Through the Eyes of an Educator: Changing of the Guard

by Stacey Ebert / Feb 01, 2021 /
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2021 is officially well underway. Vaccines are finding their way into the arms of awaiting humans to hopefully help bring this global pandemic to a close. 

Students and teachers are finding new ways to navigate the world of digital learning and are hopeful that those who want to attend in person classes will be able to do so perhaps even prior to the next school year. 

The US has inaugurated a new administration and policy shifts are occurring faster than you can bat an eye. With the changing of party in office comes a changing of the guard. Perhaps, in Washington DC, it’s easy to see, as the policies are often vastly different from that of the outgoing administration, and, as is with any race, some of the spectators are thrilled with the outcome, while others walk away deflated. Regardless of how we feel about any of the aforementioned shifts, they’re coming–and the times, they are a changin’. 

The question with which we need to wrestle is how will we respond amidst this changing of the guard?

Through the Eyes of an Educator: Changing of the Guard

If the past year has taught us anything, it’s about the importance of adapting, accepting what we can’t change while embracing what we can, that representation matters, how pivoting can be a good thing, and that gratitude and compassion are things we all need more of today. 

It’s been a hard year, and definitely harder for so many. The global pandemic has unearthed so much that needs to continue to be tackled, reconfigured, and brought to a more inclusive and equitable state. We have seen the worst of divisiveness and the best of activism. 

With words like pivot, change, shift, patience, ‘new normal’, and more on the tongues of even the youngest among us, these past many months will remain ingrained in our cohesive consciousness for years to come.

Still, there will be an after, there will be a new, and we can for certain count on the fact that in our lifetimes, there will continue to be a changing of the guards. 

Consider a first year high school student. In their last year in middle school, it was all about being the big kid on campus. They’d spent years learning the ropes, navigating the system, finding their footing, and their time in the sun was finally upon them. The entire year would be filled with ‘senior level’ tasks that many had waited patiently (or let’s be real–potentially impatiently) to arrive. Yet, as graduation quickly approached, trepidation ensued. Because, moments after that graduation took place, the guard once again shifted and they were now the little kids again as freshmen entering the world of high school. 

For years, I watched this happen in a high school setting. Many spent four solid years finding their footing in the world of high school. With each class, course, club office, school play, game, recital, accolade, and event, they harnessed their talent, built up their confidence, and stood a bit taller each day. They grew close to friends, teachers, advisors, confidantes, and felt embraced in a setting they knew quite well. Then, about one month shy of graduation, the realization came that while the newness of life after graduation felt as exciting as it did scary, what they hadn’t considered was the whole leaving the nest situation. 

High school graduation ceremony, with students throwing their caps in the air. From Through the Eyes of an Educator: Changing of the Guard

For four years, these students grew. For four years, wrapped in the arms of a school setting that for some, felt like a safe home, there was going to be another ending–that changing of the guard. What now? That deer in the headlights feeling of what now wasn’t new. Those who work in schools see it time and time again; shifting in severity, changing in amount, and taking different shapes, it's ever present. And, of course, there are some who can’t wait to flee. 

For many, school isn’t the place where they feel warm and comforted, but a space to be before there is another space to be. Either way, as senior year ends, change comes. Perhaps the lesson isn’t ‘is the changing of the guard going to happen,’ it’s how do you handle the change, and how do you use this time to grow? There will always be a changing of the guard. Sometimes it’s you, sometimes it’s a school, sometimes it’s a job, sometimes it’s a relationship, and sometimes it’s a presidency.

Either way, it's what you do when it happens that matters.

In the world of travel, there are constant shifts. Borders close and open, visas are both barriers and entry points, and today, pandemic protocols change faster than we can remember what they are. Whether they’re tools to handle adversity during those hopefully soon to return travel adventures, or they’re ones for whatever life throws, creating that tool box is vital to a more sustainable handling of those ever-constant changes. 

Two paths diverge. From Through the Eyes of an Educator: Changing of the Guard

How do we prepare our students for this shift? What are the tools we need to bolster within that educational and family setting that can help our students to flourish through that change? What can we begin to bring to the table at an early age that can be strengthened throughout each developmental stage–never truly culminating, yet always being open to cultivate, practice, nourish, and renew?

Social and emotional learning

Social-emotional skills help us to connect to a wider world. These are the tools we activate to help manage emotions, build healthy relationships, practice and feel empathy, and cultivate flourishing. Yes, of course, we’d like to see more of these actively enriched in the years of public education, but these tools are in reach of us all. 

We can engage these skills daily. Foster curiosity and actually talk about how things make us feel. Encourage compassion, discussion, collaboration, and reflection. Consider kindness alongside grammar, connectivity alongside science, and creativity alongside maths. 

Think of the things we learned in kindergarten: those principles of sharing your toys, helping someone up, offering to listen if a friend is sad, giving someone the extra snack in your lunch box, coloring, laughing, dreaming. These actions, tools, and skills all engage our social emotional learning. They don’t stop when we turn six! Reimagine the lessons, redeploy the skills–these are the ways to bolster that social-emotional learning throughout our lives.

