Monday, August 29, 2011

East Coast Earthquake, Hurricane Irene, and School Openings

This past week has been one for the record books in Virginia. Last Tuesday afternoon while I was having a quiet conversation with my assistant, the VEA Headquarters in downtown Richmond began to shake, rattle, and, yes, even roll a little. For a moment, I wondered what kind of furniture they were moving in the office on the floor above me. It was just a coincidence that furniture was being moved, but I couldn't imagine what in the world could be making that much racket. When the sensation of rattling outside the building started, I briefly thought a really big truck was rumbling by, but then that no longer made sounded more like a train racing by the window, and then it hit me...earthquake!

For those first few seconds, we were at a loss as to what to do. Earthquakes don't happen in central least not earthquakes of any magnitude. I recalled a very slight tremor which I experienced back in 2003, but this was a whole different experience. This felt serious...and of course, it was.

We evacuated the building and stood outside taking comfort in the fact that everyone was okay, the building seemed to be in tact, and the shaking had finally come to a stop. Within minutes of returning to the building, we learned through the Internet and through phone calls that there had been a 5.9 earthquake that had struck at the epicenter in Mineral, Virginia, a little town about 50 miles away. Schools and homes in that little town were damaged. Children and teachers have been displaced. Some of the schools may not be able to re-open because the structural damage is too great. The lives of the entire community have been seriously disrupted.

The next couple of days, aftershocks occurred with just enough frequency to keep people on edge, and almost as soon as the aftershocks settled down, all eyes turned toward Hurricane Irene...a deadly storm which seemed to be heading straight for the North Carolina and Virginia coastline. Ironically, those of us who were here in 2003 remember when Hurricane Isabelle hit during the first weekend of September. Isabelle knocked out trees and power lines and people were inconvenienced for days. Hurricane Irene has had a similar impact. Even as I write this post, many of my neighbors and friends are still without power themselves. I have been one of the lucky ones who lost power briefly on Saturday but had it through most of the storm and continue to say little prayers of thanks every time I turn on a switch and something comes on.

Schools have been closed for the teacher work week so far this week, the week for many when they would be setting up their classrooms and attending faculty meetings and getting their class rosters and preparing for opening next Tuesday. I just got the call from my school division that buildings will remain closed tomorrow because of widespread power outages that continue.

I share all of this because it has occurred to me to wonder how all of these events are impacting our students, and what must we as adults do to make sure that our own nerves and feelings of concern don't get translated to them any more than necessary. Children are extremely intuitive and they pick up on subtle cues. You might tell them that everything is okay, but if you don't really believe it, they are going to know it.

In order for children to learn, however, they need to feel safe, and it is our primary job to create a sense of safety and security so that they can relax enough to want to learn something new. A worried child who is distracted by fears that he or she may or may not be able to articulate is not going to be receptive to learning a new concept or memorize a new fact or create a new work of art.

That brings the effort we as educators make to create a nurturing learning environment to a whole new level, it seems to me. I would offer that we each do whatever we need to do in order to take care of our own needs for a feeling of safety and security so that we can be genuine in communicating those feelings of safety and security to our students.

If earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, and tornadoes don't teach us anything else, it reminds us that we are not in control the way we would like to think we are. But that doesn't mean that we should succumb to despair or depression. It is a fact that we are NOT in control the way we would like to think we are. Nothing more and nothing less than that, and the sooner we accept that simple fact, the better off we all are. In the meantime, however, we need to support one another, and most of all, we need to remember that our children look to us to set the tone and create the learning environment that they need in order to grow and achieve.

Please take care of yourselves so you can take care of the children who are in our care.

Until next time.