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This is a very strange time in our lives as teachers when we are living amongst constant change and uncertainty. I think that one of the most unsettling parts of this entire experience around COVID 19 is in fact the uncertainty around it. It seems like things are changing every single day, and we never know what we are going to hear next out of New York or what the death toll is in Italy.
It’s hard not to watch the news because if you’re anything like me, I don’t just want to be informed, I feel a deep NEED to be informed – like maybe watching the news will give me some kind of a clue of when this will all be over. But then, each day, all I hear is that we don’t know – that we are taking things day to day, and it actually contributes to that feeling of uncertainty.
The world as we know it is so different right now that it’s hard to find our center. It’s hard to know how to navigate each day when it feels like we are in some kind of an invisible war.
And, I think one of the most unsettling parts of all of this is that we feel like it just came out of nowhere, like we could never have predicted something like this. And yet – did you know that Bill Gates actually predicted this very thing five years ago?
Have you seen his Ted talk about this? His talk is actually called, “The next outbreak? We’re not ready.” And he gave that talk in 2015 – FIVE years ago. Here's it is if you want to see it now:
One of the big take-aways from this talk for me is that we have been so distracted by the possibility of the next world war and we have been so focused on preparing for that, that we have neglected the very thing that could ultimately destroy us – not taking care of our own health and the health of the planet.
The one thing that COVID-19 has made us do is slow down, stay home, and pause the endless treadmill of production.
And so, as uncomfortable as it is, we are staying home. We are trying to acclimate to this “new normal.” And in the midst of all of that, you have now been asked to teach online. You aren’t ready. I get it. You don’t feel ready. You feel incredibly unprepared for all of this, and it’s tempting to just close your eyes and try not to even acknowledge the reality of what’s going on in the world because it’s all just too much.
But here’s the thing. As many of you probably already know, we have a son who’s a senior in high school right now. What an awful year to be a senior, and my heart goes out to him for all that he’s missing by having to stay home and be away from most of his friends. But Kai’s principal just sent out a letter yesterday that I think you will be able to relate to.
He talked about how as senior leaders at their high school, it is imperative that they take the lead in their own education at this point. He talked about how it’s unfortunate, but these students have been forced into the real world a little sooner than we would have liked, because in the real world of college or work, you rise or fall on your own work ethic, often with less support than you would prefer.
In a similar way, I know how hard and uncomfortable it is to find a way to teach your students online. How to work past your own fear and feelings of uncertainty in order to be there for them. You don’t feel ready. You feel unprepared for this thing you are being asked to do.
However, you do have an incredible opportunity to lead by example, because now, more than ever, that old phrase is true, “kids may not remember what you taught them, but they always remember how you made them feel.” There may not be a lot of certainty in the world right now for them, but you do have an incredible opportunity to help your students to feel safe and to rise to the occasion and lead by example.
Here’s what I mean - I am bringing you a very different episode for Episode #58 than I had planned. In total transparency, here’s how I ended up talking about this with you today. I batch my content for this podcast, and so I had the next two weeks’ episodes recorded and uploaded and ready to go, but then last night, I came back to the house after a walk with my husband after 9:00 last night, and I cancelled everything. I wrote to my team and told them to put everything on hold because we were changing direction. We were going to pivot, because I just felt like what I had prepared for you wasn’t going to serve you.
I knew it wasn’t what you most needed right now. And so I’m here, at 6:00 am, preparing and recording a brand new episode for you because I am in this with you – even though I am hosting an online masterclass this afternoon and tomorrow. But with all of that going on, I decided to rise.
I’m tired. But I want you to know that you are not alone. Because I care deeply about you and about your students, and because I know it’s the right thing to do for you right now.
I’m going to be completely honest – I’ve never led thousands of new teachers through a global pandemic before.
But, here we are. And, I’ve made a decision to lead before I feel ready. I am committed to supporting you and your students through this, even though I feel like I am building my wings on the way down.
I’m doing this too, I’m uncomfortable with you, and I’m feeling my way forward. I don’t have all of the answers, but I’m doing it anyways.
And I’m asking you to do the same.
This is YOUR chance to lead, even though you might not feel ready. To lead your students through this in a way that they will look back on this experience of COVID 19 in 20 years and say, “Oh my gosh, do you remember when we did x,y,z with our teacher? Do you remember what she said to us?”
Kids pick up what you put down. How you lead them through this is going to determine their experience of this.
And for guidance, as you’re feeling your way forward throughout all of this, I love to task myself what other great minds and people I admire would do in a situation like this. For example, if Oprah were a school teacher and she were faced with this right now, what would Oprah do? I mean, aside from buying everyone a car.
