A while ago a friend of mine shared a good way into having conversations with our children that did not necessarily put the spotlight on them. Instead of asking them about their day, ask them about their observations of the day. “What observations did you make today?” That opens up an entire landscape of significance named by them, and it offers much perspective.
I’m taking a page out of that playbook and offering my own observations about these days of social distancing, these days of keeping school without walls, these days of moving community from our halls into your living rooms.
So…here we go: observations as we begin week four of distance learning and you begin week six of making your home your sole destination.
* We’ve developed an entirely new vernacular. Zoom, waiting rooms, distance learning, Seesaw, chat room, livestream, gallery view or speaker view, virtual choir ensemble, Vimeo. We measure our days by Zooms, always on view from waist up and very likely different from the waist down as we meet others online.
* Slowing down doesn’t come naturally, but it sure makes a difference. Small things seem to make big differences. We’re cooking together, baking biblical loaves of banana bread, trying new things. Making something out of what sometimes seems like nothing. We’re holding family with both hands in new ways. My 11-year-old grandson walks around with the phone, showing me the favorite places where his new puppy likes to sleep. He lifts up his paws, showing me how big this fellow is going to be. Did we have time for this before?
* Poet, Donald Hall, says, “It’s hard to write about goodness.” Maybe this is why lifting up the window every night at 7 p.m. to holler for healthcare workers feels so darn good. Maybe this is why John Krasinski’s home-based “Some Good News” broadcasts can bring tears to our eyes. Is it hard to write about goodness or was it just too rare in our former world?
* Right after my Shakespeare Zoom class, during which we easily and smoothly discuss King Lear and the concept of “nothingness,” I host a “Read-a-loud” with the Lower School. It’s hard to get a consistent frame among my audience. Sometimes a stuffed unicorn holds the focus. There’s an acrobat, doing summersaults on her bed throughout, and everyone is “chatting” hellos to their friends. Ms. Handelsman works the mute controls carefully. I send a special prayer to all of our early childhood educators, and then I send them another one.
* As a school, we’ve been here before. The Middle School Dean of Students reached out to our stalwart Communications Office to check out any evidence of what Spence did during the influenza outbreak. They find a note from Miss Spence about starting school later in the fall and the required clearance for the first day of school.
* As you work better and better at the mechanics of being a school without walls, you realize more and more that nothing is really about the mechanics…it’s always about the relationships…always.
* One of my junior students shares with me that everyone at Spence has been working so hard for grades, that going credit/non-credit makes them wonder what they are working for now. And that makes me wonder as an educator, if something really good might come of these moments of learning. Aatish Taseer wrote in Manto that his Urdu teacher said, “There is knowledge. Everything else comes and goes.”
* There’s a powerful and palpable weaving of longing and grieving. We miss each other, we miss our school. We are deeply sorry for the loss of life. And our balm will be the harmony we try to keep in our hearts when we can be together, even if we can’t hug, even if we can’t shake hands. Mary Oliver reminds us to, “Put yourself in the way of grace.” Now’s the time.
* A friend of mine, a self-proclaimed introvert, teases me, telling me that she already knows how to capture the value of inward solitude and reflection. How true. We are learning how to be alone, no matter the way in which we walk through this world: introverts, extroverts and everyone in between, alike.
* And we are all learning how to say thank you in lots of different ways. No matter the age.
Here’s one sent to the Head of Middle School, the Middle School Dean of Students and me:
Dear Ms. Brizendine, Mr. Sanchez and Ms. Sullivan,
I hope this email finds you well. I am writing to thank you for all your hard work during this difficult time. I know that is a big change in our lives and wanted to let you know that your hard work and dedication are greatly appreciated. I am so grateful that I am able to do school and learn from home. I hope that we can get back to our normal routine soon.
Out of the mouth of babes. And my observations tell me to stay strong in all that matters. So, I ask you…what, in these extraordinary days, do you observe?
I don’t think I’ll wish for a snow day ever again.
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