Anna Wintour’s Sunglasses

I’m fairly sure I know why Anna Wintour wears sunglasses all the time. Articles about her say it has to do with lighting during interviews, or eye sensitivity, or just her wish to remain secretive and mysterious and not have people know what she’s thinking. I am pretty sure I know the truth though.

School began for me about three weeks ago. Planning for the beginning of school began in March, when we closed rather unexpectedly due to COVID-19. There was no Spring break, no Summer break, and while yes, there were afternoon naps, it was a constant “on call” and wondering when the next shoe would drop–would it be a construction boot? A loafer? Or a black stiletto with a red sole? Not just for me, but for several of us, fielding zoom meetings, budget brainstorming, WebEx meetings, district meetings, watching press briefings, fielding emails, and loads of other things we wouldn’t normally be handling during the “summer” no matter what else was going on in the world.

I blogged about our Season of Sacrifice last week…or was it earlier this one? I don’t even know now. I wrote about granting grace to one another. I wrote about kindness and understanding. I wrote about frustration and sadness and overwhelm. I wrote about taking Attitude Adjustment Walks (AAWs). None of that has changed. It’s still our season of sacrifice…this one will be longer. A lot longer. And for those of us who feel all the feels, for everyone all the time, it’ll be even harder.

I take my dog to the park almost every morning and evening. Last night, I waited too long and who knew? It gets pretty dark around 7:30 now. This morning’s walk was really quite nice–still fairly dark, but calm. Tonight’s walk, while earlier and still light out, was…frantic. Between answering phone calls, responding to texts and messages, dodging kids playing baseball and soccer, kids playing unsupervised and running at all the dogs (mine included) while their parents were checking Facebook, children walking dogs bigger than they are and weren’t able to control, and a kid on a bike riding at Mach 12 trying to mow me and the dog down while grinning like Scut Farkus as he blew past a second time laughing, I finally just stopped, sat down in the grass with my dog, and cried.

I cried because of all the questions I have no answers for. I cried because I don’t have the ability to make anyone’s life easier. I cried because I can’t fix any of the things. I cried because some parents are afraid, some parents are pissed, and others think we’re just twiddling our thumbs by not being fully in person right now. I cried because I don’t want to be on the news…for anything. I don’t want a reporter saying that someone didn’t use the right procedure, cleaner, disinfectant, mop, or whatever and someone else got sick. I don’t want to have to call a class-worth of families to tell them to quarantine because someone may have COVID. I don’t want to have to quarantine myself because I screwed up and comforted an overwhelmed child. I don’t want to lose friends to aftereffects of COVID. I don’t want anyone to resign, quit, or say we didn’t do the proverbial “enough” to keep people safe or make their work simpler. I cried because I sat through an hour long meeting about procedures and policies about safety and felt horrible for the host having to answer questions that there is no definitive answer for. I cried because kids are struggling and teachers are frustrated and both sides are shutting down. And I cried because the list of all the things I love to do in my work, I can’t do…either because I can’t afford to pay for the damn conference to speak at it even virtually or because I can’t be with kids to notice what cool things they’re doing and see if my gut instinct is right or because there’s already too much on the plate of teachers for anything else resembling professional development. I cried because I’m tired…and I know everyone else is too…and we’re all worried that we aren’t cut out for any of this.

Anna Wintour, Editor-in-Chief, Vogue Magazine

And that is why Anna Wintour wears sunglasses. She wears them to hide the tears, the runny mascara (waterproof mascara is a myth, for the record…), and bloodshot eyes caused by carrying all the things in her heart. Keeping it all from the prying public, press, and young boys in green shirts at the park asking if there is anything he can do to help as tears fall behind the dark lenses.

Season of Sacrifice

I have had “blog” on my to-do list for almost a month, yet kept moving it to tomorrow, and then next week, and finally sat down today, my one day of weekend, to write while a Nora Ephron book plays on my phone and the laundry launders. I still feel the guilt of sleeping almost all of Labor Day, waking up to phone calls from colleagues and texts from others needing information, ideas, or support. Each apologized for texting late or early, calling multiple times, asking questions that they can’t remember if anyone asked or not already. I told them no apologies needed….this is our Season of Sacrifice.

