Survive and Thrive

by NSEA President Jenni Benson

Most of us have taken a personality test of some kind or another in our lifetime. My experience is that such tests give insight into how and why we respond the way we do in the life situations we encounter. They can help us to “survive and thrive.”

In the recent, pre-COVID-19 past, I took both the Gallup Strength Finders and True Colors personality tests. Both assessments have helped me to better understand my temperament and my responses to the highs and lows that life throws my way. What none of the assessment developers likely gave much weight to in their final deliberations was how to navigate the high seas of life during a pandemic.

In an effort to provide smooth sailing, NSEA has in recent months taken a couple of unusual steps. More about those in a moment.

First, I’ll tell you up front that my Top Five Gallup strengths are positivity, woo, communication, input and belief. This seemingly endless pandemic has challenged each of my strengths and overwhelmed my weaknesses. Gallup says “People with the strength of positivity are always looking for, discovering and bringing the positive. They are light-hearted, generous, optimistic and enthusiastic.” That said, during this pandemic, I have been told I’m “too positive” and have a “toxic positivity.” Ouch!

Meanwhile, the True Colors assessment say my true color is blue.

“It can be said that when a person is feeling BLUE, they are experiencing emotional intensity and sensitivity to the dramas of life. The figure of speech referring to ‘True Blues’ takes on the meaning of friendship, helpers, ‘there when you need them’ individuals that will go the extra mile for others.”

My “blue heart” truly struggles as I hear the incredible stories told by members across the state. I want to fix all the ills of the world. Typical teacher, right?

We Are Pandemically Pushed

As our personality traits are now being pandemically pushed to the limit, our mental health becomes a real concern. You – all of you – have been constantly on my mind and in my thoughts. I’ve heard from and talked with many of you about the struggles and concerns of pandemic teaching.

There is not enough time to do all you are being asked to do, or to do it as well as you would like. There are not enough substitute teachers to fill the void when you or a colleague becomes ill. There is not time to take on some of the new duties and heavy burdens that educators everywhere are being asked to shoulder. We are living less in a “thrive” model and more in a “survive” mode. We are working to help turn that around so that we can all survive and thrive. This is what we have done:

  • With “thrive” in mind, this past spring and summer, we encouraged Commissioner of Education Dr. Matt Blomstedt to consider an advisory committee of teachers. He agreed, and a committee of 15 has been meeting with Blomstedt monthly. There has been early success, with the commissioner in late September urging school districts to provide more plan time and professional development for teachers this year. Learn more in the cover story, starting on page 7.
  • With “survive” in mind, in October, we sent a letter to every Nebraska public school superintendent regarding each district’s responsibility to keep staff and students safe. When students are in our care, it is the educator’s responsibility – starting with the superintendent – to keep them from harm. The COVID-19 pandemic has made that work even more difficult.

Unrelenting

The catalyst for the letter was the State of Nebraska’s Sept. 1 Directed Health Measure (DHM), which undermined school safety by exempting school employees from some quarantine requirements applicable to others in the community. The directive put children, their families, educators and communities at risk. Further, the DHM no longer required students to quarantine if face coverings were in use at the time of a close contact with a COVID-19 symptomatic friend or family member.

In the letter, which I signed, we said: “School districts that do not require students to wear face coverings are unreasonably and needlessly exposing students and staff to COVID-19. It is the expectation of the NSEA that school districts require the use of face coverings by all staff and students.”

We also advised that those districts that do not require the use of face coverings for students and staff, and/or that fail to tell employees when others in their school building remain in the building under the latest, relaxed DHM quarantine expectations, may subject the school district to potential legal action from a parent or student or school visitor who might become ill.

That letter, by the way, was copied to Blomstedt and to the executive directors of both the Nebraska Association of School Boards and the Nebraska Council of School Administrators.

This is a difficult time. The virus is unrelenting. One of my strengths is “belief.” I believe that we cannot get past COVID-19 with half-hearted measures and well-wishes, hence the strong stand.

We are with you. We support you. Long may you thrive and survive.