Updated: Jun 23, 2020
Or how flexibility, not perfection, builds the long-term resistance.
this post was originally written in Polish for Centralny Dom Technologii
As educators and teachers we are used to the rapidly changing world, as a professional group we excel in adaptation. With this resource, it's worth looking for what else we can do for ourselves, our families, and for the people we teach (regardless of their age).
In recent days, our lives have turned upside down. Even the most resistant to changes cannot deny that we operate differently and often we are not able to implement any more our meticulously developed habits. A void may arise in the place where these habits have been helping us cope with reality before the pandemic. In the first days, we are still action-oriented - we accumulate supplies and ideas for survival, but in the long run, we need a strategy to maintain energy and motivation, especially to adapt to changing conditions. Because what might have worked well at the beginning of the epidemic may be completely useless in a few weeks.
Well-being experts borrowed the concept of VUCA from military strategists. As Wikipedia puts it, the world of VUCA is a reality characterized by:
V = volatility
U = uncertainty
C = complexity
A = ambiguity
Because of the coronavirus, VUCA struck with full power both on systems and us - individuals. We are forced to change our lifestyles and habits, which are often our buffers for safety and mental health. Understanding the seriousness of the situation, we wash our hands often and thoroughly, and we stay home. Similarly, recognizing the seriousness of living in such uncertainty and tension, let's think about how to take care of our mental health.
After the first enthusiasm, there will come time for a decrease in motivation, boredom and after an initial increase in adrenaline, also a decrease in energy. This will apply to both: us and our students. Our temporary mechanisms of coping with reality will probably not be enough, and we will not be able to return to the ones from before the epidemic. So what can we do to increase our mental resilience?
Let’s be kind to ourselves
The simplest-sounding, but really the most difficult way is to be kind to yourself. It means recognizing your own needs and limitations and not expecting too much of yourself. The epidemic situation is a good time to practice the approach of "good enough". This reality is new to virtually every one of us, let’s not demand perfection from each other, let’s not prove ourselves to be that super strong. Mostly because, this usually is not true and, above all, because pretending to be somebody else is extremely energy-consuming. In short: it is not worth it! It is better to manage your energy taking into account your individual needs and limitations, remembering the importance of regeneration.
That is why it is good to answer the questions:
where does your stress in the current situation come from?
and "what do you need to get rid of it?".
Finally, "how does the restriction on the movement make it difficult to implement the mechanism to deal with this stress?".
For some, the source of stress will be being alone, as meetings at work and outside home meant contact with people and gave the feeling of being needed. For parents, especially single parents, often going to work was an opportunity to change roles and be "among adults". For some, leaving home is a chance to breathe and have contact outside of toxic relationships, since the home is not always the safest place. Each person has a different source of stress and different circumstances, so it is difficult to find a one-size-fits-all recommendation. However, without self-awareness, it will be impossible to find countermeasures. Being kind to yourself is also observing what is happening to us and whether existing ways of coping work and being ready to make the necessary changes.
It's flexibility, not perfection, that builds long-term resistance.
Let’s have positive online interactions
It is important to remember that students also have different temperaments and different home situations. Forced to do home-education, without extra-curricular activities or possibility to go out, they will probably crave contact with each other. This is a good time to provide them not only with access to knowledge but also to model their positive interactions.
Suddenly finding yourself in a global crisis of uncertainty is a great time to practice empathy for yourself and others, taking into account the specific conditions of using e-learning tools and everything online.
Pretending that it is possible to carry on with business as usual which can mean just implementing existing programs and assumptions as if nothing has happened is not the antidote to change. In the long run, denial never works well.
Let's create communities
And this is when we come to the universal truth that what is common for all of us and will be needed in the crisis when we are suddenly forced to be in isolation, it is real interpersonal contact. How do you know if a contact is real? Certainly not after it happened offline. Personally, I recognize it by the fact that after such contact I don't feel lonely, I feel seen and my emotions are considered important. When interacting with other people I don't always need advice, often a sense of community and sharing misery helps me stay calm.
What does this mean for educators? Let's create our communities, have conversations and be real. No matter what we teach, let’s remember that our pupils, students and people participating in our workshops are also people and have human needs. Possibly for some of them, the educational situation we lead may be the most social time within a few days! Let's make sure that we and the people who are learning with us feel that it was also a real human contact, not just a transfer of knowledge.
Regardless of what tools you use for your online educational work, emotions and a sense of community can be stimulated by humour and metaphors: ask for a link to the song that best represents the mood today or chose ten pictures of puppies and ask which one represents your students feel today. Create opportunities to be able to share life outside of learning: ask about plans for the evening, ask for the best recipe for fries. It is also worth using sound and image, at least to say hello and goodbye to each other. And when you have initial technical problems (almost obligatory), it’s great to share the emotions of the struggle with a joke in the spirit of “we are all in this together”.
All this gives us the chance to exit the action-mode for a moment and to show how much people on the other side feel matter too.