California started to relax its stay at home restrictions on Friday, May 8th. While physical distancing will remain in place, some non-grocery retail stores may offer more curbside pick-up; some businesses may partially reopen; and schools and day care centers may open in July or August. What does this mean for those of us who worked from home or taught our children at home through distance learning? How do we prepare ourselves not just in terms of work and school, but also for the idea that the summer, the rest of the year, and maybe even longer is going to be different? No one has a crystal ball into the future, but here are a few tips that may help us see new possibilities for ourselves and others:
Acknowledgment, Acceptance, Recognition
The Covid-19 virus has brought many of our common emotions to the forefront: frustration, uncertainty, sadness, anxiety, or fear. For some of us, the stay at home policy has been a much-needed respite from our hectic lives and schedules, a time to pause and reflect. Others feel a sense of loss and grief for the life they used to lead and a fear that that life is lost forever. For still others, there is a sense of uncertainty and mistrust. Was the stay at home policy necessary? Was the disruption to our lives and our economy indispensable to combatting the virus? And, all of us are overwhelmed and devastated by the suffering of those who contracted the virus and lost their lives because of it; the sacrifices of our essential workers; the number of people unemployed; and the increasing number of adults and children who are “food insecure” in this nation of wealth and plenty. As the saying goes, this is marathon, not a sprint, and probably the longest marathon any of us have run in our lives. The first step in preparing ourselves for the next phase of this marathon is to acknowledge who we are and where we are in our lives at this point. With these diverse emotions in mind, acknowledgement is the acceptance of our own feelings and emotions as being true for ourselves; and the recognition that others may or may not share the same emotions and feelings as we do.
Over forty-five years ago, I started as a special education classroom teacher working with emotionally disturbed middle and high school students. With no teacher aide and no on-site principal to call on for help, it was a trial by fire. I soon recognized the power of our words, our mindsets, in opening and closing possibilities for us to all work together, and “take charge” of our own learning and lives. A basic premise of the Taking Charge® approach is that it is not an event itself, but it is our interpretation of the event that closes or opens possibilities for learning and effective, coordinated action. Our thoughts, assumptions, beliefs, expectations, feelings, and sensations all stem from our underlying backgrounds of interpretation, our mindsets. This linguistic distinction is not new. Born a slave, Epictetus (AD 135), a Greek-speaking Stoic Philosopher, taught that “Not things, but opinions about things, trouble men. In the power of choice alone, we may achieve peace of mind.” Simply put, when something happens in our world, there are two possibilities: (1) to react (i.e., close possibilities for learning); or (2) to choose to observe and take effective, coordinated action (i.e., open possibilities for learning).
Build Back Better
Over the last few months, we have found ourselves juggling new tasks and responsibilities, outside our old responsibilities and comfort zones. We have turned our homes into offices, schools, beauty salons, and restaurants. In most cases, the changes to our routines have been massive and abrupt. Many of us have used telemedicine and telehealth to contact our doctors and therapists; tele-education (or distance learning) to ensure continuity in our children’s schoolwork; tele-commuting to fulfill our work responsibilities; and video conferencing to stay in touch with our families and friends. Zoom book clubs, Zoom cocktail hour, “quarantini”, anyone? Watching U Tube spoofs and Tik Tok videos about the challenges of the stay at home policy has been a fun, sometimes hilarious, distraction. How creative we all are! And, by the way, we have actually created a new paradigm for living. We have zoomed into the future without much fanfare. Most of us are much more comfortable with technology. We know that technology, especially e-learning, will continue to improve. We can see the future for ourselves. Now, we all have a choice to build back better. That doesn’t mean throwing out our old traditions, our old way of living our lives. Rather, it means seeing that the future holds many new possibilities to reduce our stress, connect with each other, and learn new ways of being in the world.
Renewed Respect for Ourselves and Others
Although we are moving into the next phase of reopening California, we still need to wash our hands and maintain physical distancing. While wearing masks is no longer required, San Bernardino County still recommends that we do so. Importantly, in San Bernardino County alone, over 2,000 people have Covid-19, and many more people are undoubtedly asymptomatic and still able to spread the disease to others. On the mountain, we have all seen a renewed sense of respect for ourselves and others during Covid-19. People step aside in grocery aisles or on walking paths to let others go by. People nod and murmur an apology when they inadvertently come too close. Neighbors drop off unsolicited gifts of homemade goodies or flowers, run errands, or do grocery shopping for those of us with compromised immune systems. Hats off to our neighbors for their hard work and effort to ensure the delivery of food to our mountain community families in need. Our mountain community has come together in small ways and big ways to watch out for each other. And, we all need to remember and recognize that in order for us, our families, and our essential workers (including our grocery clerks) to stay healthy during Covid-19, wearing masks and maintaining physical distancing is the very least we can do. We are all in this together.
Expect the Unexpected
When all is said and done, one of the biggest challenges we face is the uncertainty, not knowing what the future will bring. Most of us relish our routines. We have set up our lives around our own and our family’s work hours, school hours, time-off, planned vacation time, etc. In recent years, economists have frequently talked about “disruption” leading to innovation. Amazon “disrupted” brick and mortar businesses. Cell phones and the internet disrupted the use of land-lines and fax machines. When diseases, such as Covid-19, disrupt our lives, we can view it as both a tragedy and a challenge leading to “innovation”. We have already grown closer to our family and friends. We have seen doctors, nurses, other essential workers, and our neighbors rise to the occasion. And, we are in awe that researchers are working day and night to develop new treatments, tests, and vaccines. In the meantime, there is one thing that we can count on: expect the unexpected. When something happens in our world, take a deep breath, and make a choice to see what new possibilities, what new learning opportunities are available to you and those you love.
Take Coordinated Action
There is an old saying: actions speak louder than words. Taking Charge® would say that words are action. There is an underlying commitment to the promises we make to ourselves and others; the requests we make of others or others make to us; the offers we make to others and vice versa; and our own and others assertions that something is true or not true. We build mutual respect and mutual trust among our families and friends, our schoolmates, our co-workers, and our community by ensuring that we walk the talk, that is, our actions match our words. What we say and what we do matters to the well-being of ourselves and others. We have all been taught: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Taking Charge® holds that coordinated action is like a “dance” of mutual learning, mutual respect, and mutual trust based on following through with our commitments to each other. In these challenging times, take coordinated action in support of someone else, action that is meaningful to them. Small and big acts of kindness can go a long way towards healing ourselves, those close to us, and our community.
Dr. Lavelle received her Ph.D. in Educational Psychology from UCLA. She founded a non-profit organization, the Institute for the Redesign of Learning in 1974; a private company, Total Education Solutions, Inc., in 1997; and Taking Charge, LLC in 2005. She is the creator and principal author of several training programs for educators, therapists, administrators and others working with learners of all ages and all abilities including the Taking Charge® Parents and Caregivers Workbook (2019).