Stillness as Radiance at NELA

“Learning how to be still, to really be still and let life happen—that stillness becomes a radiance.” ~Morgan Freeman

There have been many times in my life when I have heard sayings to the effect of “much can grow in still water.” Being someone for whom being still for too long—especially mentally—feels far more like a burden than a gift, I can appreciate the meaning of this sentiment, even if putting it into actual practice isn’t always easy. True to form, I chose to become a teacher, where multi-tasking is essential, decision-making is rapid, and variety is plentiful. Being an administrator follows the same pattern. These roles bring with them a level of expectation, both by those who hold the roles and by those we serve.

During the winter of 2020, NELA was a busy hive buzzing with activity, purpose, and plans. School was school, as it had always been in our small community, and no one could have imagined what was coming. From one day to the next, everything changed. Within a day, teachers were on phones trying to establish routines for student instruction with parents; parents were worried who would be able to help their children with school while they worked; some children told parents, in the first few weeks of our stay-at-home order, that they didn’t know how to teach them right.

Into the spring, the pandemic plagued our country and stillness loomed in the midst of Zoom meetings, phone calls to parents, and lessons existing in the form of online posts. NELA’s instructional team worked days and evenings to keep lines of communication open with families and to foster connection. Even in the busyness, there was stillness. Stillness that kept us from standing next to our students to coach them through a science activity, stillness that kept us from sitting down to hug a crying child while figuring out what had made them sad, stillness that was holding us captive and changing the roles we had always known. Yet strangely, in our stillness, unexpected things began to grow.

A much sought-after dream in education is to have a strong school/parent partnership. Unfortunately, this is a dream that often does not come to fruition. However, at NELA, a truer partnership between teachers and parents would not have been formed if it weren’t for the mandated stillness of the COVID-19 pandemic. During a time when everyone had lost a sense of control over their lives, the purpose of educating children became a unifying force. What grew in the stillness was a reliance that had never been realized before. Neither group—parents nor teachers—could make this happen without the other. We were finally a community with shared efficacy. We believed in each other and, most importantly, we were united in our devotion to our precious children. Teachers coached students and parents alike in academic and social-emotional language and content. Teachers also became much needed sounding boards and supports for parents. As a parent remarked to one of our teachers, “Sometimes knowing I’m getting a phone call from you is what helps me get through the day. It is so hard just being at home with my son. He doesn’t always want to do his work and I don’t know what to do. But you let me talk and complain, and it helps! You help me help him and without you I wouldn’t have anyone to help me.”

For me, one of the most gratifying outcomes during this time of growth was hearing stories of our parents as our teachers walked them through administering end-of-year student assessments from home! Very few schools were able to capture this important data last spring. Our stillness had become a radiance.

As summer draws to a close and school begins again, I will remember the mutual reliance of that special partnership. Parents are our greatest allies. Every child needs at least one caring adult who believes they can succeed. What a wonderful gift we can give our students—the realization that they have a team of caring adults who believe they can achieve their dreams.

Darilyn Hackett, NELA Principal

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