These are difficult times. The confluence of pressures, challenges, and trauma educators face is real and has a significant impact on lives in and out of school. While advice to take care of oneself may be well intended, for many of us, it is not enough to counter the stress and fatigue we are experiencing.
We need solutions that are more powerful, pervasive, and sustainable. Interestingly, history may offer some hints and insights for how to navigate the current situation while remaining healthy and hopeful. Consider examples from two countries. During World War II Germany assumed that by indiscriminate and sustained bombing of British communities and citizens they would their break morale, undermine their spirit, and lead to societal collapse. Yet, the bombing largely had the opposite effect. British citizens developed a sense of pride in surviving. They banded together to find safe spaces and protect each other. They remained focused on making life normal under conditions that were anything but normal.
Interestingly, despite the British experience of having developed shared strength and a sense of pride in response to the German bombing, the British made a similar assumption about indiscriminate bombing of Germany later in the same war. They believed that by destroying towns and cities and causing massive disruption to civilian life, the German people would turn on their government and surrender. Yet, the German people remained committed and determined in the face of horrific conditions until the end. Again, the strategy largely had the opposite effect of what was expected.
Obviously, the pressures and challenges we face today are not the same as those faced by British and German citizens almost eighty years ago. For the most part, the threats are not to our lives and the damage is not physical. Yet, we can learn from the attitudes and actions that carried these people through difficult times.
First, the British and Germans understood that they confronted a common challenge. They shared an understanding of what they needed to do to survive. They swapped strategies for what to do during attacks. They provided support and encouragement to each other. How much agreement is there about our common challenge? What are we committed to protecting? How might we support each other in ways that keep us whole, healthy, and energized to prevail? What strategies and perspectives can we share that will encourage and support each other?
Second, they focused their frustration on countering the challenge they faced. Both populations committed to doing what was necessary to keep moving forward despite the difficulties of their circumstances. They did not succumb to fear and self-doubt. Rather, they marshalled the resources they had and committed to prevailing despite what they faced. What are we committed to preserving? How might we marshal the resources we have to counter the forces that are standing in the way of the learning success of our students?
Third, they shared a common, specific goal. The Germans and Brits agreed on and were committed to what they needed to accomplish. While they faced challenges that may have been more immediately existential, ensuring the success of our students holds crucial implications for the future of our society. What is our overarching, shared goal? How clear are we about what we are trying to accomplish? What if together we publicly committed to the single-minded goal of ensuring that despite everything our students will continue to learn, succeed, and catch up?
Fourth, they developed a shared sense of pride in what they were doing and how they were holding up. People shared stories about what they were experiencing and listened as others told their stories. Shared experiences and commitment to survive were strong forces driving their will to stay the course. What if we made it our practice to share what we are experiencing and build a shared sense of pride in the work we are doing despite the challenges we are facing? What if we took the initiative to share our stories and the stories of our students so that others come to know the great work that is occurring despite the challenges we face?
It might be argued that the forces in play during times of war are not the same as we are experiencing today. However, the emotional and psychological impacts can still be significant. Regardless, we choose how we will respond. We can band together and support each other to counter the forces we face. When we do, we may find that we weather the current “storm” and emerge even stronger.