The Hard Way

The Silence. The Solitude.  The sun beating down on your face while the crisp fall air blows around you.  I love the outdoors.  Last weekend, my wife and I took a two-hour drive north into the Roan Mountains on the border of Western North Carolina and Eastern Tennessee. When we arrived, vehicles crowded the parking lot. Had we gotten there any later in the morning, we would have been waiting for a spot to park.  As with most crowded trails, the majority of the traffic dissipated in the first mile, and after three miles, only a few hikers were around.   By the time we arrived at the grassy bald four miles deep in the woods, we were relatively isolated, with only an occasional hiker passing by.  I love and long for these kinds of moments.   After a four-mile hike, we spent the next half hour laying in the grass, staring out into an amazing view of the mountains.  Very few moments are as energizing for me as these quiet moments on a distant remote mountain top.

After spending a fair bit of time in the woods, we have perfected what we are comfortable with in our packs.  I am always looking for ways to reduce how much we carry but not compromise on the essentials. I usually have a favorite light sweater, a light rain jacket, a first aid kit, a multitool, water, and a light snack.  Enough that I could make it through a cold night in the woods if disaster struck, but not so much that I am carrying half the house with me when I travel.  Having the proper equipment and wearing the appropriate clothing and footwear has been critical for us on more than one occasion.  

A few years ago, I was called in the early afternoon to help with an injured hiker’s carryout a few miles deep into the woods.  It was summer, so I had on shorts and a t-shirt and was young and inexperienced.  I never considered the possibility we might be deeper in the woods than I anticipated and that it might take longer than I thought.  We were six miles into the woods when we found the injured hiker, and we quickly realized that we would not have enough daylight to cross the creek with him multiple times safely.  We decided to pack in with him for the night and bring him out the next morning.  I spent a frigid night in the woods because of my poor preparation.  

The event stuck with me, and as I have gotten older, I notice it when we pass hikers that are ill-prepared for the circumstances they are facing.  This Saturday, we were hiking a section of trail that was covered by round mid-sized rocks.  The kind that would easily curl an ankle if you were not incredibly careful.  Because of both experience and age, I have boots that have a considerable amount of ankle support.  The young man that passed us at the three and a half mile mark had neither the experience nor the footwear for the trail he was on.  He appeared to be a young middle schooler, and he had chosen to hike this day in a pair of beach sandals.  Yes, plastic beach sandals.   Held on by a tiny amount of fabric at the front of the foot, it was clear he had not experienced a twisted ankle deep in the woods. I could only hope he didn’t learn his lesson on the day he walked in front of me.  We had no interest in having to help carry him out of the woods.

While I don’t want to wish bad luck on anyone, lessons learned the hard way are some of the best lessons.  Twenty years ago, I got stuck in the woods on a cold night, unprepared for what I would face.  I haven’t made that mistake again.  As my son grew into an adult, I would caution him and give him the sage words of an elder’s wisdom.  He never listened to those lessons quite as well as he did the ones he learned the hard way.  He never messed with an electric fence after touching it the first time in the pasture.  He was a bit more cautious after going too fast on his bike and wiping out.  We never want to put our children in a position where they can be seriously injured or permanently damaged by avoidable mistakes, but sometimes we do need to step back and let them figure it out on their own.  Because lessons learned the hard way are lessons that will stick with them for a lifetime.

Toothpaste Moments

When the alarm went off this past Monday, I got up and began my usual morning routine.  Within a few minutes, I was about to brush my teeth when I realized the toothpaste tube was empty.  I didn’t miss a beat, I reached into the cabinet, took the scissors, and I cut the top off of the tube of toothpaste.  I didn’t think about it much. We had used most of the toothpaste and had already rolled up the tube to get as much out as we could.  For most of the week, there has still been enough left in the two ends of the tube to brush every morning, and I am just about ready to discard it and open a new tube. Let’s say I might be a bit frugal.

I didn’t just happen to decide to cut the top off the toothpaste. For most of my childhood, it was a part of the regular rhythm.  We would open a new tube, and use what we could, then roll it up for a few days. After that, mom would cut the top off, and we would continue to use it until the inside of the tube was clean of any remnants of paste.  For the record, we would also pour water in the shampoo bottle to get out what was left.  These lessons somehow stuck with me.  If you are blessed to live long enough, we all will begin to act like our parents. For me, this was one of those moments.

