Leading effectively through a pandemic is no doubt a daunting task. As I write these words, we are currently in Month 10 of the COVID-19 crisis, and although rates are mildly improving since their spike over the holiday season, we are by no means in the clear. Educators in particular are weary. We, like most global citizens, are experiencing COVID fatigue. This happens whether or not we have personally experienced the virus. COVID fatigue happens just by merely living through this pandemic.
This past weekend I was on a coaching call with an assistant principal who was very much describing COVID fatigue at her school. Her principal is in a form of pandemic paralysis. Staff is tired and he doesn't want to do much of anything to drive the work forward of the school. As a younger assistant principal, this is uninspiring at best and detrimental to the overall health and well-being of the school at worst. While intentions might be good (that's a key pandemic survival strategy - believe that everyone is operating with the best of intentions), the school ends up surviving rather than thriving. So, what does it take to get back on track? How do you continue to principal in a pandemic without overwhelming your staff?
Here, we will explore three steps for principaling in a pandemic that will help school leaders navigate this sensitive territory through a lens of love. By clarifying the vision and the identifying priorities, the end result will be more intentional and thoughtful decision-making and protected boundaries for staff.
In today's tumultuous and distanced world, relationships are more important than ever. As we embark on the week of the Presidential Inauguration, there will undoubtedly be more events and information to process as the week unfolds. How do we continue to value people during a time when we don't always agree with those we work with, play with, and love the most? How can we continue to build relationships in a way that is life-giving rather than depleting? How do we stop seeing relationship-building as something to do and instead a path we simply walk? Here we offer three quick tips to build relationships (both inside and outside of the classroom, with and without students) that don't take extra time.
3 ways to build relationships
We can create safe boundaries for ourselves while still fostering relationships and cultivating love. It's a personal decision. How can you give life this week?
Linger a Little Longer:
1. What holds you back from fostering relationships right now? Does it feel hard to extend love?
2. What would bring new life to your relationships this week? Is there a strategy above you could throw out into the world?
3. What do you need most from others this week? Can you ask for what you need?
It's no mystery that there's a lot going on in our worlds today. Racial unrest. Political upheaval. Virtual learning. Oh, and a continuing global pandemic, too. We are inundated with information, unconsciously tasked with the duty that society puts on us to form an opinion about it, and then called to ruthlessly defend our perspective because goodness knows you just have to take a stance on everything right now. Is it any wonder our souls are weary? It isn't shocking that we can literally feel our bodies shutting down.
After the events of last week, I thought long and hard about how to process heavy doses of media and information in a way that nourishes rather than ravages the soul. Here we share four steps for how to process in a pandemic when your soul feels too tired to do anything but weep.
If you haven't already noticed, we are kind of on a mission in 2021. We are determined here at Dear Jess, Lead with Love, to (affectionately and lovingly) cut the bologna and call our wayward ways to the carpet. Let me remind you of a very important truth as we settle in to do this work: We have never started a new year in the middle of a global pandemic.
Go ahead. Let that sink in.
So, while I admire your ambition, I also have to be upfront with you, friends. Your "hustle" and your "grind," while motivational in theory, really just don't have a place for me in January '21. As we hack away at anything that detracts from our core values and life plan, I have to speak this truth:
Your hustle has no place here. And please stop letting society kid you into thinking that it does.
Before you read further, please know that I am also probably the most goal-oriented individual you have ever met. And, despite what I am currently leading you to believe, I crush my goals. (Like, stomp on them like Napa Valley grapes, friends.) However, I am no longer willing to live my outside life out of alignment with my innermost values and beliefs just so my social media comments can give me accolades. Life is too short to live for an app. Repeat that if it fuels your soul.
As we settle into today's work, it might be helpful to read our previous post: Goal Setting in the New Year: Halving Our Expectations in a Pandemic. Here are three additional tips for goal setting in the middle of a pandemic (assuming that you have already cut your expectations for yourself in half).
Neutral Minimal Blog Post Social Media by Jessica Alessio
There is no doubt that we live in a very goal-oriented culture. Words such as hustle and grind seem to be everywhere come January. Self-made entrepreneurs #hustle and fitness gurus #riseandgrind across our news feed throughout the first few weeks of the new year. We vow to workout more, make better smoothies and stop eating so many tacos. Some of us reset our Goodreads Reading Challenges and others vow to attend church every Sunday. Americans love to leap into the new year with unabashed vim and vigor. It's going to be our year!
As we enter 2021, however, we are still in the midst of a global pandemic. Although I typically love everyone's "new year, new me" mentality this time of year, this December, I can't help but wonder if the 2021 memes are true. What if 2020 really was just the trailer for 2021? I just don't think the stroke of the second hand at midnight is going to automatically change our fate (or our current COVID metrics for that matter). So, before we jump too heartily into the new year, we really should talk about goal-setting and our expectations in the midst of a global pandemic. New year, new me is good and well, but only if we don't put unnecessary pressure on ourselves to perfectly perform. Because newsflash: There is no perfection in a global pandemic.
So, how can we still be productive without inducing panic-stricken feelings of failure and burnout right out of the gate? Let's explore.
New year, new me is good and well, but only if we don't put unnecessary pressure on ourselves to perfectly perform.
The slow proceedings of the Advent season are purposeful in their unraveling. Hope gives way to peace. From a place of pure peace, we can experience unadulterated joy. From authentic joy, we see the world through a lens of unbridled love. Each season of Advent fulfills a purpose so that, on Christmas morning, the ultimate gift may be received.
Today, let us reflect on the the journey that led us to this moment - the last Sunday of Advent - the final waiting before the coming of the King. As educators, we finally rest in the calm after the storm. Let us fill our hearts with quiet meditations that bring this season full circle, reflecting on the equation that leads to the greatest gift and commandment of all. Where are we going? Where have we already been?
