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Creating Connection to Foster Resilience

It was an honor to present yesterday to 40 women leaders at the Massachusetts School Administrators' Association Annual Summer Institute. The topic was supporting one’s own resilience and that of kids as we approach the coming school year. Here’s an abridged (very much) version of my talk:

A few weeks ago, my friend Dierdre said this to me: “We can’t pretend the pandemic didn’t happen. We can’t pretend it’s not still happening. And we can’t pretend we haven’t all been changed by it.”

Dierdre is my most unflappable friend. So, I was particularly struck by these words from her. I’ve been acutely aware of the emotional impact of the pandemic from the start. And I wholeheartedly believe that we need to talk openly about our mental health. So, I was heartened by Dierdre’s acknowledgement of the same.

We all know it’s been a difficult 17 months. More trying times are ahead. Yesterday’s Boston Globe headline said it all: “As the Delta variant surges in Mass, that familiar sense of dread is coming back and it’s exhausting.”

Recently I asked a teacher to measure the stress of the past 17 months on a scale of 1-10. She said, “It changed day to day because there were so many first days. The first day of school. The first day of hybrid. The first day of in-person learning. On all those first days, stress levels were at a 10.” And then there were ongoing challenges: the constant re-writing of curricula, fears about one’s own safety, and continuously conflicting communication around policy.

The Revere Public Schools will be using our online program to engage staff and parents. Brian Arrigo, the Mayor of Revere, MA, told me: Since the start of the pandemic, the City of Revere has been in emergency response mode. As we look back on the last year and a half, we must pause and reflect on the mental health impact on our community and determine how we can address it.”

Megan, 14, is featured in our online program Kids' Mental Health: Lessons from the Pandemic. A few days ago, we spoke about the surge of the Delta variant. Megan says wearing a mask isn’t so bad – if it helps stop the pandemic. She does not want to return to remote learning. Megan said, “I hope everyone will be patient, wear masks, and get vaccinated, so all this can finally end.” Wise words from a teenager.

In the meantime, we must continue to foster our own resilience, and that of others, so we come through these exhausting, uncertain times emotionally strong and healthy.

Over the past school year, at the start of each day, Alicia Mezzoni, a fifth-grade teacher, asked her students to share something on their mind. One student told of visiting a cousin. Another got a new cat named Jazz. Through this morning “share” students got to know each other a bit better. Alicia says she knew the kids in last year’s class better than any class ever.

I think this practice was brilliant. Alicia is helping create connection in a world that is suffering from disconnection – a byproduct of the pandemic. Research shows that feeling connected builds resilience. And it can be just a moment. A brief chat with a cashier at the market counts as connection.

We have all changed in the pandemic. We can and will emerge emotionally healthy and strong from this uncertain time by navigating through it together. That’s one of many reasons we need to be intentional about creating connection.

Learn more about Kids’ Mental Health: Lessons from the Pandemic here.

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