Obviously I was feeling more emotional than usual. We’re approaching year two of a devastating pandemic! Caseloads have reached record highs globally, nationally, and regionally! Kids are being hospitalized! Family holidays upended, work schedules disrupted, my own children’s sense of safety and belonging undermined by one little pink line on a Binax kit!
Composing myself, I tried to see this moment in context. We find ourselves in a particular spot within the pandemic. It feels like everyone has long since hit the burnout point - with work, with parenting, and with the pandemic generally - and burnout is categorized by three key attributes: exhaustion, a sense of ineffectiveness, and maybe most insidiously, cynicism.
The exhaustion of burnout hits particularly hard as we come to yet another peak in what feels like an endless slog. With caseloads at record highs - despite all the progress that’s been made in terms of vaccines and treatment and prevention - it’s hard not to feel the sense that we’re right back where we started.
The ebbs and flows of the global supply chain and labor market have meant that we’re also feeling a scarcity that we haven’t truly felt since March 2020. Though there are resources now that can keep us and our families safer (higher quality masks, at-home test kits), they’ve become increasingly difficult to find - so all the effective strategies we could be deploying at home feel increasingly challenging. With cases and hospitalizations for kids on the rise, there can be a sense of ineffectiveness, even defeatism.
The cynicism - with its accompanying effect of emotional distancing from other people - might be the toughest one of all. On some level, it feels like a kind of self-protection to see other people as problems rather than fellow-travelers through this terrible time. How often have I felt an unreasonable rage at the person in the supermarket who can’t be bothered to pull their mask over their nose? Combine our exhaustion with that aforementioned sense of scarcity and it’s all too easy to think of the people around us as potential roadblocks to a return to normalcy.
Considering this makes me feel very lucky to be at Fayerweather. We are obviously not immune to burnout, but our community has resisted that cynicism when it comes to the relationship between our families and the school - and that is a rare and precious thing.
All this last year, I’ve heard stories (via the news and via colleagues) from around the country of educators and parents at odds with one another over issues around remote learning, health, and safety. Every one of these stories breaks my heart, because most of the time, these are situations where everyone involved is trying to do the best they can to support the development of children under impossibly difficult circumstances - and failing to see one another clearly through the haze of burnout.
In contrast, the Fayerweather community has largely been able to hold onto a sense of partnership - of collaboration between our families and our school - even as we are buffeted by this generation-defining challenge.
We’ve always been a school that centers the social and emotional aspects of learning, and I think philosophically that inclines all of us adults to consider the ways in which we ourselves are showing up socially and emotionally. It doesn't mean we get every relationship or interaction right - but it does mean that we try to practice openness to other points of view and a growth mindset when we operate in community. We’ve been supported in this priority by the approach that the school has taken in decision-making, which has emphasized transparency and openness about what’s working and what isn’t - and by the ways teachers have continued to hold tight to our mission to truly know every student.
Just like parenting or educating under ordinary circumstances, how we respond to the pandemic will be iterative. It will include missteps and changes as the nature of the pandemic changes - and this is entirely consistent with our values as a school. We can expect that everyone in this community - parents, staff, the kids themselves - will do their best to keep our community safe, healthy, and thriving, and we also can also show grace when things don’t go smoothly.
So in this moment, as the pandemic takes yet another frightening turn, you too might be feeling more emotional than usual - and that’s ok. For me, the emotion that matters most is the deep gratitude I feel for the ways in which this community remains our greatest strength.