As we have discovered over the past several weeks, each week of Advent (on top of the overarching concepts of revival, restoration and revelation) focuses on one of four sequential themes. Following hope and peace, the third week of Advent emphasizes joy, and personally, I feel like this theme comes at the perfect time for educators as we wrap up the last week of a very long semester. How do we seek joy in the middle of the stress? In the middle of the muck? In the middle of this ruthless COVID-19 pandemic? Here, we will explore what joy is, what joy is not, and how we can cultivate joy in the middle of the mundane, the melancholy, and the hard.
What joy isn't
It helps to begin our discussion on seeking joy by first striving to understand what joy isn't. Y'all, joy isn't happiness. Happiness is this more transient, fleeting emotion that rises to the surface (and then quickly dissipates) in moments of pleasure or contentment. I am happy when I eat tacos, but when my tacos have been thoroughly deconstructed and destroyed, my happiness ebbs and I return to the more monotonous tasks in my day. I am happy when something advantageous happens to me, such as receiving verbal praise from a student, most of my class passing an exam, or when my husband unexpectedly cleans the kitchen for me while I write. Joy, however, is something much deeper. It is something much more selfless and sacrificial, and God is typically at the intersection of where we meet.
what joy is
Per the work of Brené Brown, joy is one of the most vulnerable emotions we can experience. We can be so uncomfortable in our joy, for example, that we can often create a sense of what Brown calls "foreboding joy" within ourselves. This happens when we immediately follow a sense of deep contentment with a negative thought. For example, after realizing that you are falling in love with the person of your dreams, you might suddenly imagine that your beloved dies in a car accident. We can dress rehearse tragedy, as Brown says, when we can't sit with and tolerate our own joy.
So, how can we learn to sit with and cultivate deep, meaningful joy in our lives? Brown suggests we start with a spirit of gratitude. She believes, through her research, that those with the greatest capacity to experience joy first master the art of gratitude. Joy stems from the overflow of gratitude in our hearts.
Last week we spent time on the blog and through our Instagram series, Advent for Educators, identifying four practical practices for educators this Advent season. We talked through reading scripture, simplistic prayer, no phone while waiting, and creating a physical space for God. All of these practices are easily incorporated within a 5-10 minute time period, or involve taking something away (such as cell phones in the waiting) rather than creating a list of additional to-dos during what is, for some, the busiest season of the year. It is my hope that, by beginning to cultivate intentional daily rhythms, we will commune with God in new ways that lead to our revival, restoration, and the revelation of God with us and for us in this space.
Aside from the concepts of revival, restoration, and revelation, each week in Advent also aligns to a different Advent theme. Week one emphases hope, and week two begins an exploration of peace. This week, we will explore each of these concepts as they relate to the educator and lead to our own personal revival and restoration after a long nine months of pandemic teaching.
Please note that even if you are not an educator, there is a place for you here! Although we are utilizing examples from an educational perspective and assessing situations from a teacher or administrator lens, these ideas apply to all of us as leaders right now, whether we are leaders in the classroom, in our households, in our churches or among our extended family and friends. I hope you will join me as we dig deeper into what it means to live in hope and in peace while also living in the waiting.
Y'all, in 2020 my prayer practice has needed help. My brain seems to constantly be in motion, and even in the monotony of our daily routines (how can there be that many dishes, friends?) I have a hard time centering my thoughts. In yesterday's first post in our Advent series, Advent for Educators: Four Practices for the 2020 Season, I shared three prayer apps that have been particularly helpful to me on this journey. Last night, however, I chose to use a different approach, and on the last evening in November, my little world got rocked.
I should preface this by saying that as the application started, I had an explicit warning. If you're not in the right space - you're having a bad day, you're doing this Examen in a very public place, you've been down lately and you fear this might make it worse - then you might want to pass over this one until a day comes when you are ready for it. It was all there for me. Halt this mission! Abort, abort! Return to the safety of a prayer app that doesn't dig so deep. Wrap up your daily reading plan, watch Virgin River and call it a day, Jessica (yes, the vehement warning used my full name). However, in all of my Enneagram three-ness, we know that I could not do such a thing. I plowed on full speed ahead. Challenge accepted!
I should also let you know that just a few short hours before, my mother delivered the gut-wrenching news that my beloved Uncle, who is like a grandpa to me, has cancer. It's incurable. It's everywhere.
I had all of the signs that my soul was going to be shaken to the core if I proceeded with this particular practice; however, I was begging for deep communion with God last night. This is how assessing my fears, attachments, need for control, and entitlement broke me into communal planning with Jesus for the work I would do today.
Now more than ever, educators across America need this Advent season to pierce their souls. On a never-ending rollercoaster ride since early March, teachers and school personnel have been sent to the brink and back again as they have made every valiant effort to keep students safe and continuously learning despite the obstacles that present themselves during a global pandemic. Perhaps that is why the theme of this year’s Advent hit so close to my weary soul. We are craving revival. We are seeking restoration. We are patiently waiting for the revelation of what is good. Revive us. Restore us. Reveal yourself to us, sweet Jesus. Heaven knows we need it as we enthusiastically put this year to bed.
Perhaps now more than ever, this season Christ is truly inviting us into his presence by the involuntary solitude this particular time period brings. With the monotony of quarantine comes the opportunity to deeply root ourselves in Advent rhythms of prayer, scripture, and quiet seeking as we explore the aforementioned themes. But, what does this look like in daily practice? How can we put Advent into action as educators who are simultaneously wrapping up a busy, emotional year? Here, we will explore four Advent rhythms, and various ways we can put them into practice among the chaos December so often brings.