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Learning to Swim in a Pandemic

Back to school we go. Buckle up; it promises to be a wild ride.

Recently, I’ve been talking about how administrators and teachers have been thrown into the deep end of the pool. While I think this analogy works, earlier today it occurred to me that while the depth of the water is important, it’s the capacity to swim that really matters. Reversing the old adage, for those in education in 2020, it’s “swim or sink.”

While I certainly don’t wish to relive it, this spring and summer have graced me with some of the most rewarding experiences of my 25 years in education, particularly since founding AVLI (formerly Jesuit Virtual Learning Academy) in 2007. I’ve witnessed some extraordinary people going to extraordinary lengths to ensure that this fall we can do some very ordinary things - teach, share, learn, know, care, love.

Whether it’s parents exploring options, administrators sharing strategies during sessions we hosted, or the more than 500 teachers who participated in AVLI professional development programming this summer, I see a lot of people trying to learn how to swim in these new waters. While these efforts have been inspiring, I’m reminded of an episode of the Big Bang Theory where Sheldon Cooper claims to know how to swim while never getting in the water, instead studying how to do so on the internet because, “the skills are transferable.” In spite of all of our planning and preparations, we won’t know if we can truly swim until we get in the water. With the start of the fall term, that time has arrived. It’s time to jump in!

Truth be told, I’m not a great swimmer, and my most vivid memories of learning to swim revolve around one specific activity, the back float. This was among the first skills learned at a very young age, and I still recall the feelings. Few times have I ever felt such a confluence of conflicting forces. In that moment, it seemed as if nothing else mattered; my unyielding desire to float was met directly by an equally strong sense of self-preservation. In the end, fear carried the day. No matter how hard I tried to relax, the moment I felt that I might be sinking, I’d fight. To this day, I’m not sure that I could float.

Interestingly, one of my most cherished parenting memories is helping my children learn to float. Standing by with my hands just below the surface of the water as they struggled with the same fears and desires I experienced thirty years prior. Knowing that they are safe. Offering reassurance, “I’ve got you. I’ve got you…” What a simple, powerful moment as a parent.

I offer you my back float experiences in that you might find yourself in a similarly conflicted state heading into this school year. On the one end, you may be excited about the possibilities and emboldened by your preparedness. On the other end, there is most certainly a fear of the unknown. Will it be safe? How will I manage? What mental and emotional toll will this year take on students, teachers, staff, and parents? Will the strategies I’ve prepared actually work? Will students learn?

The one certainty in all of this is that you will soon find yourself in the water (if you aren’t there already). The good news is that your preparations will pay off. At times you’ll swim and make progress. However, other times will likely be difficult. Things will change too quickly and you may struggle to find your bearings. These are the times when you will need to float - to surrender and trust the weight of the experience to keep you buoyant until you are able to swim once again.

Prayer helps. During one particularly difficult period in the early days of AVLI (then JVLA), almost daily I would lie down on the floor in “star” position and imagine myself floating in a large pool. I’d bring to those moments all of my fears, anxieties, and feelings of inadequacy. Then I’d ask for help and simply wait until I could feel the reassurance of God’s presence keeping me afloat.

Much like me with my kids, I think God cherishes these moments. I imagine God there, smiling, knowing that I am safe, and telling me, “I’ve got you.”

Blessings to you and your families this school year. Be brave and swim hard.


CONTRIBUTOR: Jeff Hausman is the Founder & President of Arrupe Virtual

vol 3 issue 1


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