This weekend’s bitter cold where I live had me thinking about the importance of check-ins. Everywhere I looked, there were reminders to check in: check in with your vulnerable family members and neighbours; make sure there isn’t a pipe break threatening your business (Bluestreak records flooded); don’t leave your pets outside too long.
My neighbour, upon leaving for holiday, asked my boys to do a walk through of her house each day, making sure that the heat was on and nothing disastrous had happened. We asked friends of Mr 16 to do the same when we went away.
That made me think about how lucky I was to be able to do that. I have neighbours, and relationships with them. I have family members to check in with (shout-out to my Oma, who was 97 on January 6).
Many in our communities don’t have those privileges. I did my first volunteer shift at our local emergency overnight shelter just before Christmas (that will be another blog post, when I can manage to put it into words). I knew that many in that community would be moving from whatever warm spot they could find to another during the day, and couch-surfing or at a shelter overnight. I know that I can’t check in on everybody, but I have adopted the practice of carrying extra new warm socks in my bag when I’m downtown, and offering them to those who are asking for money on the street. I have also carried grocery store or Tim’s gift cards in the past. If you have a relationship with people in your local underhoused community, please check in, in whatever way works best for you. Make a donation of money, food or time, or just stop to make sure that someone on the street knows where the local shelter is. This article has some suggestions in the school context. I occasionally encounter former students in my volunteer work at our local meal program, and I have found that they hugely appreciate me recognizing them and taking the time to check in, without judgement (and yes, I often cry later).
So, all this thinking about check-ins made me think about those who are returning to school today (or having a snow day, if you live where I do). Brian Aspinall’s brain was running along the same lines yesterday.
As we head back to school, remember that not all kids had a fun break. Let them know you care and missed them. #edchat
— Brian Aspinall (@mraspinall) January 7, 2018
And I was happy when another tweeter responded, suggesting that we remember this applies to staff, too.
I need us all to take a minute and think about how this weekend felt. Were you thrilled to have a weekend to cocoon? Knit, read, binge-watch your favourite show (or mixed doubles curling ), bake, prep food for the week? Did you bundle up and get out in the cold, like my husband and kids did, with a cross-country ski? Did you connect with a friend for a hot (or cold) beverage?
Or were you one of those tossing and turning last night, because you didn’t want to go back this morning? One who spent the weekend getting the marking and planning done that you had ignored over the last 2 weeks? One who woke up this morning, and were hit with that feeling of dread about going to work? Or were you in that completely different category, like the woman in my church community yesterday morning, who had a completely unforeseen tragedy strike her family over the break? Did you spend much of your break putting out fires for other people? Were you coping with toxic family time? Are you heading back without feeling you’ve had a break at all? I have, at different times, been in most of these categories, heading back in January, and I’m sure many of you have, too. So, of course, have our students.
Most of us are really good at checking in with our students. We have class meetings, or we start or finish our day with a quick check-in. We meet our kids at the door because we know it makes a difference. We’ve learned that along the way.
I don’t think we’re anywhere near as good at creating opportunities for a genuine check-in with our colleagues. We’ll ask the generic “how was your holiday?” or even “Did you have a good break?” as we pass in the hall, but we’re often not truly listening for the answer, and we’re rarely vulnerable enough to give an honest one. It’s not how we’ve been raised, and it’s not easy, but is, without question, worth the effort. If we know that check-ins help our students feel visible, understood and valued, imagine how extending that same care to ourselves would make us feel.
So, there’s my challenge to each of you. Today (especially if it’s a snow day, and you have a chance for a quiet moment), or some time this week, try – even with one colleague – to do a genuine check-in. Ask how things are. If you know there’ve been some challenges (and really, when aren’t there?) maybe that’s the question to ask. Maybe this is the week to organize a potluck for Friday lunch, just to give people the chance to sit down together. If you have a colleague, as I do, who’s off on long-term disability, or who is off being a caregiver for someone they love, remember them, too. They would probably greatly appreciate someone in their professional life remembering that they exist. We need to be seen and heard, just as our students do. Check in. It’s important.
Let the sparks fly.