I have known Joan Young for over 10 years and realize through her background in psychology and teaching that we needed to connect. After talking for a few minutes on May 31st, we decided it was a good idea to discuss some of the issues around emotional health during this pandemic and issues around racism. It took a few days to pull this together but felt it was timely with everything happening.
How has the pandemic impacted teaching and learning? What will that mean if or when schools open again?
Barbara: Teachers were asked to balance remote teaching at home. Yet, many have their own children who miss their peers and need support with home learning activities. Teachers tried to recreate schools online but it was difficult to teach the same way. The stress has been overwhelming for both teachers, parents, and students. Attendance suffered. Some schools and districts realized these pressures and waived standardized tests, homework, and grades. More teachers changed the focus from teaching content to building relationships and social-emotional learning with students and their families. When school opens again, teachers will see the value of building those relationships first.
Joan: As a middle school counselor and teacher, the pandemic has meant distance learning, meeting on zoom, and trying to decipher the emotions of students through a screen: not ideal. I agree with Barbara about relationships being at the forefront when we are back to school in whatever way that is. One of the greatest sources of burnout for teachers is when the quality of their relationships with colleagues and administrators is not safe or encouraging. This was before the pandemic and I think it will ring even more true as we learn and are forced to learn new ways to approach teaching. We need each other, and we need to feel safe as we fumble through these new challenges. With students, relationships have always been critical but even more so now. I notice that teachers who had good relationships with many of their students have fared better with engaging their students on Zoom. Those who didn’t struggle and have a tendency to blame students for hiding behind the screen and not coming on camera.
What has become more apparent since the pandemic?
Joan: The inequities and injustices that we have in our country have become even more apparent now that our people of color are dying at rates way beyond those of others. Undervalued and underpaid essential workers have been out there risking their lives on a daily basis, and it’s become clear that their lives are deemed by our government to be less important than our capitalist values. On another note: I think that the pandemic gives us time to pause and actually evaluate what it is we want our lives to be like. We can see it solely as a tragedy, which it has obviously been for over 100,000 lives (and still counting) lost in our country alone and we can also take this opportunity to stop and think about what we really want, personally and professionally. For me, being at home has led to me evaluating how I want to use my time more wisely: less scrolling and consuming, and more journaling, listening and working with others to find better ways to manage the stressors that have come with all of this.
Barbara: It is apparent who has the privilege to stay home, be able to go online, and even work from home. The coronavirus has disproportionately impacted people of color, the homeless, and the poor. There are many families that live in crowded situations with multiple family members who cannot do physical distancing. Supplies and resources are limited in many communities. Our health workers and first responders are still putting their lives at risk for the rest of us. I have been sheltering-in-place since March 13th and realize how fortunate I am to have a husband who shops for me and makes sure I am safe and helps his 99-year-old mother. My husband is my only contact with the outside world. I was feeling sorry for myself and then stopped my pity party. I am privileged. There is so much going on in the middle of this crisis where we can be there for others and make a difference.
How has the pandemic and the murder of George Floyd exposed the inequities that have been there for so long?
Joan: I think that people are finally waking up because the rate at which they are “seeing” and hearing about people dying unnecessarily is increasing exponentially. Many are saying that racism hasn’t gotten worse, just filmed, and perhaps that is true. What I think, though, is that with this administration, racism has become normalized, validated and those who have been kept down for so long are at a breaking point. I think many of us who are privileged have not known enough history, examined all of our institutions deeply enough, and really investigated the ways that our silence has allowed us to be complicit. I vow to become more active, to listen better, to look for ways to be fiercely “anti-racist.”
Barbara: The pandemic is not going away any time soon. It is uncertain how long we will need to wear masks and do social distancing. We don’t know what that means for work, play, and just living. The status quo has been exposed. I agree with Joan about the inequities and that racism has always been there simmering and now has been normalized. The underlying racism started over 400 years ago and this administration has uncovered a scab of hate that has been happening and tried to sweep it under the rug again. Now with smartphones, the world is seeing the injustices as they happen. The murder of George Floyd and the blatant callousness of the officer kneeling on his neck finally did it. It got to white people all over the world. This has to stop. Enough. It’s up to all of us to root out racism.
How can we stay positive during this time?
Joan: From my health coach perspective: we can be intentional with how we plan our days, and include the pillars of health first so that our mental health doesn’t suffer more: sleep, nutritious food, stress management practices like mindful breathing, and including weekly outreach, acts of kindness for others. For me, I became much more positive when I found ways to volunteer, to do something in order to be of service. I’ve been able to offer pro-bono coaching through a program, Health Coaches Without Borders, that recently formed to address the challenges of hope and resilience during this time. We can also stay positive by thinking about our values: what we truly believe is meaningful in life and choosing activities that tap into those. We can use the VIA (Values in Action) survey ( a free 20 min survey) to rediscover those values and strengths that are at the top of our lists when we are at our best. If we can put our strengths to work to make some sort of positive change happen, we will be able to garner some hope.
Barbara: It is not always easy to stay positive when times are tough. We are part of a larger community and have a responsibility to model positivity and what it means to be a nonjudgmental citizen hopeful for our future. As teachers, we can model how to take care of ourselves, wear a mask so we can be there for others. If we have had enough of racist, hateful talk and acts, we can learn what it means to have white privilege and understand the pain that generations of black people have endured. We can make a difference by not judging but by advocating for true justice.
We are living in an uncertain world that impacts how we handle what we do and how we react to stress. Mindfulness practice can reduce stress by providing the ability to free your mind to be able to deal with unanticipated obstacles and setbacks. Trying to calm our minds when too many things are happening to us is tough. When we are mindful of our breathing and being alive, we can stop, wake up, and enjoy the moment.
“If we practice mindfulness, we always have a place to be when we are afraid.”
–– Thick Nhat Hanh
What type of coaching or support will teachers and parents need?
Barbara: Coaching that works best to support teachers is built upon trusting relationships. It is based on the coach and teacher mutually working together to understand their purpose and goals, to support their emotional health, and/or to improve skills in order to improve learning so students take responsibility for their learning.
A coach does not need to know everything the teacher is learning. Their job is to take an objective view of the goals without being distracted by details. Good coaches help teachers learn from their mistakes, identify their targets, and take responsibility for implementing the first step. A coach helps teachers find their own solutions, by asking questions that give them insight into their situations. A coach can be there for anyone who is not sure how to handle these difficult times.
Joan: I think that right now, more than ever, teachers, parents, and all of us need some coaching in how to work with and navigate our emotions. If teachers and parents can learn how to understand, label, express, and regulate emotions (see Marc Brackett’s RULER approach from Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence ) then they will be much more able to help kids do the same. Many adults have simply not had the training on emotions and end up minimizing their own experience which leads to depression, anxiety, and responding to children and themselves in unhelpful ways. Parents will also need support in allowing children to do their own work (if they’re working at home) and allowing them to make their own mistakes.
I love this quote from Jack Kornfield, author and mindfulness expert that highlights what we will need to keep going on this important journey ahead:
We need a warrior’s heart that lets us face our lives directly, our pains and limitations, our joys and possibilities.”― Jack Kornfield, A Path with Heart: A Guide Through the Perils and Promises of Spiritual Life
Joan’s Contact information
- My website: https://joanyounghealthcoach.com/
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- My teachable school: Flourishing School
- Twitter: @flourishingkids
- Instagram: @flourishingkids