Schools across the country are in the process of returning to some form of in-person learning. In some cases, students and teachers have not been together for a year. Many school staff have not been able to gather in person either. Now, with roughly a quarter of the year remaining, they will be transitioning to new environments or returning to previous ones while continuing to teach and learn.
In some ways, the transition mirrors the beginning of a new year as routines and expectations are created and adjusted. In-person relationships with students are created and renewed. Meanwhile, classrooms may need to be set up and materials may need to be collected and organized.
For many educators, the pandemic has been a time of extreme stress. Exhaustion is rampant. Returning to in-person settings likely will, at least temporarily, increase these feelings.
While we attend to the needs of students as they return to in-person learning, we also need to provide support for adults. Consider five areas for focus and action.
First, we can be patient. We know that we need to be flexible with students and not try to cover everything in the time remaining. The same approach is warranted with staff. We need to consider what we can let go for now. Where practical, we can provide time and flexibility for staff to find their way. Letting go of some reports, forgoing some responsibilities, and providing flexibility in submission of reports and plans where possible can go a long way in reducing stress and lightening the load.
Second, we can listen. Being open, present, and accessible during and after the transition can position us to hear what may be getting in the way of progress and creating stress. At times, listening may be all that is needed. In other situations, listening may make us aware of actions and adjustments we can make to ease burdens and provide support.
Third, we can help people reconnect. The pressure to move quickly as the transition unfolds can leave people continuing to feel isolated and overwhelmed. Scheduling and protecting time for socializing can rebuild connections and renew important relationships. It can also be a time for comparing experiences, sharing ideas, and providing reciprocal support.
Fourth, we can establish predictable routines. Transitions often feature uncertainty and unpredictability. Establishing regular routines such as Friday morning staff breakfasts, brief stand-up meetings, and/or daily and weekly information updates can create touch points and stability in the midst of the transition back.
Fifth, we can show appreciation. The distractions and struggles associated with the transition become easier to manage if people feel as though their efforts are noticed and appreciated. We can communicate our gratitude through our words and actions, but they must be authentic and not associated with yet another expectation or request. When appreciation is conditional, it loses its value. We can also encourage others to communicate their appreciation. When educators hear from parents, students, and the community that their work is valued, it can be even more powerful.
Transitions such as these are never easy. However, when we offer patience and attention, create opportunities for reconnections, establish routines, and communicate appreciation, the experience can be one that generates pride and satisfaction.