Living and leading through a pandemic has taught me a few valuable lessons. To start with, I had to come to terms with the fact that it is not a definable concrete and sequential challenge. The pandemic is rolling over us, with ebbs and flows, fits and starts, new challenges and challenge fatigue.
Reflecting on how the school is coping as a whole this week, I noted my own state of mind.
Over the weekend, I was thinking that this has been the hardest Semester 1 that I have ever endured in my teaching career. It was quite confronting to think of 2020 in that way. Additionally, I am ageing in ‘dog years’ and it feels like it is November. I am sure that many of you are sharing the same feelings.
Life is full of complex situations. We are taught that it is honourable to confront the messy, complicated parts of life and to face down and deal with its conflicting priorities. We are learning to navigate competing obligations, publicly and privately. We are accepting and understanding the consequences and doing our best. Another foundational lesson for life from the complex, and all-too-human, world of COVID. We have learnt to value and prioritise gratitude, attachment and loyalty.
“Stress has become highly prevalent in a world geared towards over-arousal”
Richard Sutton, The Stress Code
The Stress Code by Richard Sutton was written pre-COVID, but the lessons are relevant. Working, learning and communicating using technology at a distance (or from home) allowed us to remain connected. However, research has shown that in the virtual environment our ability to form stable attachments to one another declines and we start to feel isolated and frustrated. The platforms, and the way we used them during remote learning removed some of the opportunity to display the vulnerability and teachable moments that are prevalent in face-to-face interactions and classroom environments. Rather than empathetic and connected, our remote classrooms were 2D and flat-screened. This delays the students’ chances of deepening the knowledge and having the patience and empathy necessary to maintain real relationships and real learning.
But the students are back! I am not anti-digital technologies in the classroom, but I will always caution against overuse or over emphasis. Digital devices are useful, but we must learn to use them without losing our ability to think deeply and creatively, to relate to one another through authentic conversation, and to feel empathy and fondness towards one another. The students reported missing the humour and fun of the classroom.
I know that of late, we have dealt with our share of gloomy news, but when looking around to what is happening in Australia and other parts of the world, I know we are blessed and fortunate to live here, in the ACT and be part of a stable and long-standing, responsibly stewarded school.
We keep on hearing about how we will now live in a new normal. And maybe there is some truth in that. I, for one, will stop comparing my life today to my life at the same time last year and in previous years and simply look ahead and be grateful. We have less than four weeks until the July break, two of them short weeks and with much to fit in. But that is ok, I have seen how we’ve come together as a team to face challenges that we had never dreamt of before. I know we are able to be responsive, and acknowledge the toil.
Over this coming long weekend, I will stop multitasking and try uni-tasking for a change. I do not believe that it is a coincidence that cooking, gardening and DYI renovations spiked during lockdown. Whatever you are doing – reading a book, working on a presentation, studying for exams or cleaning out your closet – remove all distractions from your immediate environment and focus entirely on that activity. Investing this focused time into our activities will help us perform them better and keep us composed and calmer – something I am also grateful to have lately learned.
Mrs Anna Owen