Tina Boogren (Self-Care for Educators) talks about the “season of sacrifice” in her presentations, podcast, and books on self-care and support of teachers beginning their careers. It’s the season of the school year in which educators across the globe sleep little, getting up early and going to bed late, work longer hours than usual and forget to eat, and eat worse when they remember to eat at all–ordering DoorDash or GrubHub or running through the drive-thru at whatever fast food joint is on the way home and still open. It’s the season where teachers see few people beyond their coworkers and some seem to forget they’re married and carry parent-guilt around in a large Target-brand rolling suitcase behind them interspersed with teacher editions, laminating to be cut, a computer and tablet, gradebooks in various states of “done,” and reading material about new and improved teaching strategies.

This year’s season of sacrifice involves relearning everything, going back to our first years of teaching and feeling like failures, figuring out how to remake lessons to work in a virtual classroom AND possibly an in-person one without allowing kids to collaborate, talk, sit near one another, and still honor the fact that a third group won’t see any assignment until late that night or the weekend because they’re completely asynchronous and working on school after parents are home from work or on weekends because everyone has other obligations in the evenings.

It involves teaching ourselves how to use technology that makes us uncomfortable and angry, fielding questions from families and those outside of education about when the hell schools are going to “go back to normal” because none of this is sustainable. It involves sharing fixes or shortcuts with everyone else as we find them because none of us has ever done this before…and some are happy to experiment on behalf of others. It involves using phrases and words we hate in with the fire of a thousand suns because we can’t think of others that fit: robust, out of the box thinking, asynchronous, new normal…

It also requires sticky notes to remind ourselves not to read the comments on news stories or on social media, the ones blasting teachers for “not wanting to go back to work after a six month summer break” and demanding they take pay cuts or lose jobs altogether in favor of paying parents to be at home with their kids while teachers teach online. This season requires us to bite our tongues and not try to explain to those who can’t understand what toll this is taking on us, our school communities, our colleagues, our own families, and ourselves.

This year’s season of sacrifice means teachers and parents are asking for resources and there’s not budget to purchase it. It involves writing grants that won’t be reviewed for another month hoping that it will pay for a part of what’s needed, but not soon enough.

It’s staring at spreadsheets, data, comments, and emails all asking for more when there isn’t more to give. It’s praying that dedication to the greater good will allow teachers to agree to take on blended classes or a class they never planned to teach to accommodate cohorting requirements and hybrid in-person groupings. It’s going in on Sunday so that a colleague can find a little peace and have one day with their family before we begin again on Monday.

It’s hoping that health for all of us holds out until…until God knows when…and that we don’t lose anyone to the multitude of things that could collapse it all…everything from COVID itself to mental health needs to family needs.

It involves a lot of tears, guilt, shame, frustration, and worry whether what we’re doing is right…or enough. And it involves purposely reminding ourselves to find the beauty in small things:

poetry written by children that paints a perfect picture of who they are

teachers sharing student work with excitement and pride

square shaped clouds at sunset

art shared that excites others to try it too

books written eons ago that are still relevant

coming home to patient pets, curled up on rumpled sheets and blankets

a couch covered in furs without jobs while I work sitting on the floor

Spotify playlists collaboratively created with other teachers to share the music that brings each of us joy

sleeping until the sun is up and seeing the sun shine on the mountain during our walk to the park

It’s the Season of Sacrifice for sure, and I have no idea when it’ll be over this year. Take solace in those little things and write them down to read when you feel there aren’t any good things and everything is awful.

Odd Beginnings

I was on the phone with a friend the other night, lamenting 2020 as a whole, but specifically things school-related. When we ended mid-March, I couldn’t wrap my head around what would surely be the oddest beginning to a school year in the history of ever–starting school virtually when we are not a traditionally virtual school.

One of the parts I have always loved about the beginning of the year, aside from the smell of freshly sharpened Ticonderoga pencils and brand new boxes of Crayola crayons, has always been making connections with families and kids. Seeing the excitement in the eyes of the kids as they walk into what would be their new classroom, seeing old friends in the hallway and new ones coming to the door. Chatting with kids-who-were-mine during quick breaks between conferences, and hugging siblings of graduates and kids returning to us from elsewhere were the highlights of those first days. My Facebook feed the last few days as been all about how much I love family conference days and how much I’d missed our kids and their families.

Connection is such a big component of the relationships we create with our gifted kids, their families, and one another in our building. For a gifted child and their family to see that there’s someone who will advocate for them, who understands them, and who will truly SEE them for who they are matters so much, and I have worried endlessly since mid-March about how we could make that happen for this batch of kids, those who are new to us especially, but also those we have known a long time and who we know have struggled since we had to leave each other so suddenly.

