by Jess Hill
I still remember those moments of being a new parent when my first child learned to walk. Time and time again, she wobbled and inevitably fell over with a pretty loud thud after hitting the floor and not the carpet. I would gasp, trying hard to squelch it, and she would look to me to see if what just happened was a good thing or a bad thing. If my fear was undetected, she would usually smile and find a way to get back up. I am reminded of that pattern as we settle into this school year. We are watching to see what will happen. Our students are looking to us to see how to react to things.
This is a time to hold back that gasp and wait to see how our students react first. As a parent and an educator, I have found this extremely hard but — when I pause just a moment — also exceedingly rewarding. Many times, we initiate changes that we fear will be disruptive for our students or community, and the girls take it in stride. They lead the way. At other times, we underestimate their reaction, and we discover how important some things are to our girls when we may have glossed over them initially.
In education, we use a term called “student-centered.” It means always meeting the students where they are and planning around their needs and not the other way around. It seems self-evident that schools would be student-centered. I recently heard a speaker say, “If schools aren’t student-centered, then what are they?” Teacher-centered? Administrator-centered? Parent-centered? But it is harder for schools to be student-centered than you may think. We have a natural tendency to place our own hopes and fears and plans at center stage. The words, “when I was your age,” can creep in. We may be overly worried about what our daughters are missing this year, because it is different from our experience. But the girls may be absorbing bigger and more meaningful lessons than we did in school. No doubt they will carry these lessons with them into adulthood — not just until the bell rings at the end of the semester exam.
Each day of this unusual year, I am reminded of our students’ resilience, good humor, and good attitudes about all of our protocols. As adults, while we fretted over many new rules wondering how they could be enforced or implemented, our students led the way again. They want to do something for the common good. So much is out of their control, and when they know they can share in the responsibility of keeping us safe and in school, they earnestly do their part.
They have made sitting outside on a beautiful day while donning masks feel comfortable. When they have a class discussion behind a plexi-glass shield, it’s a piece of cake. They walk the long way to class now, easily floating downstream with the flow of foot traffic. And while we worried that eating lunch in two straight rows would feel strange, they assimilated smoothly. Adults fretted about the reaction to each safety protocol, and the students took it in stride. Each day, we still witness the “ordinary magic of teaching,” as Lisa Damour calls it.
As we make our way through the ebbs and flows of this school year, our students may still look to us to see our reactions, but we can continue to give the girls the space they need. If we step back, it may surprise us that they are able to make their way through this pandemic with more strength than we predicted. We can give them the signal that we always knew they could do it...even if inside we are feeling a little unsure right now.