As you are reading this blog, many of you have already begun the school year. Some of you may still be waiting to commence, but all are learning to adjust and adapt to many new realities.
The first reality was that change and decision-making is undoubtedly difficult, especially with so much pervasive uncertainty. Some of you may have had decisions made for you by municipalities or other governing boards, with or without your input. Some of you have been given options, and have had to navigate the waters of change by yourselves. And many of you have had to explain/defend your choice or situation to children, other family members, friends, or acquaintances. Undoubtedly some of you may continue to question your decisions, or continue to wish that things were different.
One thing seems certain, however, and that is that we are all grieving. We are grieving the world as it was. We are grieving relationships, and proximity, and freedom to be out and about without anxiety. We are grieving school as it was. We are grieving teaching as it was. We are grieving learning as it was.
In a recent coaching conversation with an outstanding administrator, she and I began to examine the stages of grief as they apply to helping educators, parents, and children process their emotions surrounding the change in learning during the COVID era. We talked about the five stages of grief as posed by Swiss American psychiatrist Kübler-Ross. Though most of Kübler-Ross-Ross’ work was in the field of death and dying, I think it applies equally well to the death of education as we once knew it. Kübler-Ross defines the non-linear stages of grief as denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Thinking back on the last months, many of us, adults and children alike, can probably identify with moving through these stages of grief. Countless articles, blog posts, Facebook posts, tweets, talk shows, and news sources have confirmed that we were/are not alone. And yet, what I’d like to focus on is the stage of acceptance, of finding ways to make the best of the new paradigm -- learning in the COVID era.
In a recent article in the New York Times, How to Handle Anxiety Over Back to School Decisions, author Dr. Pooja Lakshmin, a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at George Washington University, suggests some coping skills to help us during these uncertain times. Her suggestions include learning to cope with uncertainty, distinguishing between productive and unproductive worries, stopping the fight with our feelings, cultivating compassion, paying attention to our grief, practicing flexible thinking and acting, and focusing on our values and our sources of meaning. While all of these strategies will help us and our children navigate the stages of grief, many of us find ourselves already in our “new normal.”
So, what now?
In another recent article from the NAGC, Distance Learning Round Two - We're in This Together there is some timely advice for parents of gifted children who are immersed once again in distance learning. Tips from parents to parents include these:
For those of you who have re-entered or are re-entering face-to-face learning, the changes and challenges are also daunting. As we work on acceptance of these changes and challenges, we need to examine them and provide context, clarity, and time for discussion. In a recent article from Grown and Flown, pediatrician and mom Dr. Cara Natterson speaks about what teens can expect as school starts this fall, and how important it is to discuss the expectations and emotions associated with them.
Some things that will change (undoubtedly for kids and teachers in any age/grade group returning face-to-face) are:
My biggest takeaway from all of my reading, discussion, observation, and pondering how to accept these daunting changes is that, now, more than ever, we must pay attention to the social and emotional needs of our educators and learners. Absorbing and accepting tremendous amounts of change requires tremendous amounts of time, energy, and understanding. While the academic needs of our gifted learners are very important, their emotional health must also be safeguarded. We need to give everyone the gifts of patience, flexibility, and grace.
My heart goes out to all of you as you navigate these new waters, and I sincerely hope that you will find a safe harbor in a place of acceptance, at least for now. We can then contemplate the challenges of moving forward. Sail forth!
As always, I welcome your ideas. Together we grow.
Past President, WATG
Gifted in Perspective
A column designed to link the gifted perspective to other perspectives, and to make you think.