By Ellen Mahoney, Sea Change Mentoring
Lately, I have been thinking about the moments and days after 9/11. That is the last time I experienced a disruption to my everyday life and a range of emotions that were difficult to understand. While the Coronavirus pandemic is much different, I find I’m using what I learned during that time to help me.
On 9/11, I was 24 years old and living in Washington DC. The day after the towers fell, I watched my friends and family respond in a myriad of ways. Some immediately took to the streets to protest the possibility of bombing Afghanistan. Others went out drinking and exchanged jokes with each other. Some kept working like nothing happened, I remember being angry at all of them, because as far as I was concerned, their responses were the wrong responses. I cried, wanted to be with family, even found my non-religious self going to church again. To me, that was the appropriate response. I felt that everyone else should be somber and introspective, too. I was resentful that I didn’t see that same reaction in others.
It wasn’t until months and months later, with perspective and therapy, that I realized that we all respond differently to stressful events, and that as it turned out, one of my responses was anger. Once I figured that out, I was able to find compassion for everyone impacted by 9/11, and even compassion for myself.
I share this story because I want us to remember that the school community is in various stages of school closures and crises. The good people responsible for the education of our children and young adults are all experiencing diverse emotional reactions to this. As a community, we need to remind ourselves that this range of emotions is typical and that we need to respond to our colleagues with curiosity and compassion, not with judgment or resentment. And don’t forget: turning our judgment or resentment to curiosity and compassion should also be directed to ourselves, as well.
What are some of the feelings we may be experiencing? There are many, but I have highlighted a few that I observe coming up for a lot of us these days along with suggestions of what to do once you have recognized these feelings yourself.
So much of this crisis is out of our control but that doesn’t mean we have no power. Take a moment and list everything you have the power to choose or change. For example:
You can’t meet with your department in person, but you can schedule a Zoom call.
You can’t hold a meaningful in-person advisory session, but you can check in on your students virtually.
You can’t have a leisurely meal at your favorite restaurant, but you can get creative with whatever you have at home and add a new recipe to your repertoire, or even schedule a time to eat dinner with someone via video call.
You can’t know for sure when everyone will return to campus, but you can know with much certainty how you plan and spend your day.
You can’t choose how your neighbors will react to the latest set of community rules, but you can choose how you react.
Finding opportunities throughout the day to exercise our power will help decrease some of this anxiety. A colleague recently shared a Viktor Frankl quote that offers inspiration during these times when it feels like we no longer have control.
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”—Viktor Frankl
With over 500 millions students learning from home (500 million!), we all have had to adjust our practice. It is completely normal and understandable to feel ill-equipped and you are most certainly not alone. The good news is there are wonderful people in this community who are generous and ready to help.
This ethos of helping each other is one of the bright points of this crisis.
Come back to this blog for support and advice.
Find valuable support and resources from organizations like Global Online Academy, International School Counseling Association, or International School Services for their lists of vetted resources.
Dozens and dozens of educational technology companies have made their products free for the time being. You can find a comprehensive list here.
Check out my Ten Strategies for Educators' Wellbeing:
A Handbook for Schools During the COVID-19 Outbreak, my new podcast series for administrators, teachers, and counselors and other resources from us at Sea Change Mentoring. I'll also be speaking on a webinar for CIS members on educator well-being, members can view the CIS Community portal for information.
Beyond professional services and software, there is your own network of educators. You can find groups on Facebook where teachers, counselors, and administrators exchange tips, tools, and moral support. A great place to start is the Facebook page “Educator Temporary School Closure for Online Learning”
Finally, as you continue to adapt to this new normal, remember that less is more and that trying to do everything perfectly is not a sustainable solution. Instead try to do less and focus your energy on doing those few things well.
It is one thing to feel overwhelmed or exhausted. It is quite another thing to feel hopeless. If you are feeling hopeless, this is an indicator that you need to seek professional help and you need to talk with your loved ones about your feelings. Here are some trusted professionals and organizations that you can turn to. These are the ones I know of but there will many more country/region-specific helplines for you to find online. Please don’t try to get through this alone.
International Therapists Directory (therapists familiar with the issues of expatriates and third culture kids and families)
The Truman Group (therapists offering remote psychotherapy, specializing in the international community)
Text HELLO or START to 85258
Australia—Lifeline (available 6:00 pm–Midnight (AEST), 7 days a week
Text 0477 13 11 14
Canada—Crisis Text Line
Text HOME to 686868
Text HOME to 741741
Remember that resilience is not a personality trait, or a fixed characteristic that some are born with.
Resilience is a learned capacity, a process of adaptation, a strength that we build over time. That means that we are capable of being resilient. With practice, intention, time and the care of our community, we are going to get through this.
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