The notion of redoubling one’s effort has periodically proved a curious sticking point for me. If you can double your efforts, does redoubling your efforts mean you’ve already doubled your efforts and failed?
With the announcement that Melbourne is heading into deeper lockdown to deal with COVID-19, it feels appropriate to revisit this idea of redoubling our efforts in terms of life and work.
One cannot help but have empathy for those touched by the loss of loved ones, or the disruptive uncertainty of the loss of employment or income and everything else that tumbles out of this pandemic pandora’s box.
Equally, one cannot also help but be grateful for the relative safety and security we enjoy compared to others in Australia and around the globe.
As someone prone to melancholy, finding a way to process this has been a priority. In the process of searching for a way forward, one comfort was that while we might feel like the first people to experience an event like this, the vastness of human experience says this is not true.
The ancients understood how to tackle wicked situations like ours. Seneca, stoic writer and philosopher, made reference to the principle of ‘premeditatio malorum’, or ’the premeditation of evils’. In essence, it is the act of envisioning what can go wrong, or what will go wrong, allowing us to be less shocked when events do unfold.
Modern managers or psychologists might refer to this as a ‘premortem’.
Of course, this is challenging in the dynamically uncertain environment we find ourselves. Imagining every possibility could prove a pathway to madness if we are careless. That said, it might also be a pathway to beneficial action.
We can safely assume that as we enter this next phase of lockdown, things will be harder before they are easier, and it will likely prove much more difficult than what we’ve experienced to this point.
There are many facets to this situation, so many relating to individual context – where you live, what you do, what you can and cannot control.
Speculating on these questions is challenging enough. Some industries will boom. Some will bust. It is certain that the dark angel of circumstance, so to speak, will touch some homes and spare others.
We can also anticipate that the experience of the lockdown has the potential to be very divisive as our varied situations separate us.
Without the ability to move around and interact as we normally would, the temptation may be to withdraw further into the kingdoms, silos and dung heaps of our own experience.
We may be tempted not to talk about how bad, or well, we are going. We may be tempted not to share small joys and victories, to focus only on the thousand cuts or slights, or the dull cadence of routine.
This creeping disunity could represent social fracturing. It will divide society further.
Without doubt, it will continue to unearth the stupid, the selfish and the ill- informed. It will uncover the desperate, the narcissistic, the entitled. It will deepen the chasm between ’them’ and ‘us’.
In times of crisis, wisdom tell us to look for the helpers – and we are all helpers now, to an extent.
At the minimum, staying at home has now become an act of service and courage for all, but for those of us fortunate enough to be essential workers, there is even more to do.
We are laying the track as we go, to an extent, and now know that the dynamism of this situation means we lay this track blindfolded. We can’t be certain of what lies around the next bend.
Yet, as educators operating in the lengthening remote environment, we have a critical role to play. We must keep the learning moving. We need to bring the energy and magic every day, to play something of a role in winning days when every one has a ring of tiresome familiarity.
We do that by being organised, flexible and above all, listening and connecting to students and colleagues.
We can anticipate that the fatigue, cognitive overload and anxiety we’ve already seen will deepen and this may lead to a loss of hope and cynicism about the point of learning.
We can anticipate that nurturing mental health and wellbeing will be the great challenge of remote 2.0 for everyone with a stake in the learning world.
Unsurprisingly, there are plenty of people in education sharing their experiences and doing what good teachers do anyway – adapting and working for others. Teaching is a service, after all.
And what a great opportunity it is to learn new things and also build on what we have already learned in this most challenging of years, whether we are synchronous, asynchronous or semi-synchronous in our approach.
Routine and habit make a huge difference. There can be great power in small acts – asking someone how they are, admitting that you are having a hard day, modelling vulnerability, focusing on good teaching.
Consumption won’t do it in terms of engagement – action and response must be the way. Creativity must be given space to thrive and we need to focus on providing time and space to do what is essential for the learning to occur.
Teaching is a service and when at its best, a team game. Teachers and schools are perhaps even more critical in a time when the home, defined by the context our students live in, will feel a sanctuary for some and a prison for others. Sometimes, this feeling will change from day to day.
We have the power to influence that experience – lesson by lesson, day by day, week by week.
And if we can, through education, play a part in helping a string of good lessons add up to a good day, and those good days add up to good weeks, and those good weeks add up to good months, and those good months add up to good terms, then when we emerge from what must now surely be viewed as the defining event of a generation, it will be with goodwill and appreciation for learning and schools and our role in meeting the challenge of each context.
Surely that is a worthy contribution for us to make as learning professionals…