Editor’s note: A post on this topic was originally published in April 2016 and has been updated with a note from the author, Principal Hugh McDermott:
The current COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound effect on each of us in some way. During this time, I have had first-hand knowledge as to how students and parents have demonstrated their resilience through unprecedented challenges. Disruptions to everyday life such as work, school, athletics, and other extracurricular activities have forced many of our students to return and remain at home. Parents and other responsible adults within households have had to become test proctors overnight and many have witnessed the unique struggles students face in their everyday course learnings. Through this, students have shown how they are able to adapt and overcome barriers to learning. Over much of this past year, students and families have had to approach schoolwork in many different and new ways that have stretched persistence and re-imagined resilience. As I reflect on the current obstacles that many of us have been facing, a previous piece I wrote in April 2016 on the topic of resilience came to mind. As now, more than ever, we have seen the importance of resilience and how it continues to resonate within our communities.
We hope everyone remains safe and healthy during this unique time and that we are able to see an end soon to the disruptions brought on by this pandemic.
As a former English teacher, there are some words I just love—like “resilience.” What is resilience, really? Merriam-Webster defines it as, “an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.” I love this meaning and what it stands for, and it’s very easy for me to recall example after example of resilience throughout my career.
As a principal, I have witnessed many students demonstrate resilience. For example, with students who struggled to pass their courses, their displays of resilience were often admirable. Many of these students knew they were struggling in their classes—in fact, some had been struggling academically for years! Yet they persisted and saw their courses through to a successful completion and ultimately earned their high school diploma.
Sometimes as a teacher, counselor, or principal, we would discover more about these students from a context outside of the school setting. It was then we better understood the word resilience! Many times, these students came from very difficult personal situations—a broken household, abuse, or low-income families. Even though they were dealing with these troubles, many students did not have an attendance problem. They liked being at school, and once we figured out together how they could be successful, nothing stopped them from overcoming obstacles.
I think resilience springs eternal and internal within each of us. Everyone exhibits some degree of resilience throughout their lives, but how we nurture it makes us all different. Many students who struggle on a daily basis with life circumstances display resilience, but during difficult times, it must seem like it’s nearly extinguished. Others guard and protect their resilience because they feel it is all they have. No matter the situation, your resilience will pay off if you work hard enough.
As educators, we carry a responsibility of inspiring hope within all our students. Students have their hopes and dreams, whatever they are, and it is our job to encourage them, support them, and motivate them into believing anything is possible.
What examples of resilience have you witnessed or what have you overcome?
As 2018 nears its end, I have been reflecting on some of the more memorable activities that happened at UNHS this year, and my thoughts immediately turn to our annual graduation ceremony. This past summer, I presided over my third UNHS graduation ceremony. What a fun time it was for all, as we had 18 students attend this year’s ceremony on the University of Nebraska–Lincoln campus. Relative to previous years, this was a large group to be in attendance and was part of the more than 200 students who graduated with us this year. For those who are not familiar with UNHS, we are a distance education program and therefore we serve students all over the planet. So, it can be difficult for students and parents to travel thousands of miles for the actual ceremony. Therefore, we “live stream” our commencement so that folks around the world can see what it is about and stay connected with us.
At this year’s ceremony, we had 12 students from Nebraska, but we also had students from Thompson’s Station, Tennessee; Centerville, Georgia; Lubango, Angola; Katy, Texas; Bogota, Colombia; and Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo. Our total class of graduates represented at least 31 different countries and 30 of these United States. The graduating class had at least 26 Nebraska students, representing approximately 15% of the total class. The cultural and geographical diversity of our graduates demonstrates the strength of our program and the need that exists for UNHS.
Graduation remains one of those rites of passage that allows students to recognize that a high school diploma is a “big deal.” It’s the culmination of many years of strong academic work and other activities and experiences. Just for a brief moment in time, students can reflect on reaching this milestone which then opens the door to many additional opportunities and experiences ahead of them. At UNHS, we are anxious to support our students in any way we can. Some students take our courses to supplement their local high school diploma, while others take all of their coursework with us to obtain the UNHS accredited diploma.
