Dealing with Feelings

How are you feeling today?

I check in with my first graders as they sign in to our Zoom classroom each morning.

I check in with colleagues and friends.

I check in with my family at the start of the day, or at dinner.

In our district, we have been studying the work of Marc Brackett, Founder and Director of The Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and author of Permission to Feel, and I am convinced that it is important to take time to check in on feelings, to name those feelings, and to have strategies to change how we feel. I know that it’s more important than ever as we continue to face the many challenges of trying to navigate a pandemic.

But lately I’ve realized that I’m not doing a great job checking in on my own feelings. This has been a tough few weeks. I have three family members who have tested positive for COVID, our school is going back to a full time schedule, which I fear increases the risk of people getting sick, and I am losing a few wonderful students from my class as they decide to return to in person schooling.

I realize that I’m just plowing forward, trying not to think about how scared, angry, and sad I’m feeling. I know I’m stressed, but I’m not doing anything about it (with the exception of drinking more coffee and eating more cake, which does help….in the short term). When my friends, colleagues, and family members say, “How are you?” I’m replying, “Fine!” Unfortunately there is nothing fine about it.

Today I am going to stop, take stock of how I’m feeling, try to name it, and then see if I can shift my feelings to a calmer, more focused place.

Wish me luck!

Rethinking My OLW

In early January, I decided on the word hope as the word I would live by in 2021. It seemed like a good word. After all, I am hoping for an end to the pandemic; hoping to hug my father and my grandchildren again; hoping to travel to see my son and sister and their families; hoping for better leadership in our nation; hoping that children and young adults can get back to the world they deserve to live in.

And then I visited the Brooklyn Museum. There, in the main hall, was a banner with these words: “After hope, then what?” It pushed my thinking. Was hope the right word? Is it enough?

And then the Capitol riots happened……and the deaths from COVID continued to soar…..and hate and violence showed their ugly faces again and again. Was hope the right word? Is it enough? The more I thought about it, the more I found that hope started to sound passive. Almost trite. I know hope is important. I know I’ll need to hold on to hope, but I need to do more. I need a new word. A word that is going to drive change.

And so it is that I’ve decided to add a word to my OLW. In 2021, my TLW (Two Little Words) will be Hope + Action.

Let’s Talk

The events that took place last week at our nation’s Capitol continue to disturb us. We continue to ask ourselves and each other, “How could this happen? Who does something like this?”

For me, as a first grade teacher for the year, I also wonder, “What can I do right now so that these beautiful, kind, and caring first graders who sit in front of me on Zoom each day don’t become the kind of people who would participate in this kind of violence and hatred?”

I don’t have the answers, but I do believe it starts with conversation. Recently I was listening in while the children took their snack break. I ask them to turn their cameras and microphones off for 5 minutes to get away from the screen, but then invite them to come back and have a social snack time with their classroom peers. I am muted and my video is off, but I learn so much by listening in. They sometimes read aloud to each other, or share their favorite doll collections, or just chat about “stuff” they did over the weekend. They ask each other questions and often invite in the quieter voices. Usually it’s quite heartwarming, but the other day before the cameras went off, I overheard one of the girls (definitely a leader and usually so kind and caring) say to two other students, “When we come back, I want to talk to you two!” I wondered how other children were feeling. Then on another day, I heard her say, “Who is your best friend in the class?” I unmuted and turned on my camera. I know this is normal first grade conversation, but it was starting to feel exclusive. When we are on Zoom, everyone here’s what is being said. I had to believe that other children were feeling left out.

I decided to start up a conversation about inclusion. I don’t believe in lecturing, so I tried to have a conversation about inviting people in (not closing people out). I tried to take a wondering stance, to ask questions, to promote some dialogue. I tried to make sure that no one was feeling blamed, but that we were all learning how to be better people together. After all, isn’t that really my job? To work together with my young students to help us all see through various lenses, to explore books and ideas that act as mirrors, windows, and doors, to invite people in, and to learn the art of civil discourse?

Yesterday during snack time I heard one of the quieter students say, “Should we all try to play a game together?” It’s a small step, but I’m feeling hopeful.

2021’s OLW

The OLW I decided on last January was pause. Can you even believe it? I certainly didn’t realize when I wrote this ( last year that the whole world would push pause due to a pandemic in March of 2020. I was definitely able (really forced) to slow down, be more mindful, and listen more actively. After all, there was really not much else to do. I actually believe that if there is any good that is going to come out of this pandemic, it might be that it forced us all to pause a bit and pay attention to what is really important in this life.

So now it is time for me to pick this year’s word. A word to live by in 2021. I was hoping that the pandemic would be behind us (or at least heading in the right direction) by January and that I would be able to pick a word like restart. But no, the situation in the United States seems worse today than it was last spring, so we are not restarting. At least not for a while. Then I thought maybe persevere would be a good one. We are all going to need to “pull up our socks” (as my dad likes to advise when things get hard) and just get through this second very challenging year. But perseve didn’t feel too inspiring. Necessary, but not inspiriting. I thought of others – learn, embrace, participate, love. All have potential. All are something I want to live toward. But I’ve decided that the OLW I am going to live by in 2021 is hope. I’m going to hope that:

-People stay healthy and safe.

-The vaccine is effective and helps to slow this virus down.

-I can see my family members who live far away.

-I can have a meal with friends and family around one big table (inside with no masks).

-I can once again use people’s facial expressions to anticipate how they are feeling.

-I can hug and kiss my grandchildren.

-My children continue to thrive even in these challenging circumstances.

-We work together (as a world community) to crush this virus.

-Our political change will move us in a positive direction.

-Our world grows kinder and fairer for all who live in it.

-My students learn and grow and flourish in our remote classroom.

I could go on. I have so many hopes.

So as Emily Dickinson wrote, “Hope is the thing with feathers.” I’m looking to my OLW to act as supportive feathers as I try to fly through the crazy wind currents that the upcoming year is sure to bring.