When I think about friends who teach virtually, they have such a small snippet of time to make a connection with a child that it has to be incredibly intentional–there’s no time for stories, explanations, or those conversations that take everyone down the rabbit hole and into Wonderland. Right now though, kids will need that–many may not have visited many rabbit holes or Wonderlands lately. They will need time to really show teachers about who they are, tell about what they’ve been doing and enjoying and hating about the time since March. They’ll need time to share about what they want to learn, who they need in their world, and who we will need to be for them. Parents will always have goals for their kids and all have an idea of what they think virtual or online school ought to look like, but the piece that we need them to not forget is that their kids need to feel connected to their teachers, school staff, and all the kids in the “meet” with them. Building relationships is hard enough in person for some (kids AND adults) but virtual is even more challenging.

Before anything else, as we begin this very odd school year, we need to think about how to create those connections with intention, giving kids and their families the space and time to build relationships that eventually will move from the screen to in person, where hopefully we’ll be able to hug and fist-bump and high-five and laugh together and HEAR the laughter of one another instead of just seeing “Lol” in a chat or silent laughter behind a muted screen.

Off Leash

I went hiking with a friend today and we brought the puppies (all the same age) and their granddad. Granddad worked hard keeping track of the puppies, making sure they didn’t go too far ahead, run too deep into the brush, and that they came back when we called, modeling what behavior they ought to be exhibiting out there in the world. My little red girl hadn’t ever been off leash before, except in the dog park, so this was a huge thing for her to be trusted to stay nearby and not run off into the wilderness. I was a little apprehensive about taking her leash off, but figured I had to trust her sometime.

As we hiked, she kept looking back to make sure I was still there, that I hadn’t walked off with out her, and she stayed with the others, romping in the tall grasses, running ahead and back to us, exploring the scrub oak for sweet grass, and investigating horse poop and other scat. She came when called, and was polite when we met other people on the trail.

There was something about watching the dogs run and play today that made me tear up a little. Those few hours of freedom, still under the watchful eye of both of us and their granddad, who would probably be quicker with the redirection than either of us, build up the bond of trust between us.

I remembered that feeling from the classroom. The first time I planned a unit and the kids had ideas of their own and I made them a deal–you go ahead and we’ll see how it goes; if it goes south, we’ll try my way. And it went great–they ran with their ideas, asked for help when they got stuck, and reflected intentionally on what went well, what needed improvement, and what they wanted to try next time. I gradually let go as the years went on, and we created projects together, a few playing devil’s advocate for their peers or noting that so-and-so had done X and the results were less than stellar but Y worked well. There was collaboration and discussion and the kids grew, learning by doing, with not everything dictated by me. I had non-negotiables, of course, but most of the work they did was self-directed, peer-reviewed, and intentionally reflected upon. It was in those moments that I enjoyed teaching the most.

Like my little red dog today, the kids and I grew in our trust of one another over time.

Right now, teachers are scared about the upcoming year. For their health, their coworkers health, for the health of their kids, their families, and their OWN families. They want explicit direction about what’s coming next and how this year will look, but at the same time they are afraid of losing those learning-by-doing moments with their kids because nothing is going to look normal–losing those moments that build trust in a community of learners. They are afraid of expectations of others outside telling them that things must look like this or that–especially when those others aren’t educators…everyone has their idea of what school should look like, don’t they? They don’t want to lose the freedom to be the artists using science to do this work…

I talked to a friend tonight and we agreed that “Things” should be my job description for simplicity. My role encompasses lots of things: projects, work, interactions, support, and everyone believes it should encompass the things they feel are most important or that it should look a certain way. The beauty of this role though, is that it evolves and changes all the time, with responsibilities being added, changed, updated, and delegated to others as they’re ready to grow into them. I was afraid the first year–I’d been let off leash and wasn’t sure where my support was–who do I ask for permission? for what do I have to ask permission and what can I just do? As I watched my little red dog today, it was nice to see her grow a little in her own confidence–she does know the right things to do, who to trust, who to follow. I remember when my director told me I didn’t have to ask permission for everything…checking in was fine for almost everything. She trusted me.

I hope that administrators can remember that this year can be a true year of innovation if we trust our teachers off leash for a while to do that work, using their expertise, their creativity and artistry, and their love of our kids to help them grow this year, in the face of whatever may happen, checking in as needed for direction and to make sure we’re still there and haven’t run off into the wilderness.

