In Japanese culture, there is a tradition that when things break, they are not discarded.
They are repaired with gold and accompanied with the phrase: More Beautiful for Being Broken. Hold that thought.
There is deep confusion about schools reopening this fall. Some schools are doing totally online learning. Others are having in person learning. Still others are using a hybrid approach. All involved in education are experiencing anxiety of one sort or another. Teachers and professors are worried about their own health and that of their families. Parents are worried about the health of their children and how the working parents will manage complex school schedules. Some are worried about the quality of education that will be provided, particularly in the context of online learning. Students are worried too; they have not been in school for a while. There will be new rules if school is in person; they may not be up to speed academically; sports and play seem like they will be missing. Some kids realize that they simply cannot adapt to online learning and they will fall farther behind; they won’t attend or they won’t engage.
It’s quite the mess. And, we have not done sufficient professional development in anticipation of reopening — in whatever form it takes. We have been so focused on physical well being that psychological well being has taken a back seat, if it is in the car at all. And, while we can differ as to the definition of trauma in the educational context, perhaps we can agree that many students and teachers and parents are experiencing trauma now — with the pandemic and with the racial tensions and with the economic uncertainty and with no end in sight on which we can rely.
Add to all this that whatever planning has been done has often not been inclusive. It has involved some groups within the educational community and not others. Think about planning the return to school without active involvement of school nurses. Think about decisions made at the superintendent level, bypassing teachers and just informing them of this and that decision. Think about not engaging older students at the college level. Ponder the NCAA not taking any strong positions or creating any coordinating committee for collegiate sports. It is a problem with many tentacles. Some decisions are made by too few. Some are abdicating decision-making. We are losing our balance.
It is not too late to ponder giving teachers and parents more tools to help them cope with their own trauma and that of their students/children. These tools exist but the problem is that we have not shared these tools widely among teachers. To that end, here are some tools that I have created (one with Dr. Ed Wang), all of which will be available before the start of school (assuming restart is in September). They are offered here, not in order of importance or value or utility. They are offered as ways teachers and parents/caregivers can help students get ready learn, to engage. These are tools to help control the autonomic nervous system responses. These are tools that use our knowledge about trauma’s impact on our brains and our bodies. These are tools that can help us now.
Consider these all a starter set of suggestions for things that can be used with and for students and adults to ease school re-entry. Consider them ways to alleviate trauma symptomology. Consider them as tools that are trauma responsive.
To return to the opening image and Kinsugi reference, I want to note that there are ways to address trauma and its symptoms. And while we never bounce back to where we were, we can bounce forward. The described tools give me hope — hope that we can navigate these troubled time and facilitate student academic and psychosocial success. Perhaps these tools can be items that message: more beautiful for being broken.
Karen is an educator and an author. Prior to becoming a college president, she was a tenured law professor for two plus decades. Her academic areas of expertise include trauma, toxic stress, consumer finance, overindebtedness and asset building in low income communities. She currently serves as Senior Counsel at Finn Partners Company. From 2011 to 2013, She served (part and full time) as Senior Policy Advisor to the US Department of Education in Washington, DC. She was the Department's representative on the interagency task force charged with redesigning the transition assistance program for returning service members and their families. From 2006 to 2014, she was President of Southern Vermont College, a small, private, affordable, four-year college located in Bennington, VT. In Spring 2016, she was a visiting faculty member at Bennington College in VT. She also teaches part-time st Molly Stark Elementary School, also in Vt. She is also an Affiliate of the Penn Center for MSIs. She is the author of adult and children’s books, the most recent of which are titled Breakaway Learners (adult) and Lucy’s Dragon Quest. Karen holds a bachelor degree in English and Spanish from Smith College and Juris Doctor degree (JD) in Law from Temple University - James E. Beasley School of Law.