It has been a real challenge for us all to cut through the negativity of the media cycle over the course of 2021. We get bogged down in the subsequent lockdowns, the crisis in Afghanistan and the International Panel on Climate Change declaring a ‘code red for humanity’, alongside the mental health impacts of the pandemic on our young people.
However, at our school, we are fortunate to be involved with the next generation of leaders and, as such, it is perhaps more possible to adopt a hopeful stance. These inspiring young people give us evidence every day of adaption and creativity at work. We can look to the future and feel hopeful.
The following are five important observations I have made over the past 18 months that I believe we should embrace as we move through and beyond this pandemic. There are some true positives and some inspiring and exciting things to look forward to.
1. Connection is the key
The opportunities we have had to connect with each other have allowed us to show and experience warmth, share pain and loss, and be open and vulnerable about how we are travelling. It is at these times when we are our most human and are of greatest support to each other. Connection is the key as we move through this period.
Many of our students have mentioned how important it has been to feel the support of their peers while studying remotely. They would open a communication platform just to be together, even if they were working on a solitary task. I know for me personally, the online gathering of the School Leadership Team at the start of each day in lockdown has been a necessary support, not only for the purposes of organising the operations of the School, but also for each of us to feel the connection and share the burden.
2. We are better together
Our community is strong and resilient. We can support each other through times of difficulty. Like an ecosystem, the diversity within our community is fundamental to its strength, adaptiveness and ability to respond to the challenges before it. By actively valuing difference and diversity, we strengthen the individuals within our community so they are encouraged to be their best and make their contribution to the collective good.
If we are able to move our focus from 'me' to 'we', we will have a community that is more grounded in supporting each other, promotes collaboration and co-operation and is ultimately more constructive. By focussing on the needs of others rather than our individual self-interest, we can gain perspective and build a collective vision. Together, we can move towards a brighter future.
‘It’s not what happens to you that matters, it’s what you become because of your response to it.’
3. Gratitude is necessary
When we are grateful, it has a profoundly positive impact on our emotions and physical health. Studies have shown that the simple act of showing gratitude and being thankful can improve our immunity against disease; make us more likely to engage in regular exercise; reduce toxic emotions such as resentment, frustration and regret; and decrease the chances of developing depression. Neurologist and author Oliver Sacks describes how gratitude helps people avoid over-reacting to negative experiences by seeking revenge; it enhances self-respect, making it less likely that they will experience jealousy; and it even tends to make them sleep better.
At the moment, it can feel harder than ever to experience gratitude, but it is imperative that we focus on what we have. There are so many things to be thankful for, even right now. Practice gratitude to stay present, positive and outward looking.
4. There is no growth without struggle
Some of the best learning for everyone will come from making it through this period of struggle. The life skills we have all developed – perseverance, patience, determination and resilience – will provide us with a reference point for the future.
It’s not what happens to you that matters, it’s what you become because of your response to it. When we can view the challenges before us as an opportunity for growth, we can be more forgiving of ourselves and open to new pathways and perspectives.
5. Be open to change and a different way
If there has been one main takeaway from this pandemic, it is that we can change, and we can do things differently. We have had to accept that life won’t be like it once was (regardless of clever Qantas ads), so we need to accept it and adapt accordingly. Accepting something does not mean you’re necessarily okay with it – you are just focussing on the things you can control, rather than the things you can’t.
At times like these, I am reminded of the Serenity Prayer:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.
– Reinhold Niebuhr
Through necessity, we have developed new ways of living and learning over the last 18 months of limitations, restrictions and inhibitors. But it has proved what we are capable of. I am excited to see what this ability to adapt and innovate will lead to once these restrictions are removed, as long as we maintain our commitment to our community.