A New Year Begins – Along With Some Anxiety

I’ve received quite a few emails from parents and other community members over the past couple of weeks expressing concern. They are clear in what they are saying and the themes pretty much fall into two categories:

  1. Schools need to return to normal. NOW. The health restrictions are a hindrance and need to go.
  2. We need to impose even more restrictions in our schools. We aren’t doing enough to keep everyone safe.

What is crystal clear is the passion behind the words, and at that core is the desire for what is best for their children. It’s palpable. What I also hear is the fear about the unknown future — what may be coming down the road.

I previously blogged about fear and the pandemic in a post I wrote almost exactly a year ago (Who Do We Want to Be During COVID?). I referenced an article from the BC Epilepsy Society that went into some detail about how we move between three different ’emotional states’ when dealing with an unknown situation like a pandemic.

  • THE FEAR ZONE
  • THE LEARNING ZONE
  • THE GROWTH ZONE

I won’t repeat what I said back then, but my previous blog post may be worth a read if you want to better understand how we move between these emotional zones when dealing with something we don’t really understand.

Fear is natural. We all experience it. But, when you have too much of it, worry about something regularly, you can become anxious — and, that anxiety can prevent you from moving forward.

Anxiety: Your body’s natural response to stress. It’s a feeling of fear or apprehension about what’s to come.

Healthline (2020)

I can’t control a lot about the current pandemic, but I can control how I respond to it. I have the capacity and the responsibility to provide clear information, context and reassurance. So, as I’m responding to emails, I find it best to focus on these things:

We Move Forward When We’re Calm
  • Being transparent in my decisions and reasoning.
  • Using experts and the data from them to explain what we’re doing.
  • Being the same person out front in the conversation as I am in the background – I’m consistent in what I say no matter where I am and who I’m speaking to at the moment.
  • Not getting distracted by social media claims and the inevitable hyperbole that follows (See my previous blog post on the phenomena behind social media algorithms and how they work to provide reassurance to our ideas: Social Media and Reality)

And most importantly, stay calm. That’s pretty much who I am anyways — it usually takes quite a bit to fluster me.

At the end of the day, parents and our community want to know that what we are doing in our schools has the best interest of their children at heart.

So … in our current context … if I were to, say, arbitrarily increase COVID restrictions or, alternatively reduce them, I would likely certainly make one group elated and the other even more anxious. And on what scientific basis would I be making these changes to our plan? From a study that I read? Maybe two? Why those? Why not others that propose the exact opposite action?

And, honestly, my goal as Superintendent isn’t really to decide which group to please, it is to do what is best for students.

That is my lens. That is always my lens.

If I’m going to be consistent and provide rationally sound reasons for our decisions, I need to follow the best scientific advice. Expert advice. The experts I rely on for my information are the BC Provincial Health Officer (Dr. Bonnie Henry), the renowned BC Centre for Disease Control, and our local provincial health authority (Island Health). They are our local experts in public health, they have the background to review the relevant scientific literature, and then make sound decisions based on what is best for us here in BC.

I trust them. I rely on them.

So, as we move into another new year of school, with all of the traditional excitement of new backpacks and pencil crayons, shiny floors and empty bulletin boards, I know that a critically important focus for me as Superintendent is being that effective communicator — someone who can help guide our district and community through the turmoil of social media frenzy, hyperbole and extremes.

This truly is one of the most exciting and exhausting times in my career. But, it is also one where I feel so fortunate to be in this beautiful community with so many people committed to making our schools and children better.

Together we’ve got this!

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