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Finding Peace of Mind in the Classroom in the Midst of Chaos

These are tumultuous times and heading back to school has never felt so precarious.

I have been reaching out to colleagues and teacher friends to ask, “How are you doing?” As preparations to return to the classroom evolve by the day, many are already exhausted from trying to figure out this new “normal.” There continues to be few guidelines or a clear path from the government as to how to proceed. School boards, administrators, social workers, mental health leads, and the like, are having to fill in the gaps. 

Those I have spoken with have also expressed concern regarding their physical, mental, and emotional well-being and that of their students. Fear, anxiety, and frustration is rising to the surface. They are asking questions that seem to have few answers. 

What happens if someone in my class gets sick? What is the possibility of transmitting the virus to a vulnerable loved one? How will I manage to abide by the protocols in place and teach effectively? Will there be enough time in the day to prepare for my lessons? How will I be able to best support students who may have had a traumatic experience while at home? How will I communicate and collaborate with my colleagues during the day? What happens if the entire system goes online again? Will I be able to balance teaching and my other life commitments? Will I be okay? Can I do this? 

As I am not returning to the physical classroom this fall (my university courses will be online for the year), I can only listen with a compassionate ear. I let my colleagues and teacher friends know they are heard and that how they feel matters. I remind them of their resilience and wish them well. 

In having these conversations, it has made me think deeply about the current scope of education and how change is inevitable. Nothing stays the same, even when pandemics are not closing down our schools and communities. It just so happens that change was swift this year like a tsunami engulfing a coastal town. So fast, that we felt caught unawares and were left scrambling to pick up the pieces caused by the destruction. Yet, in time, it will feel like we are walking on even ground again. We will find our bearings. 

I have also been reminded that, in the face of adversity, we get to choose how to respond. We can resist the changes and cause ourselves greater suffering by bringing our fear, anxiety, or frustration into our classrooms. This not only impacts our mental health, but makes us less effective in our role as educators. Or, we can choose to lean in to the disarray so our classroom community can thrive. This does not mean falling into complacency or agreeing with the way things are (I know many of you are not happy with how the government has handled back-to-school decisions), but finding peace of mind. 

For me, peace of mind is having the awareness that no matter what is going on in the world around us, we can still find calm within. It’s like a mountain in the midst of a storm. The mountain remains steadfast and sure, resilient and grounded, even when engulfed by wind and rain. We, too, can find peace in moments of chaos and commotion.  After all, we have far greater control of ourselves than our external circumstances. When we can discover a place of peace within our current reality, it is easier to find creative solutions to move forward in the best way possible. 

In my years of living, I have come to know that breakdowns lead to breakthroughs. I have seen time and again how a breakdown in one’s personal health, career, relationships, and even in society as a whole, can lead to great change. Sometimes we need to feel incredibly uncomfortable or shaken up to do something different. Wake up calls are necessary if we have been sleeping for too long. Therefore, we need to remember that upheavals do not last forever, but they are here to teach us something. It is up to us to learn. 

Disruptions invite us to consider new possibilities, to think outside of the box, to get creative. If we think of this time as an opportunity, rather than a soul crushing experience, we might be able to enjoy the process and have a fantastic year ahead. 

For those of you returning to the classroom this fall, I am with you in spirit. I wish you well and truly believe you can do this. 

Traci L. Scheepstra, Ph.D., is the CEO/Founder of Embodied Learnings. Want to know more about her work in education? Read here!

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