Through the Eyes of an Educator: Back to School—Managing expectations

by Stacey Ebert / Sep 08, 2021 /
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‘Expectation is the root of all heartache’ - William Shakespeare

In the northern hemisphere, it’s officially back to school time—but who knows what on earth that ‘back to school’ will look like for each of us this year. With the recent FDA decision, it’s a whole new ball game. Details shift each and every day and, I imagine, will continue to do so throughout the year as we (hopefully) work our way to the other side of this global pandemic. So, whether you’re choosing virtual, hybrid, in-person, at home, or are still undecided about the entire matter, there’s one thing for sure—back to school will not look like whatever that typical picture of back to school is in our minds. I mean, at this point, is there even a typical, normal anything anymore?

Sure, we’ve all been wishing that by this time this year, we’d be in a return to that more ‘normal’ mode of life, where we gather our back to school stuff together, organize the heck out of everything, and ready ourselves for that seasonal shift from the freeing notion of mystical summer joy to the more structured routine of autumn’s beginnings. 

This year, more than most, perhaps one of the single-most critical skills we need to strengthen is the one that reminds us to manage our expectations. 

Through the Eyes of an Educator: Back to School—Managing expectations

Over the past eighteen months, we’ve truly learned that while we’re all in this together, we’re not at all in the same actual boat. Each of us has our own challenges, strengths, obstacles, and, well, stuff that comes with us as we enter into the time of ‘back to school,’ and it’s rare to find a human who can truly enter a new space while leaving all of that ‘stuff’ behind. 

For some, the return to in-person learning and teaching seems like a positive step forward. However, for others, stepping back into a building with other humans can be undeniably petrifying—and this year, way more than any other. It’s exciting to think we’re at a point where we can breathe the same air...and yet, are we really at a point where we can breathe the same air?

Regardless of where you are in the world, well, except maybe for Tonga, which has seen zero-Covid, you may or may not be ready for the commencement of this new school year. This time around, it means it’s even more crucial that we do our best to manage the expectations of ourselves, our students, the families of our students, and our communities at large. And yet, in this time of divisiveness and everything tending to take on a political notion, it is, without question, not the easiest of tasks. 

Enter mindfulness. I don’t know about you, but these past 18 months have seemed like an endless whirlwind of intense emotions and shrugged shoulders more or less aligned with the level of our ears. There’ve been achy backs, headaches, insomnia, frustration, angst, and all the things that continue in that heightened stressed state of global pandemic. 

To manage this new school year, we must, unequivocally, manage our expectations. 

Equally paramount alongside constant and trustworthy communication, compassion, and kindness, managing our expectations can make for a year that may even be able to begin to relax our shoulders back to the place they belong. 

Regardless of whether you’re five or fifty five, humans often suffer from the state of wanting what we want when we want it. Consider the toddler who wants the candy at the register or the adult car shopper who lusts after their favourite wheels—when something, other than ourselves, be it a parent or even our finances intervenes to tell us no, in one way or another, we begin to throw a temper tantrum. Be it the obvious ones flailing and shrieking on the aisle floor of the grocery store, or the more subtle ones that invades our mind, alter our behavior, and compel us to ruminate over all the things we thought we could (which we were completely wrong) control and can’t...regardless, somehow our expectations were that we could have the thing we wanted and now we can’t. Well, I don’t know about you, but I imagine that most of us would want the pandemic to be over, people to not die of Covid-19, and for whatever level of societal trust and potentially safety we had before the world fell apart to return. But, wishing it would be so doesn’t make it so. Anger at what can’t be doesn’t make the situation at hand any better. In fact, it makes your individual situation worse. 

With much on the line this year, including somehow rebuilding that sense of community and facilitating some level of learning recovery (especially for those who didn’t feel they thrived in the online settings), how can we attempt to do all we need to do, care for all in our care, and do our best to not only manage our own expectations, but impart to others to do the same for themselves?

