I took a vacation this summer. Maybe you did too. It was not enough. Not enough to heal, rest, and re-set my body and mind after close to two years of constant tension and stress. As we head into the school year, let’s remember to:

Listen to our bodies—We are constantly being sent narrow messages of what it means to be successful in life and school. Even before the pandemic, we were facing an epidemic of youth anxiety, depression, and trauma. Trust what you feel in your body and what our children are feeling. If our schools and communities help us feel and be more peacefully and healthfully human, we are on the right track. If they dehumanize, traumatize, and isolate us….not so much.

Slow down—Power and consumer culture like speed because it throws us off balance and creates the illusion of quick fixes and the idea that we can buy our way out of problems. As our good friend Bill Boyle told us this summer at our mindfulness series, speed and messages to be more and do more keep us from having the time to reflect, heal, and make good choices individually and with each other in community. Democracy takes time. Love and caring for each other take mindfulness and attention. There will be tremendous pressure to “make up the learning gap” this year. Let’s not be in massive denial—it doesn’t matter what we want our children to learn; our children cannot physically learn if they are stressed and traumatized. The brain and body just don’t work that way. And, as we have seen over and over again in the SEMIS Coalition, it is amazing what children can learn when that learning happens in, with, and for community.

Go outside and play—I have recently had a chance to go to Lake Michigan. People from every walk of life were on the beach and taking hikes. I did not see one unhappy person, and I never do when I’m out in nature with people. I knew people’s lives weren’t all roses, but being outside playing, with all of our senses stimulated in tune with nature, gave us joy and peace. We know that being inside isn’t great for COVID transmission anyway. We know that if we are not connected to nature, we will not feel the obligation to care for it. What would it take to bring most of our learning in schools outdoors? What would schools look and feel like if they resembled a good summer camp instead of a factory or jail?

Love our teachers—Our teachers are the true heroes of our country. Anyone who has had a child at home this past year should have an even deeper appreciation of what teachers do. A good teacher under supportive conditions is a co-parent. When conditions traumatize our teachers, our co-parents are not able to care for themselves. When they can’t care for themselves, they either can’t care for our children, or they leave the profession. Teachers need to be given the time, space, resources, and financial compensation to create loving learning environments that empower both them and their students. Let us not forget that a failure to love our teachers is a failure to love our own children. 

Give students opportunities to tell their stories and take action when they see problems in their schools and communities. Children see a lot. Do you remember being a kid and thinking to yourself—dang, these adults don’t think I understand what’s going on, but I do! We have a choice. Either we can help children make sense of what they see and create opportunities for them to take action to solve community problems, or they internalize the stress and do damage to themselves or others. Do we really have a choice?

It’s all interconnected—we have close to 15 years of experience and success in creating communities of support, belonging, and power for both children and their adult educators, whether they be in the classroom or the community. Our EcoJustice approach to place-based education is what we need right now at our moment of history. The pandemic, our crisis of democracy, the need to address issues of racial, economic, and other injustices that harm us all have put us in a position of leadership. We know what we need and how to do it. And like we have done during these past couple of years when we didn’t know, we pool all of our diverse strengths and wisdom and decide what to do as a community.

Raise your voice with us and support the growth of our movement to transform schools. We each have our own stories. Choose one thing above and tell your story and raise your voice. We cannot afford for our schools to “go back to normal.” We and our children do not have to suffer alone. We cannot afford to suffer alone. Please look out for more ways to get involved in our community and movement. As always, a big thank you for all of the support you have given us all these years. We really can’t do this without you.