Craig Shapiro – @Shapiro_WTHS – Boomerizzy@gmail.com
Many of us in the field of education look at the end of the year as a way to reflect upon the many outstanding things that happened in our school and classes. It’s rewarding and fulfilling to know we’ve made a difference in the lives of students and their families. This year feels completely different; at last for me! During the last three months COVID-19 has thrown us through a tenuous loop of stress, anxiety and feelings of hopelessness. I’ll be the first to admit that initially it was new, challenging, and even I dare say, “fun” doing lessons online. But that was short lived. I quickly realized how much I missed being with colleagues and most importantly students. I’m guessing that I’m far from alone in these feelings. Think about this; most of us went from teaching in a classroom one day, to not seeing that class again for the rest of the year! The emotional turmoil that places on students and their families is not something we should take lightly. I believe, even all that’s gone on recently that we can always find at least a few positives. All of us, whether in the education field or not, need to find a little bit of sunshine. We need that for ourselves, our friends, families and our students. Before we know it, the Fall school year will be starting again. We have a choice to solely focus on everything thing that’s gone wrong, or to make the choice of finding those few bright spots.
I recall about ten or so years ago, there was a huge push about introducing technology into education. For many of us it’s transformed our field in outstanding ways. One thing always struck me though. People would say, “we don’t need teachers anymore! We can have online learning and use computer programs instead.” How wrong they were! Rarely do we want to use absolutes in education. It rarely works, and it usually ends up causing more harm than good. In this instance though, I feel comfortable writing that a large majority of people who thought technology was the sole answer for educating kids, now realize the true importance of having a teacher in a classroom. From building collaborative lessons, to greeting students at the door, playing music in class, having conversations about life, and most importantly building those incredibly positive relationships, it seems clear that the IN-PERSON teacher/student connection should never be doubted in the future. Certainly technology is amazing in many ways. But because of Covid-19, we now realize that anyone who spends their time in school, is much better off being there, than being totally dependent on remote learning. To me that’s a huge POSITIVE!
Okay, I’ll admit it! I’m biased towards the field of Health and Wellness. It’s been a huge part of my life since I was 13 years old, and still today shapes who I am and what I believe with respect to being healthy in mind and body. Covid has forced us to address our own wellness. The very nature of being confined to one space isn’t healthy for any person. Students, more specifically thrive on moving and activity. In the past there have been many states and districts that have cut wellness programs, along with other speciality areas. It stands to reason that hopefully they now see the power and necessity of getting our students active, eating healthy, building connections and using reflection as a tool for personal growth. The numbers of teens who mentioned to me that they have really learned to appreciate exercise, meditation, reading, and “finding out who they are” was astonishing! Even better, many of the responses were not done with a prompt. Students would just write for the sake of expressing their feelings. More than just students, I’ve spoken with parents who’ve gotten on the wellness train. Maybe it’s because their children are required to move. Whatever the reason, it’s caused a huge uptick in wanting to be healthy. Being home has created huge gaps of “nothing time” as I call it. It means sitting around and doing “nothing!” Luckily, people have gotten outside when possible, instead of being bogged down. When school does go back to normal (whatever normal might be) at least we know that wellness is on the radar for students and their families.
Before our graduating seniors were done for the year, I was fortunate enough to speak virtually to a large portion of them. It seemed important to talk about connecting with friends and family. As a parent of two older teens, there have always been a million reasons (excuses) why we couldn’t spend quality time together. While some are reasonable (my daughter being away at school) others are simply about not making things a priority when they should be. As an example, I know that the conversations with my son and daughter during the day are something like, “what did you do today?” The outstanding response of “school, it was boring” would usually follow. Now things are different. Last week, the four of us actually went on a walk together! Sure, during the walk there were moments where I wanted to pull every last piece of hair out of my head. Buy hey, at least we were together! After those energetic walks, it was usually a choice of about 100 board games that had collected inches of dust from the last use about 15 years ago. Of course my family learned that I can’t draw a stick figure, and having me as a teammate meant conceding defeat before the game started. But again, at least the time was fun and engaging. You see; the moments we spend together as family and friends can easily be taken for granted. Now we can reflect on the true value of those amazing connections that shape our lives.
While all of us are unique in many ways, Covid-19 has forced us to be grateful for those things that we rarely think about. Like friends, family, kindness and just being together! Even with so much anxiety and pain in our country, seeing how resilent people are is nothing to take for granted. In the normal haze of society, so much hope and positivity gets lost for a million reasons. Actually, it’s just easy to keep going without truly seeing all that life has to offer. For some perspective, about 25 years ago I lost both of my parents at a relatively young age. Up until that point, I rarely took time to understand the power of being grateful and also showing others gratitude for all they do. Now many of us are looking for those moments where being grateful and showing gratitude matter. Sure, there are huge inequities in society. I’m not so naive to think otherwise. But before the last four months, it seemed like we would just go on about our daily lives without really thinking about how we can make a difference for our friends, family and others we might not even know. It feels and looks like our world is finally starting to see the power in respect, empathy, kindness and loving each other for who they are, not for who they are not.
Not everyone will see things as I do. That’s okay! We don’t all need to see the world in the same lens. But if we can at least look for those small positives, it can and will help us to be a little happier, healthier and even make positive change for society. Let’s DREAM BIG together!