I Hope We Dance This School Year

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Marita Diffenbaugh is a veteran educator and 2020 Bluum Idaho New School Fellow working as a leadership partner with Elevate Academy’s co-founders Monica White and Matt Strong (INSF Alumni, 2017). Marita is planning, developing, and launching Elevate Academy North, a 6-12th grade Career Technical school in northern Idaho.

In a recent conversation with my step-dad, he compared what we are experiencing with the Coronavirus Pandemic to what he remembers from living through World War 2. He reflected on what it felt like when the teachers would run a drill to have all of the students get under their desks and cover their heads in preparing for the worst. We have safety procedures and drills in place to help us be prepared to find safety in times of catastrophe. The way that we activate safety protocols and procedures can make a lasting impact on ourselves and others around us.

Unlike a drill, education and other service industries are currently experiencing the challenge of protecting those they serve, while offering support for social emotional needs, and providing the expected service. Health experts and local education authorities are working hard to find common ground or agreement about how to reopen schools, whether this be in-person instruction, blended instruction, or completely online.

Many districts and charter schools are scrambling to provide educational options that families and communities are asking for. Plans for educating students in the 2020-21 school year have been shared, critiqued, revised, and shared again in preparation for Fall 2020. Once plans have been approved and school has resumed regardless of venue, we can continue to be a service to our students by putting ourselves in their shoes. How are students experiencing school?

After learning about additional COVID-19 safety protocols and procedures that airlines were taking, I came prepared with my mask, hand sanitizer, and water bottle. Going through the TSA line was smooth, however the quiet in the airport was deafening. I missed hearing lively conservation, laughter, and seeing smiles. On the plane, our flight attendant’s voice sounded stern and anxious, when she explained that in-flight service of water and food would not be available. During the flight I noticed other passengers feeling uncomfortable as we peered over our masks at each other. Upon reflection I wish that I would have encouraged the hard-working flight attendants rather than focusing on my discomfort as passenger. Our flight brought us safely to our destination and I’m thankful for this, however the overall experience wasn’t fun.

Tammy McMorrow, Idaho teacher, and author of Gatekeepers: Let’s Talk About Teaching, shared in a recent tweet:

What will our students remember? I hope that students will see how amazing their teachers are, that they will learn how to go through difficult things together, and that in spite of the unknown our students will be able to play, wonder, learn and grow.

As we continue to navigate through the 2020-21 school year, let’s remember that we are in this together. We will all have plans to follow, some that we had a chance to participate in creating and some that we didn’t. We can work together to make the uncomfortable bearable and even joyful. We can work with what we do know. Learning happens best through relationships, through experiences that activate our five senses, and when our basic needs are met.

When you return to the classroom (however that may look), help students see the relationship between the safety protocols and procedures and your care for them.

If masks and social distancing are interrupting the activation of the five senses, brainstorm with your students ways to make this better. If the mask is making it difficult to hear, what resources do you have available to help with this? If students are missing hugs, what could be a shared hand motion that will remind them that are loved?

Check-in on your students’ basic needs, and support as needed. It’s also important to check-in with your basic needs, and seek support or take time for self-care.

The best gift that we can give to each other is empathy, grace, and love as we move forward day-by-day to bring our best to our students. If we are bringing our best and if we do not give up, then only awesome can come from our efforts. A powerful message from  “A Pep Talk to You,” from Kid President (2013) resonates with what we are facing today.

We were made to be awesome. Let’s get out there. I don’t know everything. I’m just a kid but I know this, it’s everybody’s duty to give the world a reason to dance so get to it!

Let’s dance this school year!  Thank you for all that you do!

The views expressed by guest authors do not necessarily reflect those of Bluum.