From left: Keeva, Cap, Trip, Delaney (front)

Limiting Beliefs

I listen to several podcasts throughout the week. Some, like Brené Brown, just bring me joy and help me know that I’m not nuts. Others, lift me up and remind me I’m not alone. And still others are more focused, such as task completion, leadership, or ideas that cater to my business-world mind. The one today was a “best of” because the hosts are taking time off (as they should). A common theme was that of limiting beliefs, and the hosts have no problem reminding one another that something they’ve said is a limiting belief…holding each other accountable.

A limiting belief is one in which you have determined you can’t see possibility beyond a particular situation.

Statements I hear a lot come from kids:

I’m bad at math.

I’ll never be a writer.

I don’t get along with so-and-so.

I don’t do <activity>.

But some come from teachers (myself included) and other colleagues too:

I never have enough time.

All I do is go to meetings that are pointless.

I shouldn’t have to <insert task or duty here> because I’m too busy with <something else>.

I only have <set amount of time> to get <task> done.

The only (or best) way to do <task> is this way, because that is the way I’ve always done it.

I can’t teach <subject> because it’s not my thing.

I teach best when I am not collaboration with others. I know my students best.

What’s interesting about limiting beliefs is that they all come from the same root.

Fear.

Fear of failure, fear of being seen as a non-expert, fear of asking for help, fear of needing clarification, fear of what others will think…fear is what drives limiting beliefs. And the more we say them, the more we believe them and the harder it is to see a way past them.

Because COVID19 continues to run rampant, with more and more cases being diagnosed every day and schools trying to make the “right” decision, limiting beliefs seem to be louder than usual.

School has always looked a certain way and we’re in a position to innovate a bit right now which makes everyone very uncomfortable. There are no right ways to do online learning, hybrid learning, or cohort-focused learning. We haven’t done them before in a situation where the stakes are this high. Even schools that have been around a long time and focused on online learning only use different models.

The most important action steps of the work we will do this school year are the following:

Serve the kids. However school might end up looking, the kids need to be the focus. This goes beyond making up for “lost time,” academics, and test scores. The kids need to know that they are part of a true community of learners and that we are all learning how to do this together. Own your mistakes and model healthy self-talk when you screw up. Ask probing questions when a child is frustrated to get at the root of what’s going on–this is just as hard for them as it is for you. Honor their big feelings and check on them later on in the day to see how things changed. Plan well, but don’t be married to your plans. Don’t be afraid to ask the kids what they need a lesson or assignment to look like if you see things are going south.

Be flexible. Flexibility is the key to succeeding in all of this. Schools will surely provide guidelines as to the non-negotiables in whatever situation we find ourselves in, everything from how many times kids need to wash their hands to how assignments are to be evaluated at each level. Your go-to might be to get incredibly rigid in the name of Holy Accountability, getting frustrated that not everyone is doing it your way, giving kids lower scores, more complicated rubrics, or shorter timeframes to complete work than you would if they were in the classroom, and getting upset when work isn’t completed at all, instead of going back to what you can do to serve the kids and asking what you can do to help. Think outside the box and see how you can make “what you’ve always done” work in another way that works better for the kids.

Communicate. With everyone. Often. More often than you feel comfortable with and in ways that go beyond your comfort zone.

Reach out to families often, sharing wins, asking for support, and asking for honest feedback about how things are going with an open mind and listening to understand, not respond. Ask about how the family is doing–your relationship with them hinges on the personal part…we’re more than teachers and they’re more than customers. If you do this from the beginning, difficult conversations end up being much easier later. Take criticism, which will certainly be a part of conversations because everyone is worried and stressed, and let families know you hear what they’re saying and will consider what they’ve said…and then actually think about how you could implement what they’re asking and how it might impact the greater community.

Reach out to colleagues and check on them. Ask them for ideas. Ask them for help or support with something. Give them an opportunity to share their expertise and collaborate. Surely their imposter syndrome is as loud as your own and having an opportunity to feel good about something would help. Ask them to check on you. Make regular check in dates.

Reach out to kids and ask how they are in ways that have nothing to do with academics, classwork, or homework. Ask about books they’ve read, games they’ve played, movies or music that makes them happy. Let them talk your ear off for a little while about the things that matter most to them.

When there’s conflict, talk to the other person or people as soon as you can to clarify the situation and fix it. This is not the time to let things fester.

Remember your WHY. You chose to become a teacher. You chose it. It wasn’t just something to pay the bills or get by–you chose this life. It’s not always easy and it’s definitely not perfect, but you need to remember why you chose to be a teacher. Why did you choose to work with this particular population of students? What brings you the most joy when you think about a day that’s gone well? What do you work on that makes you happy or feel accomplished? Write it on a sticky note and put it where you can see it.