Here are some comments I gleaned from the 2018 student biographies at our ceremony:
Cassara dreams of one day working for National Geographic or starting her own business and is toying with the idea of pursuing a degree in photojournalism or business management.
Nick is planning to become an electrician and liked UNHS because it allowed him to work independently and at his own pace.
Abigayle’s advice to others is to embrace hard work, not avoid it. Hard work is what helps you grow and achieve what you want in life. Abigayle plans to pursue a Bachelor of Nursing degree.
Jazmine learned that UNHS teachers play a valuable role and are critical to helping students learn. She also encourages students to “find a good role-model or someone you can depend on to help you through difficult times.”
Gabriel had the experience of playing soccer at age 16 in Spain! He believes that taking courses online taught him to assume responsibility for himself, and he is thankful for his teachers who were always there for him. He also mentioned the importance of family support in helping him reach this goal.
Maxwell is looking forward to an internship at a medical center in Omaha, which may also guide him in the direction of his future course work. He commented how UNHS provided him with access to a good curriculum.
Conner expressed several options awaiting him, such as attending a community college to further his skills in auto mechanics, or he may join the U.S. Army or Army National Guard as a helicopter mechanic. His optimistic advice for fellow students was, “go for it” and to not be afraid of learning online.
Logan indicated that he will pursue an occupational therapy degree because he finds great satisfaction in helping people make the most of their everyday lives. He even is attempting to write a book by the end of this year! His advice, “Keep going! The end is never the end until you say so.”
Emma stated that what she liked best about UNHS was that she was able to travel whenever she wanted without worrying about the structure of a traditional school. This gave her the freedom to learn the way she wanted to and at a speed that worked well for her.
Denton plans to major in Agricultural Business. He was raised in an agricultural community here in Nebraska and was exposed to the business side of it at an early age. He chose UNHS because his local school schedule made it difficult for him to participate in rodeo at the level he desired.
Paul is interested in multiple fields in the area of information technology. What Paul looked for in UNHS was, “I wanted a school that could teach me from home but still challenge me and carry the weight of a proud Nebraska program.” He especially enjoyed psychology and several elements of the English reading assignments.
Camryn is taking a “gap year” to pursue her modeling career before making other career choices. Camryn advises others to establish a schedule that works well for them and stick to it. She also says that in times of need, don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help.
Jay has recently been an artist intern at a non-profit. Jay is passionate about animation, cosplay, sewing, art, and writing. Jay’s advice is, “Do whatever works best for you and don’t worry about what anyone else thinks.”
Odon came all the way from Lubango, Angola (approximately 8,000 miles) and believes in “investing in technological innovation and providing resources to encourage bright ideas and talents.” UNHS allowed him to travel with his family without compromising on his education.
Shaye said that UNHS was a good fit for him as he traveled to Barcelona, Spain to play for a soccer academy. He progressed at his own pace and worked around his soccer schedule. He learned from UNHS that communication is key, and he encourages students to consult with teachers anytime they do not understand a concept or material.
Laura came all the way from Colombia, South America and loved the fact that UNHS courses allowed her to take control of her studies, and she also chose UNHS because of its accreditation. She encourages students to use their time wisely and take advantage of the many things that UNHS has to offer them.
Princesse also came from far away, from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and headed to Fresno State University this fall. She believes the courses at UNHS have made her more independent and responsible without sacrificing her ability to participate in her extracurricular activities.
William is planning to pursue a degree in construction management and someday become a general contractor. He learned through UNHS to manage his days well and still make time for his extracurricular activities such as fishing and camping. His advice to others doing online schooling is to maintain a strong network of friends to feel connected and supported.
As I reflected on these students’ comments, I am reminded of how important a role UNHS plays in all of these situations. Every student is unique and UNHS helps each of them meet their specific goals. The UNHS graduation ceremony will always be a special event that reinforces the importance of students earning their diplomas. Congratulations once again to all the graduates of the UNHS class of 2018! And for those interested and eligible to attend the UNHS graduation ceremony in 2019, mark your calendars for Friday, June 14, 2019
An anonymous quote I found states it well: “If you worry about what might be, wonder what might have been, you will ignore what is.”