It’s funny what lessons you take from your childhood.  Something about the toothpaste moment left a lasting impression.  As we go about our day to day working with students, I often wonder what lessons they will take with them.  How will they remember their elementary experience?  For me, much of that memory includes nature walks, field days, and talent shows.  I remember our first-grade “show and tell” days, but I don’t remember a lot about the classroom instruction.  I know I was in the hall more than I should have been, and the teacher liked to use her paddle on little boys that were a bit distracted.  I remember the book my teacher chose to read to our fourth-grade class.  I remember very few lessons.  I remember very few assignments.  But, I do remember the powerful moments.

As we go about helping young children develop, teachers and parents must become cultivators of moments that matter.  I encourage you to look for opportunities to chase these memories with your children.  These are the moments that will cement themselves in the minds of the next generation. Some of these moments we can’t control, tragedies and celebrations will both be remembered, as well as vacations and significant events.  Children also observe us and develop their sense of work ethic from what they see, their response to difficulties from how we respond.  We never know from day to day what they will remember.   

There will be both celebrations and tragedies, but there will also be a bunch of stuff in between.  We will make many lasting impressions.  Some will be enjoyable; others will be painful. We can only hope that sandwiched in between are a few toothpaste moments where our actions teach a valuable lesson that isn’t soon forgotten. 

Thanks, Mom! The toothpaste lesson stuck with me.

Consistency

During autumn evenings, I like to sit on the front porch, surrounded by quiet, considering the events of the day.  For the last few nights, as I sat in my rocking chair, I noticed a faint blinking red light off to the north that eventually crossed in front of the house at around 30,000 feet and then disappeared into the distant horizon of the east.  After the third night of watching the light travel the same path at around the same time, I got curious.  It turns out that the plane is a regularly scheduled flight from Chicago to Charlotte.  It takes off around 6:20 in Chicago and lands around 9:30 in Charlotte.  A little after 8:30 each evening, it appears in the night sky.  It caught my attention because of its consistency. 

Those of us that struggle with overorganization often crave consistency, predictability, and routines.  There is an unquestionable comfort in being able to anticipate what’s next.  There is comfort in having a well thought through plan.  It is an understatement to say that I function better in this kind of environment.  From a regular morning routine to a schedule for my days, I crave the comfort of consistency.  

As we have started back to school, we are all settling into the new routines associated with face to face instruction.  Morning arrival routines, meeting routines, and dismissal routines are all becoming part of our typical day again.  For most of our students, this also includes new afternoon routines and homework.  Like adults, many students need the comfort of predictability in their lives.  For the last six months, they have settled into a routine that did not include having to get out of bed and get ready for school.  The sooner we can reestablish these patterns, the easier it will be for them to adapt to the new normal of school life.  

Changing our routines can be difficult.  Tonight is the first time I have written one of these posts in the evening since I began writing them after students were sent home in March.  I settled in and enjoyed writing time in the mornings with a cup of coffee in my hand.  Writing before the sun came up was the norm, but I now realize that my mornings are quite full, and I have shifted my routine to write in the evenings after dinner. I’m not sure I like it!  I am reminded that settling into a new habit can be a struggle for some of us. If you are dealing with a child struggling with the new routine of school, I encourage you to give them a little space and a bit of grace.  They may need some time to embrace it.  Most of them need routines, they need consistency, and they need a little time to figure it out.  

While I am struggling with some parts of this new process, I have fallen in love with other features.  My new favorite part of the day is greeting our students and watching them enter the adventure of the day with wide-eyed enthusiasm and excitement.  I find myself in the evenings looking forward to the mornings and the experience that awaits.  As crazy as it sounds, I love the car line, the good mornings, and the hellos.  I have to remind myself that while change can be scary and I still hate having my plans and routines altered without warning, sometimes the new opportunities are amazing.  Just like the opportunity to greet our incredible kids every day!

Appreciation

John Muir once said, “Going to the mountains is going home.”  It’s the slogan on the front of my favorite t-shirt. The t-shirt is beginning to show its age, but I still pack it in the bottom of my bag on every trip I take.  I will have it on for every return trip home.  My wife jokes that we will have to stop traveling when the t-shirt finally wears out.   While I love to travel, I love home even more.   The mountains of Western North Carolina are special.  The smell of the springtime bloom, or sticking your feet in a mountain stream after a long hike in the heat of summer.  The view from a mountaintop as the leaves change in October.  The stillness of a winter snowstorm.  I love home. There is nothing like it in the world!   