Limiting beliefs are more difficult to cultivate when you think about these four action steps. There’s no particular order really–every situation will require one be considered before another, but take time to think about all four when you find yourself replaying limiting beliefs in your head.

There’s No Crying During Zoom Wine School

Shortly after the world stopped turning and we hunkered down at home in mid-March, a restaurant not remotely local to me began having a wine class every Sunday via Zoom. Friends shared the link with me, and I started going. They said the learning was good, but the chat was why they went. It lasts about an hour or so, and the chat was full of good people, funny people, and people looking for connection when there was so little to be had.

I started going and I don’t think I’ve missed a week since. Someone created bingo cards and there are t-shirts (I have two). Another proposes a wine school field trips when all this nonsense is over. There are guest speakers, winemakers, wine buyers, sommeliers, and other people from the restaurant world from their local area and beyond. And yes, the chat is spectacular. People worry when others don’t come or are late. I have never met any of these people yet I am willing to spend an hour or so of my Sunday afternoon with them and look forward to it every week. I learn some things about wine, and yes, that’s interesting to me, but moreso there’s connection, which many of us are lacking.

Social media right now is a hot mess. A friend deleted FB from his phone and is slowly managing withdrawal. Others have blocked friends and family because conversations have ceased to be kind, and others have simply unfollowed in the hopes that those people will stop commenting on posts to create drama and cause problems. In many ways, it’s almost as bad as it was just before the 2016 election, with outright lies, misinformation, denial of actual occurrences, unkindness, insults, and refusal to understand that behind every opinion is a human being.

A friend noted the other day that now that the 4th of July has passed, summer break is more prep than relaxation. In the before times (probably the best description I’ve heard yet), teachers spent a lot of July working on curriculum, taking PD, prepping their classrooms, supporting Target singlehandedly with school supply purchases so there would be extra just in case. This year, none of us know what to do because we don’t know what school will look like. Trump and DeVos are calling for all schools to reopen and things to get back to the way they were or else they’ll pull funding–kids don’t get sick, right? State and district-level administrators are brainstorming ways to keep kids and staff safe and healthy, while still complying with the demands of this administration out of fear they’ll lose MORE funding and have to cut even more positions, putting additional teachers out of work.

Building level administrators have it the hardest I think. While upper levels ARE thinking about kids and staff, they aren’t the ones fielding questions about exactly what the fall will look like and how their kids and families will be impacted. If you flipped through social media lately, you’d think that teachers were once again the problem and they didn’t want to come to work. But that’s just it–we do want to come to work, desperately…we miss our kids and families. Teachers are researching things on their own like face shields vs. masks, fresh air and how to get it into windowless classrooms, how to create a flipped classroom to maximize the time they get with kids, what to do when there is no AC and air recirculates throughout the building, how to have class outside or online while some kids are at home, how to create a community of learners who aren’t allowed to be anywhere near each other nor see one another’s faces, and what to do when teachers have left the building and go home to their own families, their own kids…is there a pile of teacher laundry in the garage and a shower to hose off with before they walk in the house to be with their own families?

While I was listening to wine school this afternoon, I came across a post a friend shared on her social media from someone else and I got a little teary which then involved some questions from others to just me if I was ok (Lambrusco doesn’t generally evoke tears I guess). Remember, none of these people actually KNOW me…but they could SEE me, and that mattered an awful lot.

I’m not a religious person necessarily, but sometimes, we have to pull out all the stops and call on whatever higher powers might exist. This is the post:

From Kathleen Caldwell Dial, “Wrote this today in response for a group of friends asking how they can pray for me. Wanted to share with you…

As you know, I believe in the power of prayer. Here are some ways you can pray for me, and any school leader at this time: Pray for our health, the health of our staff, and the health of our students. We love those we serve. Pray we can be innovative with safety measures given the resources we have and the mandates given. Safety is our highest calling. Always has been. Pray we can appropriately and excellently staff the array of school options we are giving families. We long to do great work and make a difference. Pray we can strongly support student and staff social/emotional/mental health and character development. This matters. This isn’t one more thing on the plate–it is the plate. Pray we can accelerate learning. Pray we can have the stamina needed for the big work and long days we have before us. Pray for wisdom. We have never done this before, neither have those who lead us. Pray for us to lean on one another, and our teams. Together is better. Relationships are central to our work. Pray for us to keep hope in the equation. It can feel like we are hard pressed on every side. Pray for our hearts. ❤️

Whether you are a praying person or not, these are the thoughts that our educators need right now. They need to know that they are supported. They need to know that you recognize that their fears are not selfish and that they’re not trying to get out of work. They need to know that their lives matter. They need to know that the things they are trying to do for the kids and families they serve matter–they’re well aware they won’t make everyone happy but they’re trying. They need to know that the public recognizes that they understand that there is risk involved in re-opening school…and that they’re scared too. Everyone from the first year teacher to the seasoned teacher and all of them in between and around them is scared too. A lot of what if’s are hanging over us, putting even more weight on our shoulders.