You might be thinking, “Really, Lori? I’m not Oprah.” Of course not.
But neither was she – Oprah BECAME the incredible force that we all admire today.
And the real question is, how do you think Oprah became Oprah? She became who she is today because she chose to rise. How she chose to respond to abuse and to poverty and to a lack of hope all around her with action that would make a difference in other peoples’ lives. Because here’s the thing: Your response to anything determines your future.
It’s uncomfortable, and it’s hard to figure out how to teach online and how to lead your students through this. But doing things that are uncomfortable and that are hard give us the opportunity to grow and really show what we are made of. Occasionally, we are faced with circumstances that we can't control. It is up to us to respond in a way that makes the best of what we can control and find ways to deepen our character.
And by the way, my friends, THAT is how you build confidence. By doing one thing that scares you after another, and realizing that you actually are okay. That it was scary, but you got through it. That’s how you build confidence in anything. We are building our wings on the way down, we are building your confidence in teaching your students online and helping them to feel safe by actually doing it, and I’m here with you, every step of the way.
So, on that note, here are some things you can do right away to start moving your students into more peace and calm throughout this entire experience, and in doing so, become that teacher they’ll never forget.
It’s especially helpful if you plan to do a Zoom call every morning at 9:00 am and at 3:00 pm, for example. Each morning, have a class meeting and talk about how they are doing and what you want them to accomplish that day, and why it’s so important.
You may even want to set some kind of a class goal, like if they get all of their work done that day, you will play a game on the 3:00 pm call. There are so many fun games you can play that are being shared online – like different kinds of scavenger hunts you can have kids do, or do a live science experiment with your students. I am sharing tons of great ideas inside my private Beginning Teacher Talk Facebook page, so come on over and ask to join so you can get lots of great ideas to spark your imagination.
So that, my friends, is how you can help to build more certainty and soften fear for your students during this very challenging time.
And before we say goodbye today, I want to remind you about what we know about being in the eye of a hurricane. When I lived in Hong Kong, during typhoon season, there was a strange but familiar rhythm to the entire experience.
When we heard that there was a typhoon coming, the initial reaction was panic. And a lot like we saw at Sam’s Club and Costco with the mad dash to stock up on toilet paper and hand sanitizer, there was this mad rush in Hong Kong to stock up on everything at the grocery store in Hong Kong because you just never knew how many days you were going to have to stay indoors once it struck.
But then following that panic, before the typhoon hit, there was a very strange kind of calming peace that took over the entire city. This city that feels like it’s built right into the sky. This city, where people live on top of each other for 33 floors in buildings that are literally designed to bend with the wind. But when you are in the eye of the hurricane, you have a choice about how you’re going to respond to this entire, surreal situation.
You are suddenly aware that you are at the mercy of the elements as you wait in your tiny apartment in the sky with taped x’s across the windows so that if they break, they won’t shatter and blow millions of tiny glass shards inwards. This is not something you can control. So you have a choice.
You can choose panic and put yourself through an entire range of emotions that will leave you drained, and with a sense of dis-ease, or as we know it, disease, in your body.
Or, you can choose to surrender, and to choose peace in the midst of chaos.
It isn’t easy. And I put myself through that entire range of emotions several times before I learned that I actually had a choice about how I responded to all of it.
Because either way, just like in the classroom, what you focus on expands. You can choose to focus on the good and the light and the joy that your students bring you every day, in the midst of chaos, or you can choose panic and fear.
I’m sure you’ve seen the image of a tree that is leaning over, its branches are almost sideways against the sky because of the constant force of the wind all around it. And yet, – the roots grow deep when the winds are strong. That’s you right now.
We’re growing our roots – we’re staying strong and steady, even though we feel like we might be in the eye of a hurricane. My apartment in the sky in Hong Kong survived every hurricane. And I know that you have the strength and the courage to move through this as well, and grow stronger and more confident as a result. You’ve got this, and I’m with you, every step of the way.
Dr. Lori Friesen | Beginning Teacher Mentor
Creator of the R.E.A.D.Y. for School Academy, Dr. Lori Friesen has mentored thousands of beginning teachers across the country through her workshops and courses. Host of the popular podcast, Beginning Teacher Talk, and creator of the innovative literacy program for 1st and 2nd grade, Dogs Help Kids Read and Succeed, Dr. Lori is dedicated to serving educators and inspiring learners. Learn more at drlorifriesen.com and at howdogshelpkids.com.
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