There is a moment at the end of every trip.  It’s just north of Spartenburg if we are traveling home from the beaches south of us.  Coming from Raleigh, it’s just west of Morganton as you top a small hill.  Traveling east from Knoxville, it’s just after you turn west where I-40 and I-81 split near Dandridge, TN.  It’s the moment the mountains come back into view.  If I am traveling without my wife, it’s a reminder to call and let her know I am almost home.  I don’t have to tell her where I am, she knows.  She would say that she can hear it in my voice. There is something about that moment you get the first glimpse of home!

We take for granted so much of the world around us.  Living here day in and day out, we gradually lose our appreciation for what we get to live in each and every day.  Over the past few months, I have tried to pause each morning before I step off my front porch and appreciate the view. Sometimes we take what we have for granted.

That can’t be more true than with many of the common activities that have been limited over the past six months, and none have been as significant to many of us as the inability to have face-to-face instruction with our students.  I want to commend our teachers and students for doing their very best in a difficult situation.  While we will continue the remote instruction of some of our students, it is impossible to provide the same quality of education remotely as we can provide in person.   In a few days, we will have the opportunity to have many of our elementary students back in classrooms.   We are excited to welcome them back.

Appreciation has several definitions.  It is defined as the recognition and enjoyment of the good qualities of someone or something.  It can also be defined in economic terms as the increase in the value of something.   The law of supply and demand dictates that it is natural for value to increase when an item is in limited supply.  In the past few months, the value of face to face education has certainly increased.  It has appreciated, and we appreciate it much more than we did before.

This pandemic has helped us get more comfortable with change.   When we return to school next week, we want to do it right.  We want to keep our students safe.  But, we are also reminded that we are not guaranteed that this will last.  We could be forced to send students back home at any point in the school year.   While we are planning for the worst, we hope that we will continue with having students in school for the rest of the year.   We must make every moment count. 

As I pulled onto campus this morning, I was reminded that we would have buses arriving the next time I go through this morning ritual.  This was the last morning of work without our students.  It was an “almost home” moment.  The same emotions I feel as I top the hill near the Burke County line and see the mountains in the distance after being gone for a while, I felt this morning.  There is an excitement in the air.  There is an anticipation for the days ahead.  Just like going home!

“The sun does not shine for a few trees and flowers, but for the wide world’s joy.”
Henry Ward Beecher

The Generous Harvest

I rushed home ahead of the rain.  I was on the clock.  We had a field full of potatoes, and the rain was coming in just a few hours.  The rain would make it impossible for us to get the harvest out of the ground this week and probably most of next week as well.  I changed clothes and headed to the barn.  I put the plow on the tractor and drove towards the garden.  Three hours and twelve boxes full of potatoes later, we have the harvest in the cellar as night fell on the farm.  I walked back home in the dark. 

On April 8th of this year, amid the COVID lockdown, we planted two rows of potatoes.  A single fifty-pound bag that I had acquired weeks before when the hardware store began stocking crops and seeds for the spring.  Over the summer, we would watch and wait.  Spraying for bugs.  Tilling the weeds and allowing the leaves to get as much sun and water as they needed to grow and thrive. On September 22, we harvested more than 200 pounds of potatoes.  Easily enough potatoes for us to make it through the winter and spring and into next summer.  We keep the large ones in the cellar while canning the small ones and those cut by the plow during the harvest.  Very little is wasted. 

Small family farmers in the country get very few promises.  They plant with the hope and belief that with the proper conditions and the right effort,  their small investment will yield a crop worth the time and energy they put into it.  Educators in this country make the same kind of investment every day, every week, and every year with our students.  Educators control a small number of variables in a student’s growth, yet, like the farmer, they bear the great responsibility for their success.  Like the farmer, they can’t control the weather, or in the case of 2020, COVID.  But they continue to sow seeds.  

