The unprecedented pandemic event that forced educators and students to transform the classroom to an online learning platform within days took a toll on all of us. As we greet the official end of the 2019-2020 school year, many of us are looking ahead to see how to best prepare to support our students when we reconvene in the fall-however that may look. We’re educators. That’s what we do.
Between July 1 and the start of the 2020-2021 school year, I encourage everyone to take some time to find his or her “green”. What is this, one might ask?
The “green” is the state in Stephen Porges’ Polyvagal Theory that I have begun to look more closely at as part of my 2020-2021 Rowland Fellowship. Porges’s work has been referenced in several of the professional development activities I have engaged in over the past few months. It’s the missing link, for me, in terms of understanding the physiological impact of trauma on student learning and behavior, and as well, the impact of compassion fatigue and vicarious trauma on educators. In the simplest of terms, the Polyvagal Theory refers to a person’s fight, flight or freeze response in which the “green” represents a state of calmness, groundedness, clarity, curiosity, compassion and mindfulness. In the “green” state, we are fully attentive and “in the zone” as educators and as students. In the “green state”, our frontal lobes are fully engaged so that we may teach and learn.
During the pandemic, many of-and likely all of us I would argue, drifted further into the “yellow” state, which activated our fight or flight response and challenged our capacity to tap into our frontal lobe ability as we had been so used to doing on a daily basis pre-pandemic. Tasked with converting our physical classrooms into an online format, delivering the rest of our curriculum to students, and keeping our students engaged, oh-all while many of us were trying to manage educating our own children in our homes, dealing with illness in family members, loss of jobs, and a loss of our sense of normalcy, COVID-19 triggered our stress response in ways that we may have never experienced. Referred to as the collective crisis, our “yellow” was manifested through fear, anxiety, rage, frustration, anger, and pure exhaustion. Oh the sheer exhaustion… This pandemic has challenged all of us to a degree that likely none of us as educators have ever seen in our lifetime, and one that I hope none of us will ever see again. Porges argues that most healthy adults fluctuate between “green” and “yellow” on a regular basis, but that during this crisis, many educators may have experienced a heightened state of “yellow” for the reasons stated above. It’s hard to engage our students in learning when we, ourselves, are “yellow”.
Now that the immediate stress of this herculean task is behind us, we need to take time to take care of ourselves before we can begin to tap into our higher order cognitive skills to transform our educational practices as we enter the 2020-2021 school year. To indulge in the self-care we so desperately need to get us back to that state of calm and mindfulness-to the state of creative thinking and innovation. Problem solving and trauma informed pedagogy.
Take these precious summer months to find your “green”-to practice self-care-whatever that may look like for each of us. We need to do this. We deserve this. Our students need this. After all, they’ll be waiting for us to pull them from the “yellow” to the “green” when we get back to school in the fall.
Here’s to a Safe, Green Summer, Everyone.
Find Your Green
Stacy Shortle is a 2020 Rowland Fellow and School Psychologist at Rutland High School. Her fellowship work focuses on transforming Rutland High School into a Trauma Informed School