Anybody else feel like we should have gotten double summer this year?
No, I’m serious. I proposed it to all the most important decision makers I know, but for some reason they thought I was kidding. I wasn’t, though. I just wasn’t ready. Even though my vacation was graciously long and I really did drink as deeply as I could from beachy goodness of summer, I was still RESTING when the calendar told me it was time to jump back in. “Excuse me?” I wanted to argue. But no. Time waits for no one, so I prayed about it a little, complained to my husband about it a little, pouted a little, and then pulled myself (reluctantly) together and unenthusiastically belly-crawled back into the building.
And then the most remarkable thing happened when I walked in the door. Laughter. Joy. Prayer. Conversations. Stories. Empathy.
I got back in the room with my people. These glorious, playful, wise, generous people I have the privilege to work with. These people I forgot that I needed, who have been locked in their rooms, on the other side of a screen, or shielded behind protective layers for more than a year. And with each set of smiling eyes I met (because you can tell even behind a mask) and each connective conversation I had, I felt the return of my own glorious, playful, wise and generous self. I felt ready. Or at least ready-ish, but more ready than I had felt before. It turns out we need one another. We really do.
The last 18 months left many of us feeling isolated, burdened, anxious and lonely. It’s been tough. Teaching is already a tough job, but to do it alone? It becomes infinitely more difficult. It can hardly be surprising then that a study done by the RAND Corporation in June of this year found that nearly 1 in 4 teachers considered leaving their job at the end of the 2021 school year. Educators across our nation have taken a beating and our collective resilience is wearing thin.
COVID-19 has left us all a little empty and deflated, and I have to admit that same sense of depletion and dry bones mentality was eroding my own excitement for this amazing and holy work that I love. Even though summer offered some restoration, it was not enough. The daily stress has affected us all, mind, body and soul. And an educational community isn’t just one mind, body and soul; our bodies comprise The Body, and this Body is called to serve in extremely important ways. We must tend to it if we want it to function well. What I discovered after a summer of intentional self care is that the thing I needed to complete the motion of wholeness was to offer and receive care from others within my community. To be connected to my people. I needed more than self care. I needed community care.
The impact of that kind of care extends beyond just teachers. Desiring wholeness and health as educators is actually the best thing we can do for our students as well. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that our health and wellbeing directly impacts our students and their learning. Not only do students do better academically in schools with a healthy, connected adult community, but they are more likely to get their social and emotional needs met as well. Our joy, our laughter, our curiosity, our empathy and intention are the things that create trust, safety and welcome for students. This is the inception point of classroom culture. This is where deeper learning originates. It is not a one person job. As a collective school Body, we create a fabric that supports this kind of unique learning community; the more tightly interwoven we are, the stronger and more durable the culture.
So, after more than a year of feeling isolated, alone, detached, and overwhelmed, how do we rebuild the Body and reinforce the community we all so desperately need and are called, as Christians, to cultivate for ourselves and our students? How can we remember to live together? As I mentioned before, my colleagues and friends have fed my soul immensely this year, so let me introduce you to three people I think embody some beautiful wisdom in their day to day actions.
My friend Thea prays. I think as a preschool teacher she probably wouldn’t survive without it! She prays for and with her kids, she prays for her friends, she prays for our school, and she invites us to times of community prayer. I have prayed with her standing in the middle of the office because something came up in the moment, behind closed doors as we discussed a felt need, and as part of larger school gatherings. If I need encouragement, compassion or celebration, I know Thea will join me wherever I am, and more importantly will continue to lift me up whenever she kneels down. Her sincerity and genuine care for me are so completely evident in that act. It makes me feel loved, known, and sheltered to have someone stand before the Lord on my behalf. We may never had needed prayer more than we do now. Pray with your people. Pray for your people. Cover one another and offer that shelter to your brothers and sisters. God will work as the divine intercessor He is and begin to build us back better. Let’s be like Thea.
My friend Anne might be the most infectiously joyous person in my life. The first year I worked in the same building as her, we would occasionally run into each other outside our other friend, Jessa’s, office. We would immediately let out a collective squeal and start a little dance, laughing at the lucky coincidence. Our principal at the time would pop his head around the corner and say, “I should have known it was you three,” shaking his head in bemusement.
You can hear her laughter ringing out across the commons during lunchtime and her classroom as she teaches. She’s the kind of person who sends a funny text while you sit on yet another a Zoom meeting just to see your reaction on the other end. She loves an impromptu song or joke and will join right in. She’s the ultimate improv partner. She’s just FUN. Anne is also thoughtful, sincere, gracious and kind, but I single her out here because the way she intentionally chooses to be – bubbling over with delight and fun – lightens everything around her. She is always ready to play in a world where playfulness can be hard to find. Let’s learn to play again. Let’s be like Anne.
My friend Brian is a connector. He makes an art of popping in to see how you’re doing, to have a quick laugh, or leave a note. One time he left me a note that was written so quickly I could barely read his initials, BZ. I thought it said 32. I could not figure out who it was from at first, but once we did he was forever leaving me things signed 32. Honestly, this little inside joke made me feel like he thought I was cool. I was in. Although Brian and I have had many deep conversations, most of the time he specializes in these little, inclusive, moral boosting, uplifting moments. And it isn’t just me. He makes a point to leave his room during passing time and pop around to all the teachers during the course of a week, calling them by affectionate nicknames and referencing old jokes.
While we are not all wired for extroversion like that, Brian’s example reminds me to let people know I think they are great on a regular basis. It makes everyone feel like they are part the gang. He gathers up his people and binds them together through shared connection with him. After a long season of feeling very alone, we all need to feel included like that. Let’s be like Brian.
These are just three of the miraculous folks I get to work with everyday, but there are so many more in my community who take time, breathe life, and bring healing to our Body through everyday actions that knit us back together. I think there are people like this in all our communities. I think we should all strive to be a person like this. As we head into this year, may we all find ways to bind ourselves to one another after this time of isolation and make stronger still the Body we are a part of. Because it turns out we need each other. We really do.
Back, Lindsey T., Elizabeth Polk, Christopher B. Keys, and Susan D. McMahon. “Classroom Management, School Staff Relations, School Climate, and Academic Achievement: Testing a Model with Urban High Schools.” Learning Environments Research 19 (October 2016): 397–410. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10984-016-9213-x.
Gregory, Anne, Henry, David, B. & Schoeny, Michael, E. “School climate and implementation of a preventative intervention.” American Journal of Community Psychology 40, no. 3-4 (October 2007): 250-260. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1007/s10464-007-9142-z.
O’Brennan, Lindsey M., Waasdorp, Tracey, E. & Bradshaw, Catherine. “Strengthening Bullying Prevention Through School Staff Connectedness.” Journal of Educational Psychology 106, no. 3 (August 2014): 870-880. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/270940545_Strengthening_Bullying_Prevention_Through_School_Staff_Connectedness.
Styron Jr., Ronald A. & Nyman, Terri R. “Key Characteristics of Middle School Performance”, RMLE Online 31, vol.5 (2008): 1-17. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/19404476.2008.11462048.
Steiner, Elizabeth D. and Ashley Woo, “Job-Related Stress Threatens the Teacher Supply: Key Findings from the 2021 State of the U.S. Teacher Survey.” RAND Corporation, 2021. https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RRA1108-1.html.