What we do today matters.  And like the farmer that sees rain coming on the horizon at the end of a long dry spell, educators see the conditions changing.  Some students are starting to return to the building.  Other parents are watching anxiously to see if this will work.  They quietly ask themselves,  “Can safely have school amid the waning days of the pandemic?”  The answer will help them decide if they feel comfortable doing the same.  A successful harvest depends on the work we will do in the coming days and months.  I hope we can all agree after a six-month experiment with distance learning that the optimal place for student growth to occur is in the confines of the classroom, not the bedroom or the kitchen table. 

To do this well, we will need the help of parents.  I completely understand the temptation to send students to school when they don’t feel well.   We have dangled our feet in the grey space of “should we send them or not?” and decided that we need to work, and the only way to draw a paycheck is to send them to school.  This year, when placed in that situation again, we must choose carefully.  The decision could affect classrooms full of children, not just one.   Some of our ability to successfully grow students will depend on the decisions made at home. 

As I stood at the edge of the garden with the sun setting over the hill behind the barn, I thought of the last six months of work and was glad we had made the effort.   It will soon be time to plow up the ground and begin preparing for another harvest, but for now, I can take a minute to appreciate the benefit of months of hard work.  Eight months from now, we want to do this in our schools.  We look forward to being able to stand back and appreciate the fruits of our labor.  Tomorrow’s harvest depends on what we do today.

    We must give more in order to get more. It is the generous giving of 
ourselves that produces the generous harvest. 
Orison Swett Marden

What We’ve Lost

On Friday morning, a year ago, I was getting ready for school.  It was picture day, so I was wearing a suit and tie.  COVID had yet to strike the US, so my dad and I had a regularly scheduled breakfast in town at one of the few places that happened to be open before seven.   As I was leaving, I could hear the sirens from the local fire department responding to an accident a few miles from my home.  I thought about going to help, but I was in a suit and tie and wouldn’t be much use in an emergency.  My father-in-law, a volunteer with the department, drove out of our shared driveway in front of me headed to the station.  I thought about calling and checking in with him, but he had his hands full driving and listening to others responding, so I decided against it.  Twenty minutes later, I sat down for breakfast with my dad, having the normal Friday morning conversation about my week, politics, and sports when my phone rang.    It was my wife, and all that she said was, “Dad’s dead!”  

On September 20th of last year, at around 6:15 in the morning, my father-in-law was killed in a traffic accident while en route to help someone injured in another accident.  Needless to say, that phone call and the events of that morning have entirely changed the trajectory of the last year of my life.  There were people to care for in the immediate aftermath, a funeral to plan, and emotions to deal with.  But after the first few weeks, the hustle and hurry settled, and I was left to deal with my own emotions.

For me, the grief process was a lot like a washing machine.  For a while, I was flooded with one emotion and then with another.  I experienced several anxiety attacks in the months that followed, and I distanced myself from others.  At first, I was a bit embarrassed that I was a complete trainwreck on the inside.  I tried to fake it and make everyone around me believe I was ok.   The process of dealing with grief, trauma, and loss has not been easy.  I was blessed with family and friends that I could trust, which allowed me to have a place to open up when I was finally ready.  

I tell you all of this because there is still a significant stigma surrounding mental health in this country.  Sometimes, it keeps us from asking for the help we need, and we pass this perspective on to our children.  We are taught from an early age to keep these kinds of thoughts and emotions to ourselves.  

In a few weeks, we hope to begin to have a large number of students back in our buildings for the first time in six months.  Maybe their struggle isn’t exactly like mine, but they will bring six months of stress, loneliness, and worry with them when they arrive.   During this hiatus from onsite instruction, teachers, administrators, and other educational experts have had growing concerns about our students’ mental health.  For many students, school was a place where they could experience safe relationships and be provided with the mental health services they needed.  During our time apart, many of those supports have been missing.  

One of the essential parts of our responsibility to the next generation is to build trusting relationships.  I was fortunate to have people around me to talk with when I was struggling, and we need to see that every child has that same opportunity for connection.  That connection can be with a parent, a grandparent, a teacher, or someone else in the community.  Those relationships matter more now than ever.  Giving our children the opportunity to open up about their struggles might be the key to their overall health and success.  We must help them understand that we can’t control what has happened to us, but we can control how we carry it as we move forward.

Making Mistakes!

