On March 16th my world made a sudden shift, one I certainly never anticipated. Those first weeks I felt stunned, lost and isolated. Overnight our ECE & SACC programs closed down. We were expected to reimagine preschool through virtual classrooms. My work as a Leadership Coach and Professional Development provider was upended. Everything seemed to be on an indefinite hold. Everyone I reached out to was feeling confused, stressed, and overwhelmed. How would we survive?
By necessity, online video calls became a real lifeline. It was a rocky start, but we are amazingly adaptable beings. The once dreaded virtual meetings became so important, seeing everyone’s face, hearing their voices, checking in on one another, sharing strength. A place to share what we were learning and a place to share our fears and frustrations. The guilt we carried about letting families and our teachers down if we couldn’t reopen, or if we couldn’t survive remaining open. The sessions soon turned to action, working together to make our voices heard, drafting letters to State officials, speaking at virtual press conferences and so much more. Virtual Potential
This “new normal” touched me in other ways as well. Gradually evolving into an opportunity to choose to be intentional in continuing my personal path of growth and reckoning. Joining wonderful individuals from across the state, all willing to have difficult discussions, take risks to share diverse perspectives, and confront the truth, the harsh reality of inaction and lasting damage caused by the bias and racism embedded in our systems. Who would have thought that something that at first felt distancing – “remote” – could actually lead to deep connections, shared personal stories and “AHA” moments that are life changing and life affirming.
The first time I was involved in facilitating such a powerful discussion in a professional development session I admit it was scary. How could I make change – naturally filled with discomfort – feel possible when I am not actually in the room sensing and responding to the flow of the group? I learned from my co-presenters how to create a Safe & Brave space, maintain that critical connection and read the participants’ needs. It was so eye opening, the bonus for us all, presenter and participant alike, was coming together with so many amazing individuals we would not have met. Powerful Connections
Again, just recently, I felt that power of connection. How deeply and profoundly it can touch us. In a session we were asked to share an artifact that was particularly meaningful to us or represented an experience and to write about it, not necessarily to share but for ourselves. Turning off my camera for a little private time, my mind swam, so many items collected over the years. I thought of my grandfather teaching me to fish, my father teaching me magic tricks, then suddenly I knew the item. A tiny baby ring passed for generations through first granddaughters. I wrote my quick story of the ring. Everyone turned on our cameras, first one brave soul then another began to share stories from their hearts and people and events that had touched them. The tears flowed for those we miss, including my own. I was surprised that I could hardly talk, I was so overwhelmed by emotions, but I felt the compassion that flowed back and forth through those tiny pictures from everyone on the screen, even though some of us had only met a few Saturdays before.
It hit me just how much we miss those quiet moments with a close confidant and yet how safe this diverse group Early Childhood Leaders could feel with one another. How we could lift each other up and share our strength when needed most. It was a gift from the presenters that they let us continue to share and release those emotions taking time long past what I think they anticipated. Recognizing the importance of that moment, the relationships and connections we all needed. I did not expect the intensity of the emotions that washed over me but truly felt better from that release. Resilient Spirits.
Later that night the little story was still stuck in my mind, a few of the lines tumbling over and over until I turned it into a poem.
This tiny baby ring of rose gold, so carefully crafted for generations to hold A connection to our heritage of old, a link to our futures as yet untold A symbol of love beautiful to behold, passed through 1st granddaughters as our family unfolds.
Simple, but meaningful to me. I will add this to the names and birth dates of everyone who has given and received this ring to the tiny box.
I shared the poem with one of the presenters, wanting her to know the lasting impact of the session, how deeply that moment had touched me. That led to being asked to think about a blog post – another unexpected journey doing something I never imagined. Life is full of surprises, twists and turns, so thank you to all who nudge me along and sometimes join me for a while in my wanderings.
Deborah Fitzgerald is a Past President of the New York Association for the Education of Young Children. Her current focus is on expanding the implementation of the Pyramid Model for the development of social-emotional competencies in young children across NYS. By connecting with programs as a Leadership Team Coach and as a Training Coordinator for Master Cadre 2020 she supports both trainers and providers. Other focus areas include; Introduction to the Core Body of Knowledge, Interest Driven Learning, Culturally and Linguistically Responsive Anti-Bias Education, and program management supports.