Five things I've learned...

Posted by Kert Lenseigne on 3/18/2021

Five Things I've Learned

Now that we’ve passed the one year mark since it changed our lives, it’s becoming somewhat of a thing among certain bloggers and sites—“what are the five things you learned about [X] during the pandemic.” I’ve read many articles whose “X’s” have been things like health care, work, family, death and dying, and relationships. All interesting, all true from the author’s perspective, and all poignant given the awesome fact that every single human on this planet was touched in some way by the Covid 19 pandemic. I thought this concept was interesting enough to have a go of it myself. So, here goes and thank you for reading:
 
Here are Five Things I learned about Teaching, Learning, School, and Community during the pandemic (well, I knew each of these before but I’m keeping with the spirit of the concept—if anything, the pandemic made each of these shine with greater vibrancy and importance):
 
5. Good teachers are good teachers no matter how they have to teach. Remote, long distance, short distance, in person, hybrid, live streaming, asynchronous videos, SeeSaw and/or Canvas platforms...and name anything else you can think of. Good to Great teachers are worth their weight in gold and have shown you how they can adapt to any environment in order to provide learning experiences for children that are meaningful, engaging, and fun.
 
And this, in my opinion, should be why communities everywhere should, right now and for the future evermore, celebrate, respect, and honor teachers like they have never before out of appreciation, and from the new understanding most others now have, of just how much it takes to sustain the meaningful attention of 5 to 12 year olds for 7 hours a day (let alone 2 hours of zooming from home!). Teaching has ALWAYS been among the most difficult things to do—more people have seen this to be true now. It’s time to place educators in the proper position of respect and appreciation as the professionals they are. They are caring for our kids after all and they do so every day with full hearts.
 
4. Teaching and learning is HARD work. And I mean WORK! Both teaching AND learning! That so many teachers make it look easy (see #5 above), should NEVER prompt us to forget just how complex the formal teaching and learning process is. None of it happens by accident—most every good to great learning lesson is the result of careful and intentional planning, research, and collaboration. And the learner has to meet the teacher “in the middle of the unknown,” as well—which, no matter the age, is hard work and challenging too. And all of this happened during the pandemic—and continues to happen to this day.
 
Learning needs to be difficult and challenging to begin with—that’s why and how we learn. Ask yourself: how much do you learn from things that are super easy? Answer: most likely, not much, if anything. Reason: you’re not being challenged which also means your brain isn’t growing—literally! New synapses in the brain are not forming when challenge, novelty, and full-on active engagement are not present. Parents now have a new understanding of the learning process from the school-side of things. It isn’t glamorous, it isn’t always rainbows and sprinkles, but even though it is hard work, it can also be, and should be, fun at the same time. Things that are challenging don’t have to be unenjoyable—again, see #5 above! Getting into the Flow experience of teaching and learning is one of the creative art forms that teachers, as artists, bring to the dynamic.
 
3. Kids are more resilient than we think or give them credit for. I’ve written about this elsewhere, as it has been one of my guiding principles of being a principal, but everyone should now realize the opportunity this pandemic gave us to reframe how we use language and view concepts like victimhood, empowerment, mindset, choice, enabling, and the role adults play, many times without their realizing, in cultivating thoughts, feelings, and emotions in our kids.
 
Our kids are not victims of the pandemic or school shutdown. Placing them there is the fault of adults and a lack of imagination, creativity, and understanding that even though our collective environments changed, the narrative could have, should have, and needs to be different to celebrate the fact that our kids (we even!) did this hard thing—are still doing this hard thing. A lot of the times we fail to see how our children’s behavior and response to an environment is often caused by the adults’ own energy, language, perspective, and behavior.
 
We do hard things because we do hard things. Period. Growing up, learning, teaching, adapting, evolving, working, earning, parenting, aging are all hard things. We can shutter in to become Eyores and therefore paint a big “V” on our chests for “victim,” OR, we can adopt a growth mindset in order to turn post-traumatic stress into post-traumatic growth! Choosing to be Poohs and Kangas is the better choice. And yes, it’s an active choice! Always.
 
