De La Cruz: To rebuild education system, we must reckon with trauma
Everyone's normal has been disrupted and we are all in various stages of coming to terms with the changes. These disruptions were not planned for, and everyone had to shift fast.
We have been forced to shift while being sheltered in our home spaces 24/7. The space between work and home life faded to grey. Living rooms, kitchens and bedrooms have become offices, and there is no work/life separation. Leaving something at the office, or at school, is no longer available. Our personal lives, professional lives, family lives and emotional lives have become co-mingled; one intrudes on the other. This type of intrusion across all of our established boundaries can result in trauma.
Trauma is the outcome of emotionally distressing or disturbing events that overwhelm our ability to cope. The inability to cope brings up feelings of helplessness and diminishes our ability to fully function. From a place of helplessness, it is difficult to process through the full range of emotions and experiences that trauma brings.
So here we are together, in the midst of a pandemic. So many have lost jobs, loved ones, routines, certainty. A daily, rising death toll is cause for fear and concern for our safety. The global pandemic and all of its impacts compound the trauma that we experience while sheltering at home. This new way of living will be with us for a long time, so it is important we build systems that address the trauma that everyone will be bringing into our schools, communities, and workplaces.
Behaviorally, our brains are also being wired for new beliefs and behaviors. We hear daily that the way to stay safe is to wear a mask, stay 6 feet apart from others, stay home. We are told that if we choose to violate these preventative measures, we do so not only at our own risk, but also at the risk of our loved ones, and strangers. Will we shake hands or hug others again in the future? What about coughing and sneezing — do these mean we are sick, or that others are sick and that we should distance further?
The new normal is not normal at all, and the next normal will not be either. This is why we can't simply plan for the tactical and practical aspects of reopening schools and re-entering the workplace and community. This is why we need a healing centered approach.
Naturally, we think first of ensuring a safe place for our children. To achieve this, we must attend to the needs of the adults with healing-centered practices that focus on the emotional wellbeing of the adults in the organization. This means that the adult relationships matter. Healing-centered approaches focus on the relationships with the adults and provide specific development and growth opportunities for social emotional relationship building.
The educational system is in chaos and will never be the same as it was prior to March 2020, and to be successful, we will have to adapt. There is great opportunity here to think about the structures we need in place for a healing-centered school to thrive. This is an ideal time to start talking about and take actions to disrupt some of the old educational structures that were not allowing for adult relationships to thrive.
Bill de la Cruz is a diversity and equity consultant whose wife, Lora de la Cruz, is superintendent of the Lake Oswego School District. They live in Lake Oswego.
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