A colleague on Twitter posted that a parent had thanked her for being her child’s “person”. The recognition and appreciation of the teacher made me smile. I have also seen many nurses, and care workers also being “the person” that matters in a crisis and over the long haul in palliative care, hospice care, and homes for the elderly. In each circumstance of awesomeness, and there are many, is a foundational sense of caring that reaches far beyond professional skills. It includes, but it is not limited solely to, empathy. It is a kind and caring way of being that embraces the child or patient, but also extends to the family. And it makes all the difference. It helps the family navigate the immediate crisis. It supports the mental health of children, patients, and families over the long-term.
Covid has brought to the surface, the impact of intense stress on daily functioning. As a school principal, I noted that many teachers and parents would start the day at an “8”, with 10 being the highest on the stress metre. Anything else that happened in the day, had a potential to push the person to a 10. At this point, volatility and extreme anxiety erupted. My role was largely focused on efforts to diffuse the situation, and try not to take any nastiness, personally. However, this is not just a COVID “thing” and it will never completely disappear. This pattern of stress and reaction is often the case with families in crisis due to educational, personal, or health challenges. They start that day experiencing a high degree of stress, and the actions of the teacher, Education assistant, nurse, or care worker increases or dissipates the stress. Actions that increase the level of stress, are usually not vindictive acts, but result from ignorance, the care takers personal stress, and lack of training about what is required in the situation.
One of my cousins, was counselled, to set boundaries, and step away from the complexities of our family. And yes, our family was fraught with complexity and messiness. He followed the advice of the “trained” professional. My cousin cited it as one of the greatest mistakes of his life. It did not make his life better. It made it more lonely. I just listened to the audiobook, North of Normal and binge watched the Netflix limited series, Maid. Both speak to the power of family relationships and their enduring impact. There is so much embedded in the relationships, that no one will be able to look at the surface and understand. We learned long ago that providing family supports rather than placing a child in foster care is most beneficial to the child. We also know that family visits and phone calls upset patient routine, but allow the patient to be surrounded by love and the people that matter most. This impacts families, not just individuals.
The educators and the health care professionals who are most effective in their roles, are those people who are able to empathize not only with the child or the patient, but also with the family members. They are the people who have embraced the importance of community. These are the people who realize that they can best serve the student or the patient by also supporting the family. These are the people who reserve judgement and give credit to family members for having the best intentions. They do their very best to interact respectfully with all of the people involved as they tackle a problem or issue. They also realize that their actions will endure beyond the immediate crisis and have a ripple wave effect throughout lifetimes.
The most heartfelt thanks that I have received as an educator have come for supporting both the child and the teacher, or parents or caregivers. The doctors, nurses, and care givers that I have thanked and been eternally grateful for, have been professionally capable, deeply caring, and respectful with the people I love, but have also been so very kind and supportive to me in times of high octane stress. Not because they had to, but because it was part of who they are as human beings. Ultimately in our health and education systems, we want people who are professionally capable, empathetic, and also exceptionally kind. It’s a tall order. And yet we have so many. Health and Education are known as the caring professions for a reason.
I am eternally grateful to so many of my own teachers for helping me to develop belief in myself as a learner. I am eternally grateful to the teachers who taught my own kids that they were capable and problem solvers. I am eternally grateful to the health care professionals who have taken care of me, my friends and family members in need and made our lives better in times of unprecedented stress. Gratitude to all the educators and health care professionals who go the extra mile to extend a hand of kindness, while they do the tough work of supporting entire families with their actions, their smile, and their attitude. You make all the difference. And it lasts lifetimes.