mental health, perspective

The Ugly Return to Accountability

Although they say we are not out of the woods yet, it seems like we are on the downslope of the pandemic here in the US. Infections are trending downward. Restrictions about masks and movements are loosening. We are seeing more and more people out and about. Although once in a while crowds make me a little nervous, for the most part it’s exciting to see these changes.

At my job in an elementary school, this excitement is definitely there in the students. Spring fever happens every year, regardless. They can feel that summer is coming. The weather improves. There’s a restlessness that starts to permeate the building. The noises change. This has happened this year right on cue, even with continued mask requirements and social distancing. We are holding limited versions of field day in the coming week. Students will have a graduation celebration. Family picnics will be held. Although the extra precautions make these events more challenging than usual, there is still an excitement that we are doing them. Normal is peeping around the corner.

Also lurking in the elementary school hallways is quite a bit of tension. Modified state testing. Meetings about how to handle learning losses. Inventories. Meetings about teacher evaluations. Drafts of calendars to maximize learning minutes. Plans for robust multilevel testing next year starting right off the bat. Accountability. Accountability. Accountability.

These other things bubbling up are harder to handle. They suck the life out of us. Not only are we trying to just make it to summer, there are nearly constant reminders that some of the things that were most challenging about school life pre-pandemic will be the things that rise to the top of the priority list next year. You can see the weariness in my colleagues’ faces when the accountability rhetoric resurfaces. These are not the things that bring joy into our schools. I can already sense the feeling of needing to fix everything, all at once, as fast as possible come next school year. Can we focus on a return to joy first?

Pretty early in the pandemic, this quote, posted by many, stuck with me: “in the rush to return to normal, consider which parts of normal are worth rushing back to” (Dave Hollis). The work ahead to rebuild is large and urgent. We will have to prioritize. I hope my school leaders take this to heart. For kids and colleagues, I think our mental health takes precedent. Making us all feel safe and included, happy to learn and come to school as part of a community. So much of our community ties have been weakened by masks, distance, and even the political climate in this country (which does play out in our children). I need to keep these priorities top of mind as I plan the days and years ahead.

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