As a longtime educator and coach, I have greatly benefited from past experiences and have also planned for future situations. But I have determined for me, as much as possible, it is best to live in the now.
What is the correct balance of the past, future, and present in your life journey?
In this post, I want to focus briefly on each of these three timelines and illustrate how the past and future can be beneficial and/or detrimental to you. However, I want to encourage you to focus on the present.
Remembering our past can be useful, but fixating on it too much can be damaging. It’s essential to learn from our past experiences or the experiences of others, but sometimes we can dwell on previous mistakes or regrets and that can hinder our progress. Learn from the past, but move on to the present.
Preparing for the future is also very important. Advance preparation and planning can help alleviate potential adverse situations and gives you an opportunity to utilize your past experiences to better prepare. However, daydreaming and always thinking about the future can take away from what you are doing right now. Personally, I sometimes struggle in my mind with the “what is next” mentality instead of enjoying or maximizing the current moment.
So how do you stay engaged in the present? I would like to share three practices that help me:
Set a goal and focus on manageable time frames. For example, if you work a six to eight-hour day, break it down into smaller units like an hour,half an hour, or even fifteen minute intervals or shorter.
Be flexible and react in a positive way to interruptions.
Clint Eastwood’s popular character in many of his movies was Dirty Harry (Detective Harry Callahan). A tough law enforcer, Harry was well known for the catchphrase, “Go ahead, make my day”. This phrase usually came out at a pivotal time in the film where Dirty Harry was ready to dispatch a bad guy if they drew their weapon or did not back down.
In direct contrast to this well-known quote, we do have the opportunity each day to encourage people in a positive way with kindness.
Have you recently benefited from someone else’s acts of kindness?
I know I have. Whether it is someone who allows me to merge in traffic, flashes an accepting smile or shares an encouraging word, I daily reap the rewards from others’ kind gestures.
The size of the act really does not matter. It is important to remember that something you may consider as a very small deed might mean a lot to someone who needed that boost—even if it is just a warm smile.
What are the qualifications for being kind?
Good news! Kindness has no requirements at all, including age. You do not have to have a degree in kindness or have unlimited resources to be kind. It is simply being friendly, generous, considerate and putting that concern for others into action.
It can also improve your health! Did you know that engaging in acts of kindness benefits not only the person who receives, but also the giver? Researchers have found that helping others actually reduces stress, lowers blood pressure and decreases anxiety. The by-product of improving the day of another can also make yours better!
I read a brief article from the publication The Master Teacher (Volume 48, No. 24), a series of professional development brochures that administrators and teachers can sign up to receive throughout the school year. This particular brochure talked about the importance of teaching listening skills. The article titled, Teaching Students a Neglected Life and Literacy Skill, had me reflecting on my own listening skills. Yes, we often teach the importance of reading, writing and speaking, but the listening skills are often taken for granted—and we can do something about that.
There are a number of strategies that we can use with students on a daily basis to improve our listening skills and make our teaching more effective for them.
Stop and make time to listen. You may have heard the expression, “be fully present”. This is particularly important in listening to others. It’s necessary to block out all the distractions and the noise around you. People can tell when you are fully present.
Make eye contact. You don’t need to stare at the person every minute, however strong eye contact shows you are paying attention and care about what the other person is talking about.
Practice empathy. Taking another’s position or point of view is difficult for us sometimes. By simply putting yourself in their shoes for a while, you can get a feel for what they are expressing and more importantly, why they feel this way. This is missing in lots of the political debates going on right now.
Ask questions. By asking questions, the listener is gathering more detail to better understand what the other party is saying. Ask questions that are inquisitive, insightful and intelligent—ones that truly help you understand the other person.
Listening has become an even more critical skill in our daily life these days as we are forced to make hundreds of decisions and many times, with little data or little time. Think about your daily conversations with the people around you—do you really use these strategies?
If you focus on being a better listener, good things happen—good luck!
Other resources: Leadership For Teenagers by Carol Carter and Maureen Breeze, 2011, p.125.”