It was good to be seen today by those at wine school…just seen. They didn’t ask me to fix anything or go deep into explanation, didn’t make me feel bad for having feelings and showing them to a hundred plus people I don’t know, didn’t share their opinions on anything. They simply said yeah, we get it. And that was enough. We can get through this together.

Disconnected

As I was walking my dog last night, I got cornered by yet another well intentioned neighbor asking about the plans for school in the fall. I’d been asked multiple times already yesterday and every day before (on almost every single potty break) because you see, when you live in a condo/townhome community and all of you have been cooped up for over 100 days, people begin to get curious about you and start asking questions. And when you have a dog or a baby, it seems people ask even more questions. If you are lucky enough to dodge one, you’ll run into another who will ask the same questions and more.

I understand, really. People feel disconnected. Many are still not back to work in any normal form, and some are either furloughed or laid off and looking for work. Others haven’t seen friends or family in a while, and most haven’t been anywhere that wasn’t absolutely necessary since all of this began. They want to feel connected to someone, something, and feel like they know *something* because there is so much we don’t know.

I hate having to shrug my shoulders and tell them I don’t know for sure what’s happening in the fall. I share what I do know, what little of it there is, and possible scenarios of what it might look like, while at the same time holding my tongue as they berate teachers for not “being willing” to do more for the good of the kids. Some understood that it’s scary for everyone, the idea of 25+ kids in a classroom who are incapable of keeping their hands off of their faces much less keeping their hands off their friends. Questions about recess, lunch, after school sports and activities. As though I should have the down low on any of it.

I thought to myself last night as I listened to the news that, frankly, I’m just tired of it all. (I’ve done well minimizing my news consumption over the last few weeks but it’s seemed to hit harder this past week as we hit the 100 day mark.) I’m tired of being disconnected from the people I care about, getting to see so few of them in real life on a routine basis, the constant stream of numbers indicating how many more have been diagnosed or have died, the seemingly endless arguments on social media over masks, political beliefs, the perceived lies vs perceived truths, future plans, everything everyone else is doing wrong.

If this is how I, a forty-something woman, feels on a daily basis, I wonder how this is impacting the kids we serve. They have even less control over things than I do, though I suppose they text and snapchat with their friends more than I do. Many of their parents are differently employed than they were in the past, and the money stressors are sure to be high because of it. I worry for them and their families. Parents often work hard to hide their worries and struggles, while others are far too open with what’s going on–and in both cases the kids feel like it’s their fault somehow.

It’s easy for gifted kids to internalize the feelings, worries, and concerns of others. It’s as though they’re hardwired for it. Many are empaths on some level, and that makes it even more complicated. Kids, particularly younger ones because they are often more sensitive, aren’t sure how to handle and work through their own feelings yet, much less take on the feelings of their friends and family. So some choose to disconnect even more, creating a bit more space between themselves and others to protect themselves.

I can’t say it’s a whole lot different for gifted adults.

Start…Stop…

I have started this post over and over again. I have stopped, swearing I’ll come back to it, and then deleted one draft after another. I read headlines instead of watching the news, alerts as they pop up on my watch or phone. There’s been some news, to say the least, and some of it is just unfathomable, making me reconsider if whatever I’m thinking even matters in that moment given everything else.

By this point in the summer, I have typically started thinking about how I want to evolve my role the next year. I’ve identified pieces of my job that don’t fit my title and give the wrong impression about what exactly it is that I do, and identified what I WANT to be doing for our gifted learners and educators to help them both grow.

COVID-19 and closures and stay at home orders and murders and protests and layoffs and furloughs and budget cuts and worry have occupied my thoughts and seemed so much more important than anything else on my mind.