Every child should learn to ride a bike.  It is one of the rights of passage for a child to eventually take the training wheels off and ride without an anxious father running along behind.  For my son, this happened when he was three years old. He had a bit of a stubborn streak, and we were camping in a remote campground in the national park.  All the other boys camping with us that week had bikes without training wheels, and he felt a bit slighted having to tag along behind with his “Baby Bike.”  Since bikes designed for three-year-olds don’t usually come with removable training wheels, we spent the better part of the first day walking through the campground looking for someone with the tools necessary to remove them.  He was insistent; he would not ride the bike with the training wheels.  After an hour of looking for tools, we used the only tool that might work to remove the wheels. A hack saw.  The move would be permanent, and we would not be able to put them back on after they were removed.  So I sawed off the training wheels from a brand new bike we had purchased the week before for the camping trip.  I had a bit of a lump in my throat because if this didn’t work, it would be a very long week!   

The wheels came off, and within the day, he was riding without me running along beside him.  By the end of the week, he was doing laps around the campground.  Yes, he went home with scabs on both knees and elbows, but he was riding his bike like the big boys.  It is still one of the best family vacation memories we have.  Those are great memories of sitting by the campfire watching as our three-year-old does laps around the campsite on a tiny bike without training wheels.   

While I am not a psychologist, nearly thirty years of working with young people have taught me the importance of letting students make their own mistakes.  Falling is an essential part of both our and their growth.   Students who build a degree of resiliency are far better prepared for an uncertain future than those who have not had these experiences.  Please don’t think I am advocating letting students get hurt or injured, but I encourage you to let them figure it out for themselves. If I’m honest, I was the parent that wanted to run along behind my son for much longer than necessary.  It was his mother that finally looked at me and said, “He has to learn to fall.”   These small falls are essential to what they become.

As we continue this experiment in remote learning, teachers are noticing that it is difficult for parents not to help students with assignments.  The student that is struggling to comprehend a reading passage suddenly answers every question correctly. The student that doesn’t know their multiplication tables is suddenly doing multiplication with larger numbers. The struggling writer is now writing like a published author. I know the temptation to help make sure an assignment is perfect is tempting, but it may not help our children as much as you might think.  

One of the core questions our teachers ask each day is, “Are our students learning the material that we are covering today?”  This may be the most challenging question that we ask during every remote lesson.  Teachers use the answer to this question to decide the direction they go for individual students during a lesson.  They must have useful data, and this data comes from the assignments students are doing at home.  When you help your child with this work, it gives the teacher an inaccurate picture of the student’s ability and makes it difficult for us to customize the instructional level that they receive.  These mistakes can lead to both growth and academic success.

In last week’s edition of the Principal’s Pen, I made a grammar mistake.  Some of you may have caught it.  I was horrified and angry with myself when I noticed it.  I changed the published copies that I could, but I realize there are still a few copies floating around with the mistake.  After I got over my initial anger with myself about the oversight, I realized it was the product of a late revision and an author that was in a hurry!  The mistake helped remind me that as adults, one of the ways we naturally handle our mistakes is to reflect on our actions so we can prevent the same error from occurring in the future.  This is precisely what we want to teach our children to do, and we rob them of the ability to figure it out if we fix it for them.  When my son fell off his bike, he had only one choice if he wanted to learn.  He had to get over the fall, get back on the bike and start peddling!

Important Work!

“There are people in this country who work hard every day
Not for fame or fortune do they strive
But the fruits of their labor are worth more than their pay
And it’s time a few of them were recognized.”


-Alabama (Forty Hour Week)

Growing up in the rural south, I spent many Saturdays in my dad’s white Chevy pickup truck traveling the roads between town and my grandfather’s farm on Fines Creek.  Once you got out of town, the radio didn’t work well, and dad only had one cassette tape, so we listened to the same Alabama album every Saturday.  The opening lines from Forty Hour Week have stuck with me through the years. It helped form a deep sense of appreciation for those who work to make others’ lives a little better. 

For more that one hundred years, we have been celebrating Labor Day. Its roots trace back to the New York City labor unions of the early 1880s. Peter J. McGuire, the co-founder of the American Federation of Labor, suggested a day for those who “have delved and carved all the grandeur we behold.” It may be a bit easier to notice and appreciate those working around us in times of struggle and strife. In 2020, we have a newfound perspective and appreciation for those essential workers who have played a small part in getting us through the last eight months.

