It’s nearly impossible to conceive that after more than two years of battling a devastating pandemic, another world-changing threat looms large, with the ongoing war in Ukraine. This is not meant as a political statement, but rather as an observation: it is clear that our schools are operating under significant stress, and that our faculty, students and staff are concerned and saddened.
In regard to the pandemic, at least we could do something. We learned how to help minimize the virus’ spread, through lockdowns, mask wearing, hand-washing, and later the miraculous development of vaccines and boosters. While some of these options were more palatable than others, they were all concrete steps that could be taken to mitigate the pandemic’s impact. Now, with the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and the daily news coverage of humanitarian tragedies, I am asking myself, what can I do? You may be doing the same. It is difficult to confront the feeling of shear helplessness.
Now, with the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and the daily news coverage of humanitarian tragedies, I am asking myself, what can I do? You may be doing the same. It is difficult to confront the feeling of shear helplessness.
Two recent articles have helped me get out of my own head and consider ways to constructively use my energy. They are “How to Talk to Your Team About Distressing News Events” by Allison Shapira for Harvard Business Review and “5 Ways to Support Employees Affected by Global Crises” by Emilie Shumway for HR Dive. Both outline concrete steps that leaders and managers can take to help others amidst ongoing uncertainty. Of the several tactics offered, these three spoke to me most clearly.
- Check in with employees individually.
I recall having conversations with members of my staff during the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder at the hands of the police in Minnesota. Although I did not have any words to make sense of the senseless, I felt it important to inquire about how they were experiencing the events. Each colleague I spoke with said that just checking in made a difference to them. The same can be said today, as we watch the war in Ukraine unfold. A simple question like, “Have you been following the news?” or “Do you know anyone affected?” may provide a colleague the kind of support they may be seeking in their workplace or simply a safe place to talk about it. We all strive to be seen and heard, and by simply asking about the personal impact of world events, we will likely learn more about each other and strengthen our relationships.
It is easy to focus on the tasks at hand and to use our work as a welcome distraction from what may be taking place around us, near or far away. But an important part of our work is to understand where people are as we go about those daily tasks.
- At the start of a meeting, take a moment to check-in and “create space.”
It is easy to focus on the tasks at hand and to use our work as a welcome distraction from what may be taking place around us, near or far away. But an important part of our work is to understand where people are as we go about those daily tasks. Shapira suggests beginning a meeting something like this: “Before we get started, let’s acknowledge what is happening in the world. It is certainly impacting me. How are you feeling?” The goal is to be compassionate and understanding, not political. It is amazing, in my experience, how talking aloud and with others about our discomfort and concerns can bring us to a better place.
- Be open to organizing an action in response to the conflict.
I would venture a guess that this step may be mission-aligned with your school. The immensity of the task may seem overwhelming, but you can work toward building consensus among those that would like to help and coordinate a response or provide opportunities to respond individually. A list of organizations that are helping, such as the one that ABC News recently compiled, may be a starting point.
School leaders, faculty and staff strive each day to create learning communities that not only reflect the very best values of each individual student, but also prepare students to operate in a very imperfect world. While the current geopolitical circumstances weigh heavily on all of us, they remind us to connect with each other’s humanity. Perhaps we can make a small difference to a family or child that is directly impacted. A glimmer of hope may make a big difference to someone around you. These words from Archbishop Desmond Tutu say it best: “Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.”
Follow President and CEO Jeff Shields @shieldsNBOA.