Summer had been a flurry of activity and stories and sunflowers. What would fall hold?
I felt the melancholy moving in.
Typically Madie and I would be kicking off fall sessions of strengths mentoring groups at local middle schools. That wasn’t happening. Although I had done the groups before Madie coming on board, the thought of doing it without her felt heavy. Too many memories. The pain too tangible. Unimaginable facing this without her cheerful laughter and banter. Covid had all but assured that we would not have groups this year anyway. Hybrid and distance learning leave little energy or room for a new extracurricular. I had a choice to make. Sit on the sidelines as a spectator or enter into the hurting schools. My initial thought was to do subbing. I talked to a local assistant principal and was encouraged to join their staff in the daily trenches. He knew that this was where the connections happen and relationships are built—my wheelhouse. This would provide opportunities to impact students with the positive language of strengths. Students that needed to be reminded that they have so much to bring. What I didn’t fully recognize was how challenging this new reality was for our local schools. I knew there were changes but I hadn’t seen it up close. Let me give you a snapshot.
One of my favorite mentoring lessons is on Everyday Superheroes. This lesson has never been seen as vividly displayed than over this past month or so.
This can be complicated stuff.
The teachers are teaching two groups at once. This sounds easy, but it has their attention bouncing between two groups of students (approx 15-18 in class and 15-18 virtual). It removes a lot of the ability to receive feedback from kiddos that they are “getting it.” It’s like driving in a snowstorm. You have to focus so much on the stretched-thin technology and the two extremes of classrooms (in-person and virtual) that you don’t always have the bandwidth for chitchat. That being said, I have seen some incredibly resilient and adaptable teachers- who are continuously fine-tuning their teaching to reach both groups.
The lighthearted Language Arts teacher who plays piano to draw the energy into a positive balance. She also uses her evident strength of positivity to encourage her kiddos to trust that although this year is different, they are still in this together, and it can contain joy. When asked if her positivity wears thin by the end of the day, she assured me that it does not because these kids need her. They need to know it will be ok.
Then there are the determined Math teachers. Adapting their best creative lesson plans into something that can be accessed in person as well as virtually. Adding ice breaker activities to try to foster connection. Sharing little bits of their lives to draw out the stressed and overwhelmed. Utilizing any online tools to try to mix things up when students are in the same classroom all day long. Everyone is tired. All are stressed. These teachers so badly want these kids to be ok. They are battle-weary. The preparation is complicated; the grading is tedious -fuzzy photos of homework, late assignments, wrong assignments, and kiddos who don’t know how to submit something or the ones checked out- now disappearing altogether.
The students are all over the map. Some are just happy to be together for a couple of days. Some struggle to be organized between home and in-person days. Some are extroverted and will be wired to connect with whoever and however. Some are introverted, and they are lonely. The natural places of socialization and connection are complicated and limited. “Masks up. Keep your distance. Keep it moving.”
The patient Special Education staff are standing in the gap and holding up both students and their parents’ arms. Doing what they can to help students navigate a tough season of chaos, confusion, and frustration. Meeting with students whenever they can steal a moment. Strategizing how to resource students who are in school, at home, or fully distanced learning. Showing grace as the frustration comes at them from all different directions.
The efficient cafeteria staff carefully planning and implementing breakfast, lunch, and at home meals. Arriving at each classroom with kindness and often little thanks. Providing some bit of nourishment and energy to the fatigued and hungry.
These are but a handful of the people who are regularly serving in the trenches. Being consistent yet adaptable to change as it occurs. Masking their own frustration. This is more than a job- it is a calling and a mission.
There was no training for this season.
My prayer each day- Lord, use me as your instrument of peace and joy. Love and kindness. Allow me to be a blessing to each classroom. Give me eyes to see the lonely, distressed, and defeated. Provide the words to encourage weary staff and frustrated or disheartened students. Equip me with patience and what I need to be present. Help me to be an encouragement and blessing to staff and students alike.
Where do you need me to bring kindness, encouragement, or just a listening ear? Or grace in what has been a very long and challenging journey. This is a season where we need to offer up our hearts and compassion. Who needs your gifts, talents, and strengths? Who needs you to be their everyday superhero? Or even a Robin to their Batman?