2. The Village needs to step up and understand its place when it comes to the old African proverb: It Takes a Village to Raise a Child. It still takes a village to raise a child. Sadly, even before the pandemic but certainly more than ever during, “the village” hid itself from our kids because it didn’t know how to adapt to the changed environment to keep its influence healthy, loving, and persistent. So in its place, our kids will seek out their own village, their own place of refuge and collegiality wherever they can in search of others who will notice them, listen to them, and engage them. Not all villages are healthy—kids will stick with even the most viscious village (aka clique, tribe, gamer compatriots, gang) if there is even a small dose of attention and connection they can gleam from other villagers.
 
Kids need villages and fellow villagers in their lives, always. If ever our Village needed a wake up call, it’s had one this past year. There can be no greater superpower than a community strongly bonded by the shared value of the importance of raising healthy, kind, compassionate, and responsible kids. We’ve lost this some—but we can get it back. Even before the pandemic, we’ve been losing our sense of Community Village to the false village of social media. Any time a child has their nose in a screen, is time taken away from a close, physical, and full-presence bonding with another soul—a warm, living, full-bodied human BEING and fellow villager that can touch and be touched. There are consequences to this—very real and significant consequences to this that were even being felt before March of 2020. Evidence of this points to the mental health issues that were being talked about on behalf of our kids.
 
Our kids NEED us to come together, as a community, to raise them well—not enable them, not coddle them, not keep them from discomfort or failure or loss or grief, not baby-sit them by giving them our iPads to play Fortnite with, but to raise them well by leaning into all of life’s joys, pleasures, challenges, and sadness (and even the rare global pandemic). This takes moral courage, community leaders, and wise parents, sages and elders in the Village. In THIS community, our Village, who and where are our leaders, sages, and elders? Question: Are YOU being called to serve in this manner? Answer: yes you are!
 
1. Perhaps the most important thing I’ve learned—so much so that every thing else above pales in comparison even though this last one is the thread that weaves all of the above together: basic human connection is essential.
 
This is why we’ve worried about our kids, our community, our country, and, if we are courageous enough, our planet during the pandemic. We were forced to mask our faces and physically distance ourselves—even to the point of adopting language that we must be careful does not become a mindless part of our lexicon. Phrases like “social distancing,” “physically distanced,” “stay six feet apart,” all in order to “keep us well,” (hmm...just think about that for a moment), have planted potentially poisonous seeds in our minds about the true nature of safety, wellness, health, and relationship. It’s not such a small thing that we at school use the phrase “stay six feet close, not forever, just for now.” Of course in practice these things no doubt did curb the spread of the virus but I’m talking about something deeper here.
 
From my perspective, those students and families who ended up thriving this past year, and yes, this happened: MANY have thrived (let’s remember and learn from them!), mainly because they found ways to stay connected with others. This took nimble flexibility, creativity, imagination, a sense of adventure and fun, and choice. But it happened (just like it always will, by the way). Those kids and families who tended not to do as well found it more challenging and difficult to navigate the new environment to create new forms of connection that could have been made to be just as meaningful—albeit in different ways. There’s no blame or judgment here for a lot of this: we’ve seen very real examples of trauma, inequity, lack of access to technology, community disconnection, and even deliberate separatism and tribalism; but there are ways to find our way through. Connection takes wise effort and is likely always available—but it takes a courageous act of vulnerability if you, or your family, aren’t sure how to find your way through.
 
If you are reading this, and maybe sense someone (me, a teacher, a staff member) at our school (YOUR school!!!), might be able to serve you or your child more effectively to cultivate greater connection, never, ever, hesitate to reach out. We’re a significant part of the Village too—and we want to serve our Village to our greatest capacity.
 
Five things I’ve learned about teaching, learning, school, and community—I’ve learned so much more, but these have been things that felt important to share at this moment from my heart. What an amazing, awe-inspiring, profound, and meaningful year it has been—and our kids continue to be our greatest teachers and inspiration. May we never stop learning.
 
In deep gratitude,
 
Mr. L
(know just how much an honor it is to serve our school community as your proud principal)
 
PS: I urge you to engage in this same reflection choosing your own “X.” It’s inspiring, heart-healing, and even surprising if you thoughtfully reflect upon the last year. What five things did YOU learn about something during the pandemic?