I don't like ambiguity. I started out my career in education as a math teacher, with one of my favorite aspects being the exactness of the final solution. There was a problem, and there was a definite solution. I love it!
In my current role, supporting schools as we imperfectly implement Trauma-informed practices, there is not quite the same precision or neatness. It is messy. It is ambiguous. It calls me out of my desire to have an exact answer and into "the Gray." And with all that we are currently experiencing in society, the need to be able to live in the Gray is more important than ever.
As we look at the school year coming at us with, as Agent Smith says, "the sound of inevitability," we have another important call on our process that goes hand in hand with living in the Gray. We must over and over again seek to Give Grace in the Gray. But that call itself seems so very nuanced and, well... Gray! So what might that look like as we bring our students, teachers, school leaders, parents and community members back into our schools? 3 come to mind that I'd like to share with you.
1. Students will need extra space.
If you have been working with young people for any length of time, you know that there are times when they just need some space. They often don't even realize it themselves! This can be the need for physical space, such as a quiet corner, stepping into the hall for a drink of water or sitting in the counselor's office to name a few. It might also simply be some "space" to not have to talk for a bit rather than being required to engage in conversation, discussions or even dialogues about a poor behavioral choice they've made. Some schools and teachers have made incredible progress in setting up norms that provide this space to students when they see that they need it or when an adult that cares about them suggests it.
And now they will need extra space, or more frequent opportunities to utilize the space. As students come back to our buildings and back to the routines, they will have the normal stressors on their minds like how they're dressed, what their friends said/didn't say, where they will sit on the bus or in class or in the cafeteria, how much they hope they don't get called on in math/science/ELA, wondering who will be at home when they get there, and wondering if their dad/mom/grandma's health is going to get worse. And now they will undoubtedly add to this thoughts of all that we as a society are trying to navigate. What does that mean? They will need more frequent, or more lengthy space to process these stressors and thoughts. They will need Grace in the Gray.
2. Adults will need extra space!
It is so easy for us to forget that adults are people, too! In a perfect world, as we get older chronologically we would all grow in our ability to deal with stressors at the same rate and know how to process stress and fear in a health way. I don't know about you, but I'm not fully developed in my ability to do that! I have fears. I have stressors. They are probably not the same as yours, though, and that can often times lead us to forget to give each other space because, from our perspective, it's just not a big deal. That's where the extra space comes in.
We must constantly be intentional about looking for opportunities to give one another space, especially when it is a fear or stress that we don't identify with or don't understand. Talk about a gray area! As a leader, how do I help those under my leadership to lean into the difficulty and grow, while also giving space to process through their concerns??
What if we thought of adults in a light that is more closely aligned with the way we think of young people when it comes to their need for space, and how to know when to challenge them? We don't just challenge all young people in the same way. Rather, we take into account their current situation, their past experiences, their history with the specific topic, and then we adjust the level of challenge accordingly. Why not do this with adults? Why not err on the side of Giving Grace in the Gray?
3. Leaders will make mistakes.
If this one caught you off guard, then you and I live in different realities Having been in numerous leadership positions and making way more mistakes than I'm sure I even realize, I am making a personal plea for this one. If you've been in any kind of leadership position over the last 5 months, whether it is leading a school, a classroom, a business, or a family, then you've made mistakes. That's the nature of living in such tumultuous times!
No one starts out their day thinking, "Let's see, I'll go in and get started, make a few good decisions, and just when people are getting comfortable, I'll make a mistake. Not a big one, just enough to mix it up a bit." No! We are all doing our very best with the information we have to make the best decisions. And when we are all living in so much uncertainty every day, and with so much conflicting information and views, it is impossible to expect our leaders to be error free. So when (not if) the leadership you're serving under makes a mistake, look for a way you can show them that you are still with them. Give them Grace in the Gray.
So as you gear up to get back into the school mode, or as you continue in school mode (for year long employees) and gear up for teachers and students to return, let's all take a breath, remember our own humanity, and look for every possible opportunity to Give Grace in the Gray.