What's Normal Anyway
Today I got out the harness and leash and took my cat Iggie for a walk. Okay, not really a walk because he just wants to stand around, but my indoor cat got a little fresh air. He and his two cat siblings have boxes on the corners of my home desk where they nap and supervise my daily schedule. Later in the day, my daughter took Iggie on a car ride to pick up our dinner. I’ve always enjoyed these furry friends, but we share more stories and conversations now than ever before.
You won’t be surprised to know that this was not our usual behavior before this whole Covid-19 situation. On a normal workday, Iggie might have watched while I brushed my teeth, but he then had a long, uninterrupted day to eat, nap, bother his feline brother and sister, and then nap some more until I returned from work in the evening. I’ve heard many people say their pets are tired of all the human interaction, but our cats follow us around and always settle down in a room containing people. I may be overstating things, but I think they’ll miss us when we’re gone during the day.
I have a young niece Sarah who has taught for two school years, so you could argue that she doesn’t really have an established normal for being a teacher. She has transitioned into an online teaching environment with seamless technology skills and frequently speaks with students and their parents. But even someone so young and flexible was disheartened to hear that all would not be back to business as usual when the new school year launches in just a few weeks.
How can we as science leaders help our teachers and students be their best during the summer months and also when school begins again? Here are a few ideas and morsels for thought.
Be okay with messy
I’ll be the first to admit, I like things orderly and predictable. I organize my pantry so cans are facing the same way and I always wash bed sheets on Sunday afternoon. Having so many unanswered questions about the school calendar, when and if we’ll have a vaccine, and knowing if there would be toilet paper at the store were driving me crazy. I’ve had to adjust my mindset and tell myself that it’s okay if things are unorganized right now. Focus on what we do know and make the best decision we can at this moment of time. If you know some highly stressed educators right now, and I imagine you know quite a few, let them know it’s okay for life to be off-kilter right now.
Quit waiting for normal
Many teachers thought if we could just get through isolating during the month of March, we’d get to return to school and finish up the year. Then that stretched to April, May, the remainder of summer, and uncertainty about the coming school year. There’s a quote that says, “The best time to plant a tree was ten years ago, but the next best time is today.” Set the stage to prepare teachers and students for an upcoming school year that will be full of surprises. How can we all communicate well and respond in-the-moment to make the best decisions for students? Focusing on the frustration is not the answer. Being flexible and open-minded is a good place to start.
Have a contingency plan (or two)
You can bet that the teachers who turned in lesson plans just before the quarantine had to do some adjustments. Faculty meetings moved online, teachers and students connected by cell phone and computer, and everyone learned that there was more than one way to do just about everything. It’s my hope that we embrace and encourage the spirit of ingenuity that was showcased when situations changed overnight and teachers took care of business.
Reach out to teachers
So many people have stayed connected or even reconnected while being physically isolated for so many weeks. Now more than ever, leaders in education need to reach out to our teachers and coworkers. Sometimes that means sharing details about checking out laptops or rescheduling graduation, but let’s make sure it also includes checking in to see that those we work with know that someone cares.
There will come a day that I bid Iggie farewell at the door and head out to work in the morning. And there will also likely be a day that I tell him I’m back working from home for a few more weeks. I’ve learned my new normal is knowing there is no predictable normal. Plans are made in pencil, not permanent ink. I have to repeatedly tell the planner in me that these times call for flexibility, believing best intentions, and being willing to try something new. And just like Iggie in his harness, it might take a little getting used to, but oh the things we can experience if only we are willing to be brave and enjoy the scenery on the journey.