Insights for educators amid the COVID-19 crisis

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“A tsunami of evermore complex issues.” That’s how Ateneo de Manila President, Fr. Bobby Yap, S.J. describes the challenges faced by everyone, especially educational institutions, amid this pandemic.

Speaking to thousands of teachers and administrators at the Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines (CEAP) Congress 2020 held digitally last September, Yap characterized the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) outbreak as a landscape crisis.

“The outbreak has the hallmarks of a ‘landscape crisis’,” Yap said. “That means there’s an unexpected sequence of events of enormous scale and overwhelming speed. There’s a high degree of uncertainty and this has given rise to disorientation, feeling of lost control, and strong emotional disturbance.”

He shared that the pandemic has caused a litany of problems, from an economic downturn which has affected the livelihood of countless Filipinos, to anticipating what the ‘new normal’ will bring to schools across the country. But Yap has a few tips that can help any educator prepare as children go back to school in the time of COVID-19.

He espoused the 5Rs of getting back to school — Resolve, Resilience, Return, Reimagine, and Reform. He said that administrators should have the resolve to focus on the immediate health threat the pandemic posed on the school’s stakeholders. They should also have the resilience to deal with near-term challenges, from dealing with cash management to setting up remote learning and making sure that vulnerable students are not left behind. Return is about dealing with the reopening of schools and ensuring that there’s remediation for any lost learning for students. Yap also said that educators should reimagine and anticipate what the new normal or the next normal will be like so that they can prepare better for any eventuality. And last is reform, which means that educators should be open to reconsider their education priorities in light of lessons learned.

He shared that being adaptable to the changing realities on the ground proved important even for a large educational institution like Ateneo. Yap said that this adaptability was a key component of Ateneo’s goal to espouse resiliency amid the unprecedented threats posed by the pandemic. But more than being able to withstand the challenges, Ateneo needed to be resilient in a way that allowed them to adjust and transform.

“Resiliency is much more than that. It’s not going back to business-as-usual, it’s not going back to pre-COVID, it’s really resilience meaning we’ve become stronger under the pressure, that Ateneo becomes stronger despite the pandemic and because of the pandemic,” he added.

Another thing that Yap underscored is that an educator during this difficult time must communicate openly with all stakeholders. He said that it is essential to maintain transparency and provide frequent updates to teachers, employees, students, and parents. He also placed immense importance on empathizing to all, as this crisis is stressful, if not tragic, for many.

But aside from communicating clearly and effectively and showing genuine care for the people, a leader must also ensure that they must also spend some time for self-care because it will enable them to deal better with the crisis at hand.

“The leader during this time must turn outward, really try to connect with the stakeholders and the partners in the mission as much as possible. And then second, the leader must also turn inward and must really take care of oneself during this difficult time,” Yap said.

Aside from effective management tactics that educators can employ as they handle the pandemic’s impact on their schools, Yap also zeroed in on the importance of spirituality of crisis leadership. He said that he was inspired by an interview Pope Francis gave early in his Papacy, in which the Pontiff called God a God of Surprises. Yap postulates that this statement by the Pope may be influenced by his Jesuit background, as the statement has close semblance to the words of St. Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus. St. Ignatius said that God is Deus semper maior—God who is always greater.

“During this crisis, we are invited to open spaces in our hearts for the ever-greater God, to listen to the God of surprises, and to allow God to lead us out of our comfort zones to create freedom, greater service, and deeper joy. I think this is the spirituality we are asked for, invited to practice during this time, when it is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous,” Yap concluded.

For more information about Ateneo de Manila University please visit, www.ateneo.edu.

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