Through the Eyes of an Educator: Back to School—Managing expectations

Along with much of the world going apps, digital, and all things computer, today, there’s a multitude of methods for mindfulness. Headspace is only one of them. This mindfulness app, dreamt up by a Londoner who later became a monk and now lives in southern California, can help. In his TED talk, ‘All it Takes is Ten Mindful Minutes’, Andy begins to explain the ideas of remaining present, the here and now, and how only a few minutes a day is a game-changer for us all. Perhaps, those ten minutes can help us all in the present as well as in the future. 

Managing expectations amidst a pandemic school year

Through the Eyes of an Educator: Back to School—Managing expectations

Things change - communication is key!

Just as the heights and fashions of kids change throughout the year, so will other things. In this one, along with the usual schedule changes and life stuff, there may be adjustments to mandates, restrictions, and protocols. We’ve been here before and we’ll be here again. 

With concise, clear, compassionate, and constant communication, we can navigate this year ahead. 

Be mindful that each little mind in that classroom sees the world through their own lens and amidst their own challenges. Each voice is made up of their stories and those in their lives, and may or may not be able to press pause on their opinions, frustrations, and reactions; this goes for the young and young at heart in the learning space. While we do our best to chart our way through this rocky course, communication will help us steer the ship through the rough waters ahead.

Managing expectations amidst a pandemic school year

Creating classroom culture - facilitating a sense of community 

Teachers everywhere know that every learner is an individual. Whether or not they let us in to see their obstacles, challenges, moods, victories, and hearts, each student deserves to be set up for success and for the opportunities to flourish and thrive. While many are looking forward to being back in an actual school setting (whatever that may be), many are dealing with the anxiety, details, and disappointments of the past year and a half—and this year calls for even more compassion and tact than others before it. 

To help create that classroom culture (whether online, at home, or in person), facilitating a sense of community enhances the experience. While there will certainly be ups, downs, and all sorts of wiggles along this year’s journey, helping students understand that they have the power to focus on the present situation may be one of the greatest gifts we can provide. 

Remember the relationships - how to facilitate that welcoming environment in an unprecedented year

While each of us has had our own experience amidst this global story, one constant has been that education is about far more than reading, writing, and ‘rithmatic. School is about relationships and experiences. Cultivating those safe, trustworthy, kind, and responsible relationships between students, facilitators, teachers, staff, and community members is a hallmark of a school. We’ve proven time and again that it’s not the walls or the buildings, but the people who make the ‘school’ experience. Whether it’s a Zoom meeting, an online class bulletin board, or an individual dance move to greet each student, facilitating that welcoming environment is an expectation that is within our power to manage and sets the stage for students to know they can trust that their teacher will do their best to be there and be steady for them throughout the year.

Perhaps what we first thought possible is no longer - pause, respond, act

We all know all too well that often what we believed at one point to be possible is no longer the case. Whether it's because your holiday plans are no longer in your budget, all of your dinner guests are vegetarians and won’t eat the main course you had planned, or particular pandemic protocols weren’t necessary at one point and now are, the constant flinging about is often difficult to receive. 

However, if we work at it, if we can add a bit of mindfulness to our momentary acts, perhaps we’d be able to give ourselves the option to pause for a moment, respond rather than react, and then figure out how to act and solve the present situation at hand. And, of course, remember, we won’t always be perfect, it won’t always work the way we wish, but every act of moving that mindfulness muscle will provide endless positive results overall.

Managing expectations amidst a pandemic school year

Learn things, friends—and whatever method of education you choose, stay healthy and safe this school year. 

 

Stacey Ebert, our Educational Travels Editor, is a traveler at heart who met her Australian-born husband while on a trip in New Zealand. Stacey was an extracurricular advisor and taught history in a Long Island public high school for over fifteen years, enjoying both the formal and informal educational practices. After a one year 'round the world honeymoon, travel and its many gifts changed her perspective. She has since left the educational world to focus on writing and travel. She is energetic and enthusiastic about long term travel, finding what makes you happy and making the leap. In her spare time she is an event planner, yogi, dark chocolate lover, and spends as much time as possible with her toes in the sand.

 

Check out her website at thegiftoftravel.wordpress.com for more of her travel musings.