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  • Writer's pictureDr. Ericka Johnson-Allen

Plan for Life: Grieving COVID

Have you taken the time to reflect? Over the past year collectively we have experienced fear, transition, and loss. Take a moment and go there with me. January 2020, Kobe Bryant, his daughter, and a friend were lost in a tragic plane crash. Do you remember where you were? Do you remember how you felt? If you were like me, you were saddened and may have even shed a tear. It hurt. A legend in the world of sports, a young man who changed the way the game is played. I mean we watched Kobe grow up into a young man who overcame public challenges and rebound into a business-minded “girl dad”. Many people around the world were impacted and felt a common loss, miles apart.

Just a month later we were introduced to COVID. We did not understand the detrimental consequences associated with it until we were impacted ourselves. Do you remember where you were? Your response? Take a moment and go back there. I will never forget 2020, the year of the “1st’s”. Because I have the honor of servicing schools throughout my state, I had several schools that were out on spring break, others getting ready to return, and still some who were preparing for spring break. Everyone, including me, was in a state of shock. The big question was, how could we not go back to school safely? Are we eliminating the opportunity and rights of children to be educated? My initial reaction was, disbelief, then concern about the challenges children might face if they were not able to attend school. I then began to consider the “so what, now what” philosophy. The reality was schools would never be the same and as a leader, it was my responsibility to try something new and embrace the new normal COVID had pushed us to.

As I reflected on the COVID experience, I began to reflect on the stages of grief. Grief is a process. COVID was and still is a traumatic experience that everyone in the world faced. Whether you agree with the idea that there are 5 stages that people go through when they have experienced a loss, I would argue that there is no denying that we all collectively had the experience of denial, anger, and some form of depression. Many of us in education had no other choice but to flow through the bargaining stage and acceptance. We bargained with parents to “teach from home”, we accepted lack of leadership from government officials, and so much more.

While we may have grieved Kobe’s death via social media, news media, and casual conversation with others, but if we were not directly connected to Kobe in some way, we probably did not grieve, instead we experienced aspects of the grieving process but probably not the process as a whole. On the other hand, COVID, we had to experience. We were all directly impacted by the virus that spread throughout the world, no one was exempt. People all over the world became infected, more than 500 thousand people died in the US from COVID alone.

Many people were in denial initially, just as I was. We were not willing to accept that a virus, similar to the flu (at least that’s what we were told), was shutting down the world, and spreading at a rate no one had ever seen before. But, when someone we knew tested positive, or quarantine measures had to be implemented, or when we lost a loved one, the denial stage subsided. There was nothing to deny anymore, this was real.

Because we could no longer deny the reality, we became angry. We were angry at those who we felt were responsible for this infectious disease. Some were angry at the government, the media, political parties, and the list goes on. We then moved from anger to bargaining.

We bargained in education by providing virtual learning, which only perpetuated an already fragile education system. Even the push for a vaccine was a part of the bargaining stage. FDA regulations were lifted, face masks and coverings were mandated. Misinformation caused extreme confusion, lack of confidence in our system, and bitterness from communities. Which led to a rise in depression. Depression is simply a disorder that negatively impacts how you feel. We must understand that depression is common, however, when we are “stuck” in the stage of depression we now have a disorder that requires treatment.

The key to transitioning from loss is to flow through different stages without waddling in one stage for an extreme length of time. When you are stuck, your journey is longer and your phases are extended into an unreasonable amount of grief time. These people have a difficult time transitioning to planning for the future. The beauty of transition is that there is always movement. Transition is active, it is ever moving, and transition dictates a plan.

A transition is a tool used to stimulate transformation, yet it doesn’t occur without acceptance. The most important part of transitioning into the future of possibilities is acceptance. Once we have accepted our current circumstances and found some form of amenity in the situation, we are now able to make a plan to transition into the new improved person that we envision for ourselves, for living our best life, for being grateful for the work we do.

Five Steps to Transition into The Greater You

1. Take time to reflect

Self-reflection leads to self-discovery. Research has shown that reflection boosts productivity. Yet few leaders make time for it. Meaningful time to self-reflect promotes action. Self-reflecting is one of the most powerful things people can do. Taking time to reflect on where you were a year ago, what you have accomplished, what you wanted to accomplish, but haven’t accomplished just yet. Reflection makes you better.

2. Accept reality.

It is what it is. You can not worry about what you cannot change. The first step in recovery is acceptance. Once we accept our current reality the work of transformation may begin. You have the power to change the situation. Acceptance is a power play.

3. Find the good.

Find the good in your reality. There is always some good in everything. Finding the good is closely associated with reflection. Reflect on what is positive about the situation. Can’t find the positive, keep digging, because it truly is there.

,4. Plan for improvement

Write your plan and make it plain. It is mighty difficult to move forward with no plan. It may be a bit easier to waddle in our current state than planning your next rule. The truth is planning takes time and effort. But think about this. Are you using your time to plan for your future or is it easier to continue to complain and waddle in your current state? Movement takes effort and action. Reflect, plan, move, the key to transitioning from where you are to where you want to be.

5. Get an accountability partner

Who is keeping you in check? Will-power is a great asset to have, but someone who empowers you is a life-changing experience. Accountability partners provide insight, clarity, and motivation. They become that voice you hear when no one is around. Choose your accountability partner carefully. Make sure you are choosing someone who will hold you accountable, push back and question your actions and motives. Make accountability a priority.

At the end of the day, don’t let your losses define you instead allow them to become part of your testimony to encourage yourself and empower others. Take time to reflect, accept the current reality, find the good in your trials, plan for success and be accountable. These steps will help you transition from your current state to your best state. #imaginethat

Dr. Ericka Johnson-Allen is renowned for her unparalleled work in leadership and school transformation. Known for her Imagine That School Transformation Model she consistently produces double-digit student growth in 1 year. Dr. EJA currently serves as a superintendent for ResponsiveEd where she oversees nearly 20 schools throughout Texas, and CEO and Founder of Imagine That Consulting. She is co-host of Vulnerable Voices, a weekly podcast where she has real conversations with real leaders, about issues in the Black community.

Comments or Questions? Want to share your educational experience with COVID? I cordially invite you to reach out! All respectful, on-topic comments are welcome.

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