Sign with an arrow pointing to the right. From Through the Eyes of an Educator: Changing of the Guard

Mindfulness

When we talk about mindfulness, we often talk about Jon Kabat-Zinn, who defines mindfulness with three elements: awareness, being present in the moment, and self-acceptance. Mindfulness is considered a state where the practitioner is mindfully present and aware of what they’re doing while they’re doing it. 

So much of our lives is spent on autopilot. Daily chores, routines, and even activities become rote, uniform, and sometimes devoid of focus. 

What if we could practice re-invigorating that focus? 

Even a young toddler can learn mindfulness practices. Consider how many times a day we do one thing while doing three others. Those others might be future-planning, scrolling social media, and worrying about something that previously happened...all while making dinner, driving to work, washing our hands, or helping a child with their homework. If we can wind in ways to slow down, focus on the one thing we’re actually doing in that present moment, and offer ourselves the kindness in acknowledging that when our thoughts flit in other directions, we can engage our mindfulness muscles to bring them back to our present moment. With this, we will, without question, find ourselves calmer, more focused, able to experience more joy, and our attention muscle is now much better equipped to handle whatever the world throws at us. 

This powerful tool is within reach–all we need do is activate it.

Focusing a camera on a lake with mountains. From Through the Eyes of an Educator: Changing of the Guard

Flexibility

While perhaps we grow up thinking of that physical flexibility found in acrobats and gymnasts, it’s our ability to be flexible that is far more pertinent to our stories. However, the image of the elasticity of acrobats can help. These strong, talented humans can maneuver themselves into incredible shapes with the trained ability to bend, yet not break. 

It’s that symbolism we need to harness. 

Travel teaches us flexibility at every turn. It might rain on the day of your visit to the Taj Mahal, your luggage may take a few extra days to arrive, and plans that are completely beyond your control will most definitely change. 

That adaptive flexibility, just like those of the practiced acrobats, can be learned. It’s often uncomfortable to start, or perhaps always. It’s often daunting at the start, yet with each time, it gets easier. 

For young people, it might be about learning to actively listen without interruption or response, or these days, pivoting on a dime when restrictions close in-person learning and flip it to virtual from one day to the next. Perhaps it starts with getting a toy and being flexible enough to learn to give one away to those who don’t have any. Maybe it’s when it rains on graduation day, yet we find ways to bring the magic to the celebration anyway. 

Adaptability and flexibility go arm in arm–both are learned skills that have the power to change our perspectives.

Signpost in Ireland with many different directions. From Through the Eyes of an Educator: Changing of the Guard

Resilience

Another tool for social and emotional learning is resilience: "the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or significant stress," (APA). 

Resilience is a skill that can be taught at a young age. Professor of Positive Psychology Lea Waters considers it the fourth R to reading, writing, and ‘rithmatics–empowering educators and school to ensure the skills of resilience are taught to students. Consider resilience akin to yoga–it’s a practice. 

Bouncing back, muddling through, accepting that there will always be obstacles along the way, and believing in your own power to surmount them... these messages (or even potentially deliverables) help to send students on the path towards resilience. Contemplate the inner workings of a bouncy castle– amidst constant stress of all types, weights, power, force, and pressure, it rebounds. Sure, there are times when there’s a tear in its skin, but with work, care, effort, and a bit of reinforcement, it thrives once more. 

While, perhaps, there is no pinnacle of success to rise to, with each act of resilience, we get stronger. 

Each time we find our way to the other side of the ick in front of us, we rise. 

Each time we shorten the time frame of angst, anxiety, fear, discomfort, and come from a place of strength, we succeed. 

Resilience is often uncomfortable and sometimes messy, but the simple act alone is empowering beyond belief.

Resilient flower growing in a stone wall. From Through the Eyes of an Educator: Changing of the Guard

 

Today, our students wonder what’s next and what their 2021 graduation might look like. Regardless of inside or out, masked, remote, distant, or in person, with that graduation comes that changing of the guard. 

Perhaps, over the coming months, it’s our job to instill in those young people in our world the tools needed to meet that moment no matter what it may look like, to know that as long as they’re willing to do the work, the benefits are ten-fold. 

The recent inauguration saw many changes and more are yet to come. This year, with the taking of the very oath, the United States’ first female, first Black, and first Asian-American to hold the office of Vice President, smashed multiple barriers. 

January’s Washington event to commemorate that changing of the guard concluded with the reading of an earth-shattering poem, The Hill We Climb, by Amanda Gorman, the National Youth Poet Laureate. Her stirring words evoked feelings of hope, promise, acceptance, recognition, and the need for continued action and purpose to move forward. Quite literally inhabiting that very changing of the guard, to an audience of millions, a young 22 year old reminded us all that, “there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it...if only we’re brave enough to be it.” 

Now it’s up to all of us to do just that. 
 

 

 

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.