There are so many essential workers that need to be thanked. Educators across this country would certainly be included in this list, especially the educators I work with each day. We are just beginning a new school year, and I could not ask for a better group of teachers and support staff to be with through this adventure. From the cafeteria staff to the custodians, and from the office staff to our teacher assistants, everyone has done more than their part to help get the school year started smoothly. Our teachers began meeting with students in July to assess them and start making decisions about how to best prepare them for the year ahead. Not once have I heard a complaint about working face to face with students. I am entirely aware that these teachers don’t come to school without concerns. They have young children themselves, and many have parents and others in their immediate families that are immunocompromised and at greater risk if exposed to the virus. Still, in the face of danger, they have been willing to put their safety and self-interest aside and focus on asking the essential question, “what is the best thing I can do for our students today?” For that, I could not be prouder or more humbled to come to work each day and be greeted by such an amazing group of people.

Not only have they been willing to set aside very real safety concerns to try and do what is best for our students, but they have also been ready to address challenges never faced before in the modern era of education.   They have entirely redesigned instructional delivery stretching far outside the classroom, where they were trained to teach.  They have also done this while having limited access to network resources due to the ransomware attack last week.  I am so proud of their strength and determination, as well as their ability to maintain a positive attitude in the face of overwhelming circumstances.

As we take this weekend to rest and relax, we should take a moment to consider those whose labor has made our lives a little easier, a little safer, or a little more possible.  As I do that this weekend, the faculty and staff at Hazelwood Elementary will be at the top of the list.  Know that you are an amazing group of individuals, and the work you do is critical to our students’ success and the success of our community.  It is some of the most important work and has such a significant impact on the future of so many of those around us.  For that, I say both “Thank You!” and “Rest Well!”  Enjoy the holiday weekend. You certainly deserve it.

Gifted Grace

A few years ago, while attending a conference near the middle of the state, I received an email that would change the trajectory of the next few weeks of my life.  I was waiting for the keynote speaker to take the stage, and while I waited, I decided to check my email. I hoped to possibly start to get caught up on a days worth of missed emails that would need replies.   I didn’t want to spend the evening in my hotel room, returning emails.  When I opened my email, I immediately noticed an official email from a federal auditor that had been working with our district.   It seems I had made a small but incredibly significant typo in a request for a federal reimbursement, and now a large sum of our district’s federal funds was in jeopardy. Let me explain that I have struggled most of my life with reversing letters and swapping numbers when my stress levels increase.   I am usually pretty good about being self-aware of my errors and correcting them before submitting final copies of work.  Unfortunately, on this day, I missed one. Instead of dating one of the forms the 21st, I dated the paperwork the 12th.  This put most of my paperwork out of order and had the possibility of resulting in the denial of our reimbursement funds.  For the next three weeks, I worried and waited as my fate, and perhaps my career, sat in the hands of a federal auditor.  If you have ever work with a federal auditor, they are known for being by the book and not always being open to giving individuals very much grace when honest mistakes were made.   Fortunately for me, three weeks after the event began and with lots of explaining, agonizing, and apologizing, our reimbursement funds were granted. My mistake was forgiven.  I was the benefactor of the gift of grace.

As we hopefully return to school next week, we have talked about making sure we are giving students grace where we can.  We understand that every home situation is different, but most students will struggle somehow with the grind of doing school from somewhere other than the classroom.   As educators, we must remind ourselves of what life must be like for our students.   The standards still need to be high, but grace can’t be left out of the equation.

In the past few weeks, many of our teachers have faced a similar struggle. First, they have dealt with the necessity to learn an entirely new delivery system for instruction.   Then, after preparing for this possibility most of the summer, they have spent the last week waiting while our district deals with ransomware’s ripple effects on several district devices and servers.   In the end, the best we can do is to extend grace to each other and get through this difficult time the best we can.

Over the past week, I have heard both complaints and understanding about the weeklong closure of school.  It is very easy to catch ourselves doom scrolling through social media. Some find this as an appropriate avenue to voice both complaints and concerns.  I want to encourage you to look instead for opportunities to give others the gift of grace.   Each day, we find ourselves in multiple situations where we have the chance to give grace to those around us.  Not only is grace free, but it also benefits both the giver and the receiver.    With everything going on in the world around us, the gift of grace is just what many of us need.    