I’ve attended several meetings lately where discussion turned to what teachers will be facing next year. Many in the group noted that there was a lot of upset as teachers felt out of the loop more than usual, with decisions being made about next year without their input, and they felt undervalued and some were even considering quitting altogether because so much was up in the air and no one could seem to answer their questions with sufficient detail for them to feel at ease. They’re anxious and angry. They’d gone into mid-March holding “crisis school,” feeling frantic and not knowing what they were doing or what was expected–some districts expected online school to look exactly like in-the-classroom school and teachers were exhausted trying to meet that expectation on top of taking care of their own families at the same time. They want to know what things will look like for the fall–are we going hybrid? in-person? online only? They want to know what options they have for employment as they, too, are worried about their own families and the risk they’d be taking in being in a classroom with 10+ students.

The consensus from everyone is that no one knows what the fall will bring yet. Change happens constantly right now and most districts and schools are trying to build a skyscraper during an earthquake. They have plans for this, that, the other thing, and then news brings changes which requires stopping to make more modifications or starting over altogether and a new set of plans. There is no one way to do this. Administrators aren’t trying to keep anyone in the dark, but it doesn’t make sense to share multiple possibilities for plans that change with every Apple News alert.

Photo by Josh Hild on Pexels.com

Even in my role, much is up in the air. What will my job need to look like? Will the things I see as needed be what others want done? A podcast I listen to every Monday noted that this is called the “Messy Middle” where goals may need to change and we may have to let go of the goals we’d planned last year or in January. What should be the focus going into the fall? PD about cultural responsiveness? trauma? online or hybrid learning? Synchronous and asynchronous planning and teaching? Regardless of the focus chosen, will it end up being what’s needed?

I feel like I start and stop things a lot lately, second guessing myself and the worthiness of the work. One of the pieces of advice in the podcast today was to go back to my Why. Initially, I’d determined my Why to be:

To engage in work that impacts the world around me positively so that others can grow, learn, and honor one another.”

I think this, along with several goals, needs to be revised to include the things about which I’m passionate. Perhaps another version or sub-Why is more appropriate right now:

“To engage in advocacy for gifted learners so that educators will be able and willing to see them, hear them, and begin to understand and honor them.”

How might your goals or your Why change? What have you started and stopped lately that you need to come back to and evaluate? Schedule a time to talk with a mentor or friend to talk about it…and about the fear that underlies all of this.

Controlling the Unknown

I’m over the virtual meetings.

I’m over hangout and social media chats.

I’m over strings of emails with one sentence responses and overlapping questions because we can’t just walk down the hall and have a damn conversation to fix a problem.

I’m over discussion of yet more education budget cuts and possible layoffs and hybrid in-person and distance learning and maintaining social distancing with five-year-olds and memos put out by people who last saw a classroom when they were in elementary school telling educators how school should look next year.

I’m tired of virtual happy hours and webinars.

I’m tired of being mentally and emotionally exhausted every day before it’s even begun.

A friend said it best this week when we were texting to find a time for a virtual happy hour. She said some days are better than others, but she hated having to be socially and physically distant from others. And she hated having no control over her future. That’s exactly it. That’s the crux of what is wrong for so many of us right now. I see my neighbors more (not altogether a bad thing) but never see the people I love. I don’t know what the future holds and that’s scary.

We’ve released from school, and technically summer break has started though it doesn’t feel, once again, as though it’s a break. My heart hurts, literally, for all the unknowns we’re left with and the lack of control that any of us have on our future. I can’t design what I want coaching to look like with people next year because I have no idea what my position will look like in the fall. I can’t plan marketing because who knows how we’ll be allowed to interact. All of the possibilities being discussed are mind-boggling and I can’t wrap my head around how any of them could actually work.

Small businesses and restaurants and breweries aren’t sure how much longer than they can stay afloat without in-person sales without restrictions and dine-in/drink-in options, and employees don’t know if they’ll have jobs to go back to when they do open up completely–on the one hand, they don’t want to take another position but on the other they need a job. Parents who have already been laid off or furloughed are worried about finding work, and unemployment will only last so long. Whole industries have been impacted by this, and those who don’t need financial support have managed to get their hands on it with no trouble, while those who do need it can’t even get an application to ask for it. Seems the rules change for those who have, and those who have not are again, stuck having not. And I hate that inequity.

We have little control right now over much at all and it’s frustrating. You can’t control the unknown, especially when you aren’t the one in a decision-making position. I got to choose wall colors for my office this week (Pollen Powder and Yam, for the record) and for a moment that was enough. Then a thousand other things I have no control over spilled out over the past few days and so much of what I feel is…sad, I guess.

