schools quickly adapted to online or remote teaching for students. It wasn’t for safety and academic purposes alone, but it was also for the social aspect of students and teachers interacting and maintaining the connections made over three quarters of the school year. Normally, the last quarter of a school year is when the classroom dynamics of community are at their strongest, so the educational communities everywhere rallied together, as always.
Employees who shifted to working from from home maintained their communities through online meetings. This often shifted into having virtual bonding moments, such as eating lunch together via their screens. Many companies even had traditional or not so traditional versions of Happy Hours to help with the isolation.
I have even done my walks/jogs with others doing the same, as we spoke via bluetooth.
Churches and other houses of worship have even gone online during these times. Some already had services viewable online before the coronavirus, while others have come to realize the importance of it as they quickly worked out ways to go virtual.
As one of the largest community groups worldwide, many of us have found solace in still getting to worship together through our screens. Personally, having that regular part of my community has been a great source of comfort, wisdom and normalcy, praising God, hearing from the pastors and still having opportunities to connect during the week.
Clearly, we may not have the same sense of community now, as we have had in the past, but we have found ways to adapt.
With the family who haven’t been able to safely come together, people have gotten creative. Suddenly, everyone used the gift of video chatting in all its forms to continue those associations with one another with chatting face to face on screens, scheduling times to eat meals in their individual place at the same time, watching one show in their individual homes while chatting and reacting together, and even continuing or starting game nights together.
As a teacher, even with us on summer break, many of us have also stayed connected in some of the above ways. Since most educators are relational people, and with so much up in the air for the new school year, we have reconnected quite a bit. From video chatting to catching up and discussing, to forming groups via social media, to even organizing ourselves to drive to a location, gather and drive by another colleague’s home to wish them a happy birthday, social distancing style we have found our ways.
We all simply crave the need of remaining connected, even if it occurs in what was once unconventional ways.
Not knowing how long the pandemic will continue, and as areas of our country have been phasing in re-openings of businesses, stores and restaurants, allowing more interaction outside homes, it is clear that we will find ways to connect. Why is that?
Communities have traditions that people don’t want to miss.
While schools were in session online, many had Spirit Weeks for when they met with their peers and teachers. Churches have continued finding ways to give to those in need. In our state, many outdoor team sports were allowed with social distancing requirements in place.
However, concerts, festivals and in many areas even 4th of July fireworks got cancelled. Those used to doing yearly athletic type of competitions, like 5Ks and 10Ks got cancelled, if they couldn’t operate in a virtual manner.
Even our national sports have adapted. In mid-March, the NLB cancelled the rest of the season. While normally the MLB teams would be playing as usual during this time, they have even changed how they’ve trained, shifted their game schedules and they will likely play to empty stadiums, unless it can be worked out to have some fans join them to cheer when it’s safer.
So much has changed that we have always counted on, in our lives.
In the summer, with people normally traveling or going out locally for fun, the shutdown of Broadway and all things theater nationwide, as with movie theaters, has been just a part of traditions many have missed enjoying. Many vacation spots may open, it can’t be business as usual.
How have we transitioned, as a community?
Suddenly, all of the streaming services added shows and movies sooner than originally planned. Hamilton, the musical, went on Disney+ to bring one of their former Broadway performances to the masses.
Families all over the country took money they would have used to possibly travel, to redo their backyards in ways they hadn’t originally planned, to make oases of their own at home. With fire pits to talk around a cozy fire in the evenings and maybe make some s’mores, trampolines to allow children to have fun outdoors safely, and even getting pools from the kiddie type to ones large enough for the whole family, it has made months of being at home better to handle during the hot summer months.
An added bonus to this has been the continued bonding time provided to families, as they bond in ways they’ve enjoyed in the past or by making new traditions.
One of the largest traditions that caused many people a lot of grief was the loss of their scheduled dates for weddings, proms, graduations and so much more.
That’s until actor John Krasinski started a new phenomenon of a show called SOME GOOD NEWS, using Facebook. There were so many viewers that he had to change to YouTube. People all over the world ended up feeling more connected as they watched famous people connecting with everyday people in a way never done before.
It brought a sense of happiness for many who were struggling with sadness and fear. It was something everyone could watch, and watch they did!
Seeing a heartbroken couple getting married with loved ones included was an amazing moment to witness. Sending an invite to a virtual prom caused major glitches with the show starting later than planned, as John Krasinski found a way to handle the overload of virtual prom attendees and viewers all over the nation. There was even a graduation for all of those feeling the deep loss of milestone traditions. These new way of connecting, and providing what others needed, made a huge difference in the lives of many. That’s community!
Communities are needed more than ever as we continue the fight against COVID-19.
Communities encourage one another. As family and friends have had to face getting tested for the coronavirus, the first thing most have done is reach out to their community of humans. One of my dear friends kept me in the loop from the time she found out she might be infected until the negative response was received. Those going through this need the support, as they face the fear of the what-if.
Communities care about and support one another. Likewise, as people we know have died, potentially without any way to communicate with those they love like I’ve gone through more than once, we need our “people” more than ever before.
The encouragement received was overwhelming and needed. From cards, flowers, and more sent to us, to texts, calls, and video chats with those I know all over the country, each of them were a powerful source of love to us as we knew there was no way to get together and say goodbye to the ones we had lost.
Communities provide a place to belong. From those in our homes, to the towns and cities we live in, to a large group of communities that exist, it helps us to know that while our experiences are different, we are in this together. We are not alone.
A true and healthy communityis diverse, but united.
I hope that you have your own community or communities, but if not, may this blog post help encourage you to reach out to others during these times. We live in this world together. During a crisis that has literally impacted our world, community is so important.
A good community makes you a better person, provides balance, as well as genuine bonds through the good and the bad times. Feel free to check out these great tips on 10 Traits That Make a Good Community for more ideas of how to know if a community might be good for you.
My best example of the power of community is Jesus when he walked this Earth. Even those who don’t profess faith in Jesus Christ know that He had 12 disciples. His relationship with these twelve men show that as a group there were many differences among them. However, they supported one another. They defended each other. They cared about each other. While Jesus ministered to others, He didn’t do it alone.
As Coretta Scott King said, “The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members.”
Don’t do life on your own, especially now. Rather than embracing the fear of the unknown, hold fast to those connections to others that are making us all stronger individually and together, through this worldwide collective experience.
May we leave a legacy we can be proud of, of communities that knew or learned how to stand together for the greater good of us all.
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