by Betsy O’Neill-Sheehan, MSW, LCSW, Professional School Counselor
The end of a school year always brings out the nostalgic and reflective in educators. This year’s reflection is a bit harder than others. When the clock struck 2020 on January 1, the memes rolled out about a year of clarity, of vision, of order in the world. Within three months, the entire globe felt the impact of COVID-19. It has been an experience accompanied by grief, isolation, and fear. From the educator’s perspective, we gathered ourselves around the challenge and created the best possible remote experiences for our students. But the words I frequently hear from colleagues, “It’s just not the same.” And as I stand back and consider that point of view, there are times that I want to stomp my feet like a child in an all-out tantrum yelling to all that is good in the world, “PLEASE JUST PUT IT BACK THE WAY IT WAS!”
But that wouldn’t be helpful.
Our adversities change us. Our entire global world is changing. Usually, time is a friendly tool that chunks events into more manageable pieces, but all too often this emotional rona-coaster has me white-knuckled holding on through the climbs, dips, and spins. How will this change me? What will my role look like? How will we help our children feel safe when all the messages we have given them in the past few months have communicated to them that school, society, and even being near extended family are not safe? All the questions come at once and the answers are blurred by uncertainty.
That’s when I notice it.
It’s the spiral I’ve pointed out so many times before - a storm of anxious thoughts that will sweep me away if I let it. It’s not helpful for me to get lost in this. So I call it out in myself. Break it down to what I can handle and control at this very moment. Shift gears. Change lenses.
Maybe our 2020 vision will not be the way that we see clearly into the future, but a more clear vision into our past. Hindsight is 2020, but only if really we go there and truly think about what we’ve learned. In all of this quiet of isolation, our thoughts can seem so loud. Which will be the ones we feed?
That’s when I find it: Hope. I hear my thoughts churning solutions for inequities, and what my role, responsibility, and voice in my community are. I feel myself holding the reins back on the wild worry horse as the state releases expectations for re-opening schools that are so different from what we are accustomed to. I hear myself encouraging my children that humanity has a way of reorganizing and we will someday be settled again. Along the way, we must figure out our part in the settling, and we won’t lose sight of who we are.
In reflecting on the closing of the 2019-2020 school year, we should take the time to recognize what was lost, honor grief, and care for one another. Breathe in those poignant moments when you clean up your classroom and you wipe the date, March 13, 2020 off the board. Then take one step at a time toward the day that we so effortlessly write the date on the board again. Together.
Betsy O’Neill-Sheehan, MSW, LCSW
Betsy is an elementary school counselor bridging traditional counseling with current technologies. A mother of three and SEL educator, she knows there is no substitute for connections children make through stories and play. In 2019 she was recognized asPioneer Valley Educator of Excellence.
Coming Soon! Betsy and illustrator, Manuel Herrera, will release the picture book, AGI & The Thought Compass through EduMatch Books. Children will learn strategies to steer themselves to helpful thoughts on this journey through imagination.