As we have transitioned into new territory, I’ve found that many of us seem to be undergoing a process of grief. Initially, I of course was in denial, just as many of my staff and students were. I wanted to be at school as long as I was able to, I wanted to see the staff coming in as they came to gather their things from their classrooms; I wanted connection. I honestly thought we would get through this situation expeditiously, and our working from home routine would only be temporary.
Never in my life would I have thought it even possible to be away from my school, students, and staff for such a prolonged period of time. Before, when I heard the word “pandemic,” I would think of historical outbreaks such as the Black Death from the 14th century, the American epidemics from the 16th century to include smallpox, the Philadelphia Yellow Fever from the 18th century, the 20th century American polio epidemic… the list goes on. The point is, I’m still in shock to know that COVID-19 is really happening, not only to our state, but the rest of the world here in the year 2020—the 21st century—during a time of such technological advancement.
Reality Sets In
So, what happened next, after the denial? Reality set in. I realized I wouldn’t be able to see either my students or staff each day, at least not face to face. The school’s hallways, once filled with hustle and bustle, were going to be empty and silent. I would no longer hear the sounds of laughter, the murmur of voices in conversation, or witness the teaching and learning dynamic happening in the traditional school setting. I was furious, but most of all, heartbroken. For most of my students and staff, our new normality of online instruction is an uncomfortable setting, not to mention the pressure the staff feel in meeting the expectation of accommodating those uncomfortable kids in a 100 percent virtual world.
After navigating through those first two weeks, I reached out to staff to see how they were doing. I wanted to make sure they felt supported and were practicing self-care during this time. They shared my concerns about our students’ well-being; in fact, as I was composing this blog, I found that one of my students had been abruptly moved to yet another foster home. After reaching out with staff, my main feeling was how selfless they were. Every single staff member I spoke to was more interested in discussing ways they could ensure our students had food and clothing, among other basic needs. Admittedly, I’ve been feeling very alone and isolated during this melancholy time away from work, but I guess it is to be expected while in quarantine. My spirits, however, were lifted after touching base with my awesome team of educators. I discovered how much of a toll this situation has taken on them, just as it has on me, and I received something from them I felt I needed—a connection.
I’ve always been a fixer. I want to be able to help, however that may look, and what I realized is that it might be me who needed a good check in. All of my own children are grown, our dog recently passed away, and my husband is self-employed and works out of the house regularly. I was sitting here in “Zoomland” at home alone each day.
I guess it was then I finally reached acceptance, at least the beginning of it. Once I accepted there was not much I could do about the pandemic, I was able to look at what was going on with my emotions. It was time to start taking better care of me.
I decided to pick myself up by my bootstraps, get outside for some much-needed fresh air, and host some of my own “hangouts” with friends so we could talk about something other than virtual learning or COVID-19. This helped change my outlook for the better.
The Importance of Self-Care
Having the ability to meet virtually with students and staff may become the norm over the next few weeks. However, as leaders, we have to take the time for our own self-care. Getting outside or choosing to meet virtually with friends and family can help maintain strong connections and positive mental health, similar to how we interact each day. As a person who thrives on connection and building positive relationships, these other avenues to connect were helpful in my own emotional health.
Leaders, you are taking care of many! Make sure that you are taking care of yourself, knowing you are taking care of others. Reboot each day, connect with people to talk about something other than work, laugh a lot, and get outside!
Robyn Harris is principal of Whaley School in Anchorage, AK. She is the 2018 Alaska Principal of the Year. Follow her on Twitter (@WhaleySchool), Facebook (Whaley School), and her blog (whaleyschool.weebly.com).