My classroom is lifeless, and my classroom has never been lifeless before. Most years, my classroom is dormant during the summer months with little signs of life, if you know where to look. Typically, all my furniture is stacked like a Tetris puzzle and pushed up against a wall. But, it has memories of laughter that occurred during our class party and program. It holds the faintest traces of tears as adults sniffled their way through our end of year movie. The chairs are stacked but not until after they had been rearranged as a final class circle during the last days of the calendar. The naked bulletin boards show off the faded tattoos of their past life. While it simultaneously holds hope of a new theme that will be the perfect inspiration for a new set of students. The cement block walls that hold the clothing of each season have been stripped clean and feel cold. But, if you know what you are looking for, you can see the little promises of a chance to hold the world’s next great artist masterpiece. To the untrained eye, all classrooms may appear lifeless every fourth season, but that has never been the case, until now.

Now, the cubbies that should be cleaned out still house field trip t-shirts and war-weary pencil boxes full of crayon bits, safety scissors, and barely detectable pieces of hair that were left behind. The counters still hold notebooks full of unfinished business because the contents were never completed, condensed, and communicated to the next connection. The tables and chairs are still expectantly positioned as the echo of my “I love you. Have a great long weekend.” disappears because the three-day break became the three weeks that stretched into three months. This is what a lifeless classroom looks like. This is what a year cut short feels like. The level of stillness is eerie as you can almost hear whispers of what should have been said before the necessary precautions took our collective breath away.

This is loss. This is grieving. This is trauma.

How we collect ourselves, process our surroundings, and proceed from here will directly impact whether the collective we of the educational system emerge at the beginning of a new one-hundred eighty-day plan holding a bag of lemons or sipping lemonade. Our world has changed, whether we like it or not. As teachers, we can sit in our new virtual classrooms, that use to be our dining table, and hold onto the anger that we not only lost our children, our classrooms, but also our comfort level or we can take a deep breath. Or we can learn a new normal and decide to move forward. It is up to us to decide if the students who became ours this year, this entire generation of children, grow up and look at the unprecedented world event as when we broke their education or when we buckled up, held on, and showed them what moving forward looks like, even when we never physically left our homes.

How do we take what we’ve been given and keep the positive moment we worked so hard to create when we were in our natural habitat, our classroom? How do we calculate our best response instead of simply reacting to the new stimulus that has constantly been coming at us lately? Replacing a reaction with a response can begin to happen in three steps.

1. Ensure that we keep our mindset set toward growth.

Take a few deep breaths. Our inhaled breaths are tied to our stress, and our exhales are linked to relaxation which is why it is suggested that we exhale double the time of our inhale. These few deep breaths help our mental state move from our natural reaction of fight, flight, or freeze where our breathing is more shallow, to a more thoughtful response where it is easier to see the bigger picture and gives us those moments we need to determine what about our current situation is within our control.

2. We need to lean into the current reality.

Teaching over technology is not equitable. It isn’t a level playing field for the students, some have the option of joining and others don’t. So while we turn toward technology, we need do our best to not leave anyone behind. Being on Google Hangout, WebX, and Zoom multiple times a day is draining. It is not the type of existence that teachers are used too, so it can be hard to keep your energy up. Then worrying about how you will connect with the students who aren’t joining your online class meetings can mean any combination of phone calls, text messages, or separate one-on-one online times. All of this takes a toll mentally. But if we can stay keep our energy up, stay engaged with our students, and offer the needed supports to our students’ families, then we will come out on the other side not only stronger as people, but also stronger as an educational entity.

3. We need to extend grace to others and ourselves.

This is new territory. Not everyone jumped on Christopher Columbus’ boat to India, and those that did were probably disappointed when he landed in North America. Not everyone piled into covered wagons to head west. Some people don’t like change. Some families were barely hanging on before the world was told to stay at home. If students aren’t getting online, if children aren’t turning in the paper packets, or if families aren’t responding to message, remember to extend grace. We can’t know what is going on in everybody’s home. I, for one, wouldn’t want everyone knowing everything that goes on in my home. I can’t imagine any home that would. We need to extend grace as parents do their best with their kids at home. We need to extend grace with colleagues who are doing things differently for their students. Extending grace is most difficult when we feel like we know that people can “do better.” While you may 100% believe that this parent could do better with helping their child or that student is more capable than they are showing, that is not for us to decide. Although it may initially be difficult, in the long run it is easier to believe that everyone is doing the best that they know how to do. It takes a lot of time and creates a lot of stress to constantly be everyone else’s judge and jury. We can only control how we handle this situation. Maybe when we choose to extend grace to others, we are making it easier for them to handle extremely difficult situation.

So, take a good deep breath or three, lean into the situation, and begin to extend grace. We will get through the end of this school year together and move forward better together because of our time apart.