Taking Good Care

Taking good care – these words now do reverberate soundly and mean something more in this time of uncertainty due to COVID-19. We at MICDS have been learning and pondering not only how to engage children in this wholly different learning environment, but also how we might double-down and do an even better job of taking care of each student, each other and the worries some of our families might be carrying in these unsettled times—from a distance.

As I listened to webinar after webinar these past several weeks about online learning and school continuity plans, and as I soaked up the advance scouting of our coastal colleagues who went to distant learning as early as the beginning of March, I heard many of these educators and school administrators speak about the things they worry about the most. Most say emphatically that they worry most about the mental and physical health of the people in their care: faculty, staff, students and their families. This email, in particular, discusses taking care of yourselves as adults—parents and guardians—during this unprecedented time.

Indeed, all of this thinking and work involving caretaking can leave us feeling vulnerable and depleted, particularly as we learn more and hear more about our new reality. In fact, many adults who care for children and others in their world often think of themselves last. Let’s remind ourselves of what flight attendants tell us: “Put on your own mask first before putting one on a child.”

New research out of Arizona State conducted by Dr. Suniya Luthar who works with other NAIS schools underscores authentic connections and self-care for the adults in children’s lives. Dr. Luthar suggests that we should do more to “take care of the caretakers” than we currently do, which has a profound impact on reducing the stress on our children. As the adults in our beloved MICDS community, let’s vow to take care of ourselves as we continue to care for our children as well as immediate and extended family members. Let’s also be cognizant of others within the MICDS community who may not have the support of family or friends nearby.

Now, more than ever, this crisis must upfront self-care so that you can be resilient managers of your own well-being and good health. Remember, there is no normal at this point. We are going through something for which there is no rule book, and normal—our usual routines—may be gone for a long, long time. Some of what I am sharing comes from school and business webinars we administrators and perhaps some of you all have been imbibing from your own work and worlds lately. However, much of what I am thinking about comes directly from Marc Brackett and Christina Cipriano’s article called “Teacher, Interrupted: Leaning Into Social Emotional Learning Amid the COVID-19 Crisis.” It applies to not only the work that people in education do but also to all adults who may be feeling a growing sense of loss, anxiety, panic and grief about suddenly being cut off from each other.

With that said, here are five ways to take care of yourself as we continue in this next phase of our life together and in our children’s online learning:

  1. MONITOR YOUR OWN STRESS AND EMOTIONS. Throughout the day, examine how you are feeling. Try to accurately label where you are. Don’t judge but be as accurate about your emotional health and how you are feeling as you possibly can. If you can describe why you are feeling the way you do at that moment, then do so. If you can write it down, even better. The next thing is to decide if this is where you want to stay. If you want to stay in this place, then go ahead and be there. If you want to move to another emotional state, think about where that place is, find a picture, a quote (I like a family photo album or picture on the wall for this), and decide that’s where you want to be and write it down. Now, this may take a little bit of patience and persistence on your part, but getting the anxiety and worry out of your head and into another medium is the best way to get it out of your body. When I need to do this I use Marc Brackett’s Mood Meter app on my phone. It keeps an electronic record of my moods and emotions over time. It may seem a little “woo woo” and out there, but it is scientifically based and does work super effectively for me and others.
  2. DEALING WITH LOSS AND GRIEF. A recent article from the Harvard Business Review (“That Discomfort We’re Feeling Is Grief”) frames what many people around the world may be feeling is “the five stages of grief,” which is a phrase coined by the Swiss-American psychologist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. Kübler-Ross looks at this process in the same way we look at any loss; we go through the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Of course, we don’t often go through these steps in order. Yet, it is helpful to understand that what we experience is a process rather than where we will be forever. Allow yourself to go completely through the stage you may be in rather than having to rush through to get to the other side. As the poet Robert Frost posited, “The only way ‘round is through.”
  3. GET SOME SLEEP. Make sure you get plenty of rest as we continue creating new routines for ourselves and others. Whatever you can do to limit your screen time during the day or even as you work from home or take care of others in the upcoming days and weeks, the better. Try to do what you would normally do to get your mind and body ready for sleep at least an hour or two before you want to sleep.
  4. EXERCISE AND/OR MEDITATE. These are two of the most critical ways to deal with and alleviate your own stress response. You don’t have to be proficient at either nor do you have to be an athlete or a Buddhist to get the benefits of flooding your system with dopamine and calming your mind. There are plenty of videos on YouTube or you can go to the local Gateway YMCA website for workout and mindfulness videos on demand. The Headspace app is another tool that many people use to meditate.
  5. GIVE GRACE—TO YOURSELF AND OTHERS. Practice the four ideas and routines above. Check-in on someone else. Calling (voice-to-voice or even with a video) a family member, friend, loved one or colleague who may need it right now—perhaps someone with whom you haven’t connected in a while—may help to alleviate your own stress, worry and anxiety. Although you may not have much to say, listening closely and deeply to others—and that voice inside yourself—may be a good balm for you both as we fight the blues that come with this feeling of impermanence, loss and rupture.

Finally, please remember that your child’s teachers need grace, too. They, like you, require time after business hours – 5:00 p.m. – to be with their families, take care of themselves and get things done. If you reach out to your child’s teacher for a question, concern or advice, allow them time to reflect on and respond within 24 – 36 business hours. What we are hearing is that the online environment can be especially taxing for educators who are teaching and learning in this new way.

Above all, we are all in this together. Every one of us at MICDS is fiercely committed and connected to each other because we share our one uncommon and special school at the corner of Ladue and Warson. Please know you all mean so very much to us, and we deeply care about your well-being during our time away from each other.