“The ideal man bears the accidents of life with dignity and grace, making the best of circumstances.” – Aristotle

Green, Yellow, Red

8/20/2020

“What’s that yellow band on your wrist for?”  This is what the six-year-old in the grocery store line asked me this evening.   Kids tend to cut through all the political correctness and get right to the point.  You may notice staff members at Hazelwood Elementary wearing colored bands on either their wrists or name tags.  These colored bands help identify staff members’ comfort level with proximity to others during the pandemic.  We certainly still recognize that the current orders from the Governor require both social distancing and masks for everyone that enters the building.  As we progress through the year, we are hopeful that students can return and that some of the safeguards that are currently in place can be relaxed.  As that happens, this is how our staff will communicate their comfort level with others that enter the building.  I want to be clear that this isn’t a license for our team to act outside of the current set of expectations for schools.  We just want to make sure that our staff members clearly communicate their comfort level and where their personal space should begin.

The green band is worn by staff that have the highest level of comfort interacting with others.  They have evaluated the risks associated with the disease and decided which precautions are necessary for them and their family.  The yellow band is worn by staff who are still a bit hesitant and want to continue maintaining their physical distance in most cases.   The red band is the most restrictive. It is worn by staff that wish to keep their distance from others with very few exceptions. So, Green means “Go,” Red means “No,” and Yellow is somewhere in the middle.   If you are on campus, you will see a variety of colored bands.  In some cases, we have teachers and teacher assistants working in the same rooms that have different levels of comfort with physical proximity.  We believe that you can have different opinions about the pandemic and still respect others and work together to educate students.  

These bands came in midweek, and I walked around the school, handing out bands to members of our school community.  As I did, I was surprised by some of our staff’s choices, some that I thought would be one color chose another.  I was surprised by some of the team members that requested a red band. We all work around individuals that may put on a good act, but underneath there is still a significant amount of anxiety working in close proximity to other individuals.  It has been a healthy exercise for our staff to see and understand how to best interact with their colleagues and respect their boundaries.

On day two, a staff member came into the office and asked if it was Ok to take a red band.  She had chosen a yellow one the day before and explained that she was yellow on most days, but today she needed a red one.  For many of us, our comfort level with the pandemic changes from day to day.  So, several staff members have multiple colors in their desks for this exact reason.  Some days we just need to be yellow or red when most days we might be green.  Whether it is wearing red every day or only on some days, we had to establish that it is ok to not be ok.  It is also a great reminder that these same emotions, thoughts, and ever-changing comfort levels are just as present for students as for staff.  If we have adult staff that have a heightened level of anxiety with social distancing due to the pandemic, then is it fair to expect that our students will experience these same emotions.

You might ask if we are going to provide bands for students when they return.  The answer is, “No for Now.” Here is why. We feel it is both our responsibility and our charge to do everything possible to protect our students from exposure.  With that in mind, we are treating all students as though they are wearing a red wrist band.  This is the safest option we have right now.  

I could not ask for a better group of people to serve with than the staff at Hazelwood Elementary.  As I said, we have staff choosing to wear a variety of colored bracelets.  Some red. Some green. Some yellow.  Most days I choose to wear a yellow band.  However, if I am honest, there are days I find myself wanting a red band.  Staff have started to recognize the comfort level of others and even ask questions like, “Am I too close? Do I need to move back?”  I have had staff walk into my office and walk up to my desk only to apologize and step back.   We want to do a great job of focusing on others’ comfort level as much our own.  I love our willingness to focus on others, especially our students.  We are just as ready to have students back in the building as many of you are.  We want to do it safely, and we want to make sure that we can sustain having them in the building without increasing the number of community exposures.  When the time comes, know that Hazelwood is a judgment-free zone, just as we have agreed that it is ok to be comfortable or uncomfortable with this pandemic, it is also ok to want your child to be in school or to wish to keep them home for remote instruction.  We recognize that some of our parents have a comfort level of green right now. For others, the comfort level is yellow.  For others, it is red.  It is our responsibility to build your trust so that you can have your students back in the building when you are ready. Regardless of your choice as a parent, know that we will do everything we can to help your child continue to grow into a responsible, respectful lifelong learner.  We look forward to working with you to make that happen!

In Our Togetherness, Castles Are Built!

Irish Proverb