At this midwinter moment, as days lengthen, I am reminded of the ways in which living through a pandemic has turned all of us adults into middle school students. I first noticed this in March, when reports of an unfamiliar virus arrived and robbed so many of us of our sense of certainty and predictability. The changes wrought by this crisis were dismaying at first, and continue to unfold, not unlike the cascading changes of adolescence.
Yet, from my perspective as a school leader, I am also seeing how students, teachers, and parents are adapting to this new normal and growing to meet challenges. In adapting to this challenging moment of uncertainty and change, we all can learn from the middle school students in our lives.
Like middle school students, we adults have been embroiled in heightened emotions. In a year when every decision feels fraught — when to travel, whom to see, even where and how to buy our groceries — emotions can be intense. The adolescent brain is at this same at a fever pitch of feelings in its natural state; in order for adolescents to learn at such a remarkable pace, their emotional brains are fully engaged. In our state of high emotion, let us learn from our middle school students also to fully relish the moments of joy that we experience.
Like middle school students, we adults have found ourselves staring at screens. We have found solace in texts, Zooms, and webinars, where once we had meetings and parties. The adolescents I know are amazing at coming up with new ways to use technology to connect to one another — even to the point where they need us to help them to unplug. In our approach to technology, let us learn from our middle school students that screens can help us to feel grounded, curious, and connected, but also remember that we sometimes need to remind ourselves to shut it all down and rest.
Like middle school students, parents and teachers have weathered an astonishing amount of change. We have faced uncertainty and loss, and we have grown. Our school, our city, and our nation have swiftly adapted to public health challenges and political changes. Conversations around race, equity, and justice have unfolded in new ways. Adolescents are, by their nature, open to new ideas and accustomed to the feeling of not having figured everything out. That curious openness to new ideas is one of their most wonderful qualities. In our approach to change, let us learn from our middle school students to face each day knowing that change is inevitable and something we can embrace.
Like middle school students, we adults also miss our friends. We have noticed that the students’ craving for in-person school is strongly related to their love for one another and the joy of being in person. All adolescents are wired to tune in to the opinions, ideas, and love of their peers, even as their parents and guardians remain vital sources of support and love. As we all weather another few months of being apart from the ones we love, we can take a page from our middle school students, who socialize safely here at school: as much as we need to be together, diligent masking and caution around socializing makes a very very big difference.
And, as our planet orbits the sun and slowly the days are longer and longer, we are also like our middle school students: full of hope. Remarkable scientific breakthroughs and public health achievements give us every reason to believe that there are better days ahead. Even as I write this, more and more grandparents, doctors, nurses, and teachers are getting vaccinated. Whatever the coming weeks bring our families, our school, our city, and our nation, let us learn from our middle school students to maintain hope in this challenging time, knowing that this too is temporary.
I am so honored to have the privilege to work with Hewitt middle school students, families, and teachers this year. In my thirty years of work in schools, I have never experienced a year like this one, and despite all of its challenges, I am heartened by all I see at Hewitt. I have been inspired to see adults and students dig deep, rely on one another, and keep learning, no matter what. In this challenging time, I hope that all of us find ways to express our gratitude for the Hewitt community that brings us all together.