According the Oxford dictionary, we can define empathy as « the ability to understand another person’s feelings, experience, etc ». In the same dictionary, sympathy is defined as « the feeling of being sorry for somebody; showing that you understand and care about somebody’s problems ». This already sounds more like what we need right now. And finally, the word compassion is defined in those terms: « a strong feeling of sympathy for people or animals who are suffering and a desire to help them ». Help. There you go.
I have been reflecting quite a bit regarding how we manoeuvre through those troubled times as parents, educators, teachers, administrators, friends, colleagues, spouses, etc. Since many of us are confined in our homes, the boundaries between those roles and responsibilities are becoming blurrier than ever. Since March 13th, in Ecuador, school and life is happening at home and I am noticing a growing number of people attempting to showing empathy, sympathy and even compassion. But sometimes, the loud voices are somewhere else. Some teachers might consider that their load is more challenging now than ever, (this is absolutely accurate) and that kids and parents could or should do a bit more or differently. Some parents, however, are considering that they are doing quite a bit of extra work at home to support their children’s education (this is also absolutely accurate), and that teachers are working less than before. Some teachers might forget that many parents have to juggle with their own professional responsibilities and all the stress related to perspectives of lower revenues. Other parents do not always realise that many teachers are also parents and they are also juggling between continuing education for their students in a different environment that they may or may not be ready for and supporting their own children at home with their school learning.
In those times of doubts and where death has been knocking on so many doors around the world, we need more than empathy. We need more than understanding the feeling of others. While being empathetic might still be a challenge (see above) for a handful, we actually need to be compassionate and think about ways that we can help others. From an educator’s perspective, here are some things that we are doing at Academia Cotopaxi to support our community at home.
-we have noticed that some students have struggled a lot to attend synchronous sessions and we are making a point to set up virtual meetings with students and parents to discuss strategies to engage students more.
-we have realised that some students have legitimate issues with their internet connections at home and we work on individualised approaches to support students through those complications.
-some teachers have connected with me to tell me that Little Johnny is getting behind with their work. Even more than before, we are asking teachers, learning support and EAL specialists, to personally reach out to Little Johnny to establish a plan to move forward.
-some teachers are more comfortable than others in covering their curriculum through distance learning and our Tech team and instructional coaches are providing tech sessions on specific tools.
-with my fellow Principals, we agreed that in the first weeks, we would not join the synchronous lessons to avoid adding pressure to an already stressful reality. But now that we are in our 4th week of distance learning, I feel that being compassionate is to also go and visit « virtual » classrooms and support teachers through the Marshall’s rubric.
-our CAS coordinators have created and shared resources to help students and parents understand that not only CAS should continue at home, but it is also the sane and healthy way to go.
-our athletic coaches are still in contact with their teams to encourage motivation and share ideas of workouts, recipes etc.
-our student council (Associated Student Body-ASB) is launching the ASB Challenges this week for students to get involved, be more active, spend less on their screens and win points for their houses. Our ASB President and Vice President are going to introduce those during our first virtual assembly.
-our counselling team is running countless one on one connections with students to support them through those times with limited social opportunities.
The list is obviously not complete and we will continue to learn how to best support our learning community through conversations with colleagues and workshops with PTC, NEASC, ISS, AAIE etc. So, this is the challenge that COVID-19 is offering us, educators and beyond: being empathetic is not enough and we must strive for compassion and therefore grow our desire and multiply our actions to help others in a meaningful manner. And since we do this, let’s celebrate this and make this voice the louder one.
I hope that you are healthy and safe and that you can continue support others.
For what it’s worth…