Someone said in a virtual meetup that liquor sales have gone up significantly since all this began and I believe it. I know I have a fairly good part of my fridge dedicated to my liquor of choice. I say I drink socially (which generally is the case), but when you can’t be social…well, one crowler has to be consumed at a time (I will not be my mother and put tin foil over my beer to “save” it for tomorrow.) and I can say I’m supporting a small business.

And then there’s existential angst that comes up when you’re alone so much and you begin to doubt your worth. The beer does not stop the thinking.

I have four fairly big projects going for the summer, all of which have their own unique set of unknowns, and my ability to complete them successfully is a huge concern. Do I know enough? Am I doing it right? Was I really the right person for this?

Imposter syndrome is real, and it shows up in the gifted population with significantly more frequency than that of neurotypical people. I’m sure there’s statistics…but I don’t want to hunt them down right now. Everyone has doubts, but those in the gifted population run deeper and are more complex. I’ve watched it happen. I’ve experienced it. We worry less about how we’ll be perceived than how our success will impact others and the greater good. I think about my kids who have graduated both high school and 8th grade this year, and cannot even begin to imagine what they are going through right ow with all the unknowns on their plates.

I get so angry when I hear or see people spouting complete untruths about the impact of this virus on people. When they go on about how it’s all a hoax. When they say that masks are unnecessary. When they say that we’re all overreacting. So let’s assume it’s all a hoax and we are overreacting–that doesn’t mean the impact of it has changed or lessened. Families have been destroyed through the death of loved ones. How we view our society has changed. How we view education has changed. How we support our students and families has changed. And how we support one another has changed…and that hurts most of all.

I got caught up watching Jersey Shore over the past several weeks (no judgement…it’s as mindless as one can get and I’m fully aware I’m losing brain cells.) One of the people on the show left for a time due to anxiety, and when he came back, he was sporting a tattoo that said “Let Go, Let God.” He got it to remember that he is in control of his actions, but not the outcome. I’m not a really religious person by any stretch of the imagination, but I have to believe that something greater than myself is at work here.

Things I know are that I get to work with a brilliant team of educators who want only the best for our kids. I get to partner with others in a variety of organizations who want the best for kids and their families. I have wonderful mentors to rely on when I don’t know the answers. I have friends and family I can lean on when it hurts too much. Eventually the clouds clear (unless you live in the PNW and then it’s a crapshoot if they’ll clear or not). Everything has a season. People come into your life for a reason or a season…every interaction is a lesson of some sort and if we need more practice, the interaction continues to be presented.

I can’t control the unknown, no matter how hard I try. I have no intention of giving up, but I can mellow out about it a little and let go… The clouds will clear. And the storm will pass.

Remotely…

There is not remotely enough waterproof mascara for this week. Or comfort food. Or comfort adult beverages. Or rolls of Costco toilet paper masquerading as tissue.

Tomorrow would have been our last day of school. Our lovely little 1950s school building is getting a facelift and remodel, adding space for kids to be creative, better flow to the building as a whole, and an office with a window for me in the actual office (this is huge…trust me.)

Earlier this week, we would have had our little ones’ continuation ceremony on to first grade and our eighth graders’ continuation ceremony to move on to high school. And we would have had field day on the very last day, with a clapping out of our graduates and everyone moving up a level, and all the chaos that comes with dismissal on the last day of school. And a teacher dance party in the gym when all the kids had gone home with families.

I remember thinking that I would have these last-day-of-school moments every year like they do in the movies, with touching monologues by kids or others, and music in the background to match all the feelings in the scene.

I’ve yet to have that sort of ending to a school year. The first year, my classroom looked like a bomb went off inside, with left-behind papers, books, extra materials, and chairs and tables askew and filthy with leftover BBQ fingerprints from little siblings. I learned after that year that being OCD about cleanup and routines is a good thing–brings a sense of sanity to an insane day.

This year will be heart-wrenching.

End of year assembly by Google Meet.

Virtual ceremonies for little ones and ceremonies still up in the air for our 8th graders.

It ain’t right, I tell you.

And my babies who are graduating high school, this was the first year I would have been able to go to see graduation because we were already out…and theirs are all either virtual or up in the air too.

I never really thought that ceremonies mattered, but they do. It’s a closure–the bridge between one phase of life and another.

And I’m not sure how we can share in that closure together remotely and do it justice. And that hurts. You can remind me all you want about safety and how important it is to take these precautions–I agree it’s necessary–but it doesn’t make it any easier…

None of this is remotely easy.