Preparing for the unknown

Oh, what a world we’re living in! And who knows what this next school year will bring?

As an elementary educator, at this point in the summer, I would typically be starting to gear up for the next school year by hitting the reset and refresh button in my classroom, so to speak.

I would be polishing up tried-and-true learning resources and materials, knowing much of what to anticipate starting the new school year.

I would be plotting out my classroom organization and envisioning new, fun and engaging hands-on learning experiences. I’d be planning and preparing for what I know how to do and what I’ve been doing for the 19 previous school years as an early elementary school teacher, which is helping a lot of little, messy, germy people learn and play in a small space.

I’m writing these words in late May, in the thick of the final days of a nine-week marathon of distance learning. I miss my daily physical interactions with students, my busy classroom and the normal we all knew and often took for granted before the pandemic.

I’m looking forward to completing this school year, but the unfortunate truth is that the effects of the virus are going to continue to change how teachers need to work and educate students for a while. The way I’m going to approach the start of the 2020-2021 school year is going to be different — and I know it’s going to be a lot of hard work.

This daunting task, with so many unknowns, new parameters and guidelines, already triggers a stress response in my body.

The school year ahead

As an educator — and a parent of four school kids — I’m going to do my best to approach the upcoming school year with an open mind. The more I wrap my head around the understanding that things are NOT going to be the same as before, the more I find room opening up in my mind for creative solutions.

I’ve been trying to heed the advice and teachings of Eckhart Tolle and focusing on acceptance and mindfulness. (He’s the author of the influential book The Power of Now, which encourages embracing the present.)

Acceptance can be an important strategy for stress management in this trying time. That’s something I need to remind myself of daily both as an educator and as a parent.

Instead of focusing my energy on the disappointment and frustration of not being able to get “back to normal” with my teaching, I’ll instead focus on designing and implementing the best educational experience I can in a different way, given the circumstances.

I will work to problem-solve, to learn new ways of doing things and to persevere through the challenges of the unknown.

At home, I’ve needed to accept the reality that some days will be better than others. Everyone in our household is going to have hard days. We’re all adjusting to different lifestyle changes and are grieving the losses of things that have been important to us.

I’ve also found I need to accept my own limitations, of what I can do or can’t do on any given day — and also to have compas- sion for others who are working through their own individual struggles with their own capacities for stress and resilience during the pandemic.

Leaning into mindfulness

Mindfulness is another strategy I’m trying to intentionally practice amid all of the unknowns. It’s very easy to get caught up in the act of worrying about future situations or scenarios that are out of our control — and doing so really doesn’t do any of us much good.

The reality is, all we really can count on for sure is what’s happening in the present moment. I’m working on striking a healthy and productive balance. Taking action to stay healthy, to plan and to prepare, but also being mindful of where I am — focusing my thoughts and attention on the moment if I start to get worried or stressed.

When my mind starts spinning, I’m working on intentionally trying to shift my attention back to the present moment. I’m also working to find and focus on the positive, silver-lining moments that are part of this crazy experience, each and every day.

If you’re interested in this idea, check out this podcast: Eckhart Tolle: How to Find a New Spiritual Awakening During the Pandemic, as part of Oprah’s Super-Soul Conversations.

So yes, friends, we’re all navigating this together. Let us all be gentle and kind with our children, with ourselves and with each other.

Megan Devine lives with her husband and four school-age children in Northeastern Minnesota. Follow her blog — Kids, Lakes, Loons and Pines — at