June 14

Rebuilding Community: Navigating the New Normal

By Denine Goolsby and Joe Gerics

“Relationships among educators within a school range from healthy to vigorously healthy to dangerously competitive.  Strengthen those relationships, and you improve professional practice.” – Roland S. Barth

One of the initial directives from the COVID-19 pandemic was shelter-in-place.  To fuel this approach, life as we knew it changed immediately.  Many of the venues that were a part of our normal lives were no longer available to us.  We could not eat out in restaurants, go to movies, enjoy fellowship in churches, attend plays or concerts, and the list continued to grow.  Suddenly, we found ourselves confined to our homes simply because there was nowhere else to go.  Shelter-in-place limited the opportunities to spend time together.  For educators, our relationships with our students and colleagues were snatched from us without any warning.  They were just gone.

As the world begins to re-open, educators are faced with many questions.  How will we educate our students once this season ends?  What will be the design of our “new normal” of social distancing?  How will we collaborate with our colleagues to optimize the educational experiences of our children?  Will we be safe?  As educators across the world grapple with these and many other questions, it is imperative that we focus on the collective efficacy of the adults.  As referenced in the beginning quote, it is the relationships of the adults in the school that shape the culture and wellness in the school environment.  So we ask, how can we enhance the environment in our schools?  As we begin to return to some form of normalcy in our lives, what steps can we take to reconnect?

“There is immense power when a group of people with similar interests gets together to work toward the same goals.” – Idowu Koyenikan

We have all experienced some form of trauma during the pandemic.  As we reconnect, it is imperative that we take the time to acknowledge that life as we knew it may be forever changed.  We must take time to explore how these changes impact our schools.  This will require us to reflect on how these recent experiences have altered our perceptions and affected our actions.  When you think about returning to your classroom, what word resonates with you the most? For some of you, I bet you had a sinking feeling when thinking about how your classroom community looked last year.  You may have thoughts of frustration, confusion, and yes, even grief!  Questions may be swirling in your head centered around, “How on earth will I be ever able to get back to normal in the classroom?”

We are convinced that teacher are among the nation’s most resilient and adaptable professionals and they also realize that it is essential that we focus on rebuilding relationships and supporting social and emotional learning in order to creating a welcoming environment and a sense of safety for students and their families. Further we need to not only strengthen relationships in the classroom, but to nurture caring relationships across the schools for both children and educators. It will be interesting to witness the various designs that will emerge as school and district personnel unfold their plans.  Recognizing our collective talents and nurturing our relationships can surely lead us to resolution.  If we successfully focus on connection and engagement as the cornerstones of the return to school buildings, we will all be able to then turn our attention to engagement in learning and school success.

Please join us for a webinar sponsored by the Pure Edge Foundation this Friday, June 19th at Noon EDT to learn more about ways to rebuilding the community in our schools. To join this webinar, register here.

At CREATE, we have been thinking deeply about Rebuilding Community on return and have consulted with teachers and leaders to listen to their voices.  As a result, we have developed an in-person and online train the trainer model for an innovative one-day inservice to support school communities to rebuild their communities.  You can find more information here.

Denine Parks-Goolsby M.Ed is a Principal Coach and Social Emotional Resource Consultant with Cleveland Metropolitan School District and Warrensville Heights City School District. She is a Board Member of CREATE. Dr. Joseph Gerics has served in the field of education for 16 years with both classroom teaching and administrative experience.  He currently holds the position of SEL manager with the Cleveland Metropolitan School District.


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