Humans are inherently social creatures, and for most children, school is their first and most important social experience. Few could argue the mental, physical, and emotional well-being that social connections promote, and for children, the relationships developed with peers and teachers at school help fill their need to belong, feel heard, and be seen, loved, and valued. COVID-19 has abruptly changed the nature of these relationships for students nationwide. My own children, like countless others, long to sit next to and talk with a friend, whether it be on the school bus, eating lunch in the cafeteria, or enjoying recess or study hall with their peers.
Throughout this lockdown, school principals have been tested to keep the spirit of our schools alive, even without our school. We sit 10, 12, 14 hours on our computers these days, making sure everyone is safe, educated, connected, valued, heard, calmed, challenged, inspired, and loved. This is not just about our students. This is also very much about our staff.
This week, Teacher Appreciation Week, is when we make an extra effort to let our staff know how much we appreciate them and ALL that they do for their students, families, each other, our whole school –even for me! However, this year, I am particularly thankful to my staff for all that they have done to keep school going during the coronavirus pandemic, and all that they continue to do, even now that it’s May.
A common scene in many homes these days, during shelter in place, is a family gathered around the TV watching old movies on Netflix. As the wife of a history buff and a mom of a history professor, I am usually outnumbered! True to form, last week our family movie of choice was National Treasure.
The 2004 film National Treasure was a box office hit and remains a favorite of many teachers and students as a movie in the classroom. On the surface, the film appeals to the audience’s desire for adventure, action, and future riches, but on a deeper level, the film teaches us some important lessons about the relationship between teachers and students!
Teacher appreciation week approached us so quickly. March felt like the longest month of the year, and then April came and teachers and students alike were told to start distance learning. These teachers and kids showed up! They proved that they were able to handle working on their academics while still being kids. Teachers made changes to their lessons by creating their own document cameras. They created spaces in their homes for anchor charts and bulletin boards. Teachers pushed themselves harder than they ever have, recognizing that an education is so important and that it must continue even through distance learning, online video chats, and tons of emails.
Love is at the root of everything, all learning, all relationships, love or the lack of it.
After giving birth to my son, Kailash, in the spring of 2018, I was in a heightened state in which I became radically more aware of the importance of human relationships. Emerging from my cocoon, I was lucky that the first film I went out to see as a new mother was Won’t You Be My Neighbor, which explores the life and contributions of the host of the popular PBS children’s program Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. For many of us, Rogers demonstrates what being a great teacher is all about. After seeing this inspiring movie, I realized that long before we had the term “social and emotional learning,” Fred Rogers was teaching SEL and reinforcing in each episode that our sense of connection affects how we learn. Through his television program, he was in fact sharing the message that the network of human relationships we live in—let’s call it love—is the fabric of our lives.
While I taught in Helsinki, I noticed that my Finnish colleagues seemed to invite one another’s classes into their classrooms somewhat regularly. These gestures were often small, but they seemed meaningful, bringing joy to them and their students.
When I crossed out of childhood, there was no single event; it came on gradually but definitively. I was in seventh grade, 12 years old. My internal life had become complicated and emotional and confusing, and navigating the middle school hallways and lunchroom required a new kind of social agility and insight.
In the Preface to my first book, Mindfulness for Teachers, I wrote about my evolution from preschool teacher to teacher educator to social scientist. The consistent focal center through the decades of that professional journey—as I moved from teaching young children, to researching effective classroom interventions, to working with educators to implement them—was the power of mindful awareness to transform lives.