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Beginning to Trust

In the past eleven months, the U.S. has faced several crises, both new and exacerbated. Among them, the pandemics of racism and COVID-19 have loomed large, though the precariousness of food security and housing stability are significant. Climate change has continued to damage our planet, and our privatized healthcare system has left far too many Americans without access to needed care. Today in America, one of the biggest crises we face is a lack of trust in our institutions, and it’s an underlying part of each of dilemma listed above.

Trust is also an essential component in a school community. When there isn’t trust between students and teachers, meaningful learning cannot happen. If teachers and administrators can’t trust one another, collaboration can’t be harnessed to improve outcomes for all kids. When families can’t trust that schools will keep their kids safe and help promote their development, communities break down. In the conversations happening around the country about what a return to in-person learning could look like, you can see various constituencies vehemently fighting for what’s in their own best interest because so much trust has been lost. We need to get kids back to school, teachers feeling safe, and parents feeling heard, but it’s impossible to do that if trust isn’t there.

So what do we do?

Administrators, listen to all of the stakeholders. Take phone calls with parents and students; hear your teachers and union representatives. Don’t counter with what you can’t do or what seems unreasonable. Individuals and groups need to be able to share their feelings before anyone can move into an honest problem-solving mode.

Remember that you have power, and you need to begin with empathy because you have some modicum of control.

Teachers, you’ve earned a deep breath. In about half of states you’re eligible for vaccination

even if you haven’t scheduled yours yet. It’s not ideal, but it does show that your state believes in the power of what you are doing. In states where teachers aren’t eligible, share your concerns and frustrations with your administration, and leave them room to understand how that affects you. Then, get ready to be emotionally available to your students in a new way. All students have experienced trauma over the course of the last year, and you’ll need to respond in novel and different ways to what you see. Kris’s blog from January gives some important learning about this. Listen to your body and tap into your own awareness of where and how you hold stress so that you can see it and release it. Resmaa Menakem’s book My Grandmother’s Hands is excellent for this, and though it focuses on generational race-based trauma, his work is particularly poignant right now.

Families, continue trying to get through the day. You don’t have the same seat at the table as administrators or teachers do in the conversation to get back to school-based learning, and that is deeply frustrating. You are working to keep your kids safe and help them manage their own emotions and fears; you’re trying to listen to them. If you have time and space left over at the end of the day, reach out to their school and share your perspective about in-person instruction. Advocate for your family as best you can (which is what you’re already doing).

Students, what you are feeling is significant. You have been through a lot, even though different people will acknowledge that to varying degrees. You have a front row seat to societal uncertainty, and though I wish you didn’t, you are going to understand what it feels like to lack power in a different way than the adults around you ever had to contend with. Maybe as a generation, you’ll be more empathetic, which would also make you better suited to be in the positions of authority and leadership that you’ll soon have. For now, do what you can do. Reach out to trusted adults and friends as you’re able so that you can process your life from this past year and try to be available to listen to those who come to you.

As a society, we need to work our way towards trusting each other, and we can only begin that by hearing one another. Start today by listening to yourself and those closest to you. Then, as you’re able, reach out to the next widest circle of people and listen to them. As you broaden your perspective, you’ll engage empathy, and hopefully, you’ll find something or someone to trust.

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