As news of COVID-19 began to unfold earlier this month, I thought to myself, “Well, this is a first.” Nowhere in any Head of School handbook that I’ve read was there a chapter entitled “Managing A Global Pandemic.” So I’m sure you’ll understand when I say that I’m writing this chapter as I go.
Last week, we launched Distance Learning, bringing together 240 students across multiple time zones with teachers who were hunkered down in their homes. The collaboration, creativity and innovation on display last week were truly amazing to see. I have long known that Trafalgar teachers are dedicated, but watching them create learning activities, adjust to new technology, problem solve and innovate together, all while caring for their own families, gave me a whole new level of respect and admiration for these educational heroes.
Our families, too, have been incredible. Notes of encouragement and thanks have filled our teachers’ inboxes, and many have been forwarded along to me. These warm words of support and understanding speak volumes about the people who make up our school community.
I was zooming (my new verb) last week with a member of our senior team who reminded me how powerful our school’s values are, particularly in these troubled times. “It’s funny,” she said. “When I read our Strategic Plan, it’s almost as if we knew we’d need to come together as a community.” Whether our plan was prescient or not, my colleague is right. Our values are exactly what we need in this time of challenge.
D-I-R-K-I. Those are our values. It’s a quirky little acronym that was thrown out as a joke at a staff meeting this past fall. (Thank you, Mr. Mac. I leave all good quips to the English teachers of the world.) But the job of an acronym is to stick, and stick it did. So today, in the midst of a global pandemic, I bring you D-I-R-K-I.
DETERMINATION: Remain steadfast, motivated and focused in pursuit of your goals.
This one speaks to me as I sit on my sofa with a cup of tea writing this blog. I’m fortunate to be able to walk to my office every morning to find some semblance of routine. But many are trying to get work done in small quarters or with many family members each trying to carve out their own space. It might work for a week or even a month, but I know that it will take determination to stay the course with good will and humour. My father loved to recite the adage, “Plan your work and work your plan.” I think that’s good advice for everyone these days. Remain steadfast in knowing that the challenge of social distancing and staying at home, while trying to retain a semblance of order requires great determination but is necessary if we are to flatten the curve in order to help the true heroes working on the front line.
IMAGINATION: See possibility where none existed before; demonstrate creative confidence in seeking solutions.
If we ever doubted the importance of imagination, the medical, economic, and social challenges of COVID-19 are revealing just how much we need creative and innovative thinking. All around the world, necessity is leading creative thinkers to MacGyver solutions to problems never before seen. Ingenuity resulted in the Dyson corporation very quickly designing a single-person ventilator able to be used in a field hospital setting. Outside-the-box thinking led KB, one of our local restaurants to come up with the idea of a daily email promotion for a prix fixe dinner with curbside pick-up. (I’ve tried twice to place an order and they’ve been sold-out both times.) Economic necessity combined with imagination helped Spin Studios come up with the idea of renting out stationary bikes for a weekly fee and offering online spin classes for members. (Every studio I checked reported long wait lists for bikes.) Without doubt, imagination can help see us through these difficult times.
RESILIENCE: Find the strength to bounce back from a failure and overcome obstacles.
Resilience is the bounce in your ball, your ability to get up after being knocked down, your reserve of hope that keeps you going. I’ve seen resilience in our community and I know it’s there. No doubt there will be days when the resilience tank feels empty, but that’s the whole point about being resilient – you can push through those moments, or even those days, and find the will to keep on going.
KINDNESS: Show warmth, care, and concern for others and for yourself.
Even in these first weeks of social distancing, I have seen beautiful acts of kindness within our community and across our country. From the beautiful bouquet of “virtual” flowers that was sent to my inbox, to the home delivery of groceries and work supplies for members in our community who are self-isolating after travel – so many small acts of kindness demonstrate the character of who we are as a school. When we were developing these values, we made a point of adding kindness “for yourself” and I think this is important to remember. Now more than ever we must show self-compassion and patience with ourselves. The toll on those of us who care for others (oftentimes more than we care for ourselves) must be balanced with moments of self-care. It’s an important part of managing the time ahead.
INSIGHT: Develop a deep and accurate understanding of self and others, of issues and the world.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the world these days. I’m sure many people have. In this time of uncertainty, it will be more important than ever to think deeply, to seek out verifiable and accurate information, and to consider how this time in our history can influence and shape us for the better. I’ll be thinking about how to help us through the months ahead but also about where we go afterwards as a community. Out of adversity comes strength. And for those prepared to take the time to reflect, out of adversity also comes insight.
So there you have it. D-I-R-K-I. The values we hold dear and the values I hope we can all embody.
As we face the coming months together, please remember that our castle is strong and will show us the way. While you and I may not have been through anything like this in our lifetime, our school has. In its 147-year history, dear old Trafalgar has weathered two World Wars, the Spanish Influenza, the Great Depression, the tragedies of 9/11 and the financial crisis of 2008. Through it all, our school has endured and remained a tower of strength for its community.
Please know that we are with you during this difficult time, and we will be here, ready to welcome you home when this time is over.