You are Smarter than a First Grader

Posted By: Tina Thames AASPA Blog ,

I've worked in the entertainment, nonprofit, and the financial industry, and nothing has been quite as daunting, intimidating, and yet as exciting as human educational resources. The business of people educating people is far more overwhelming than a temperamental singer, a slow donor season, or reassuring investors after a bad trading experience.

In 2012 I began my solo tour in education as a certification coordinator in a small rural district. The most training I received was "Here's your login information, clickhere, then there. Good luck. I'm retiring next week." Over time, I began inheriting and assuming more HR responsibilities until I was named HR Director two years ago. I felt no more prepared that day than the first but excited all the same by the challenge and opportunities.

I hope your starting experience in HR was a little more thorough than mine, but it is still difficult even with a formal launch. Commandeering the acronyms, laws, protocols, and people issues are enough to make the most seasoned HR professional wish for a sippy cup and nap time. But now, as we start a new school term in the middle of a pandemic and broach a new normal that isn't quite normal yet, I'm sure this feels like the first day of kindergarten for all of us, not just the newbies. We are all eyeing the other students to see the class protocol and try not to be the first one to cry. You may not feel stronger or smarter than a first-grader, but you are.

Tips to get you through the first school day in a pandemic.

Don't Panic Under Pressure.
Panic is the precursor to error and potentially failure. Everyone is starting from ground zero. None of us have lived, survived, or have been responsible for others during a pandemic. You may forget more than you will remember. You may fall behind and feel overwhelmed. Your calendar may not make sense anymore. Even your best "best practices" may all of a sudden seem nonsensical. Reject the idea that you have to be the smartest, best, or most prepared. Your district may be considered the industry standard, but denounce the notion of being the industry hero. We can all learn from each other and garner strength and ideas from one another. Communication and camaraderie are the impetuses of success. Let others know what you're experiencing or what you need. Find a support mechanism. Participate in area HR chat groups or find partners from neighboring districts. Find someone with which to debrief and breathe normally. I'm sure your school district is like mine, you are sitting in a myriad of web meetings with colleagues from everydepartment, and everyone is sharing their concerns. We are working collaboratively to resolve each issue together. We are having more honest dialogue and rallying to support one another. The unknown has a way of leveling the playing field. It appears the pandemic has proven to pull teams more closely than isolating or dividing them in many ways. The beauty is that everyone is willing to help no matter how busy we all are.

Embrace Change.
Education is an evolving industry, and yet it is sometimes stalemated by age-old traditions and practices. We all have a temptation to reach for our Linus blanket – what has always worked, what makes us feel secure, and especially in times of uncertainty (I've had my share of pistachio ice cream since March).

Author Paulo Coelho wrote in The Devil and Miss Prym, "When we least expect it, life sets us a challenge to test our courage and willingness to change; at such a moment, there is no point in pretending that nothing has happened or in saying that we are not yet ready. The challenge will not wait. Life does not look back. A week is more than enough time for us to decide whether or not to accept our destiny."

Nothing about this year or this pandemic climate is business as usual, and we should not act or pretend that it is. Whether we liked it or not, we were all forced to decide to accept our new normal quickly. COVID-19 has posed a challenge that did not wait for us to be surprised or to prepare. It did not extend the time for reflection. It has forced us to develop new routines and new norms, which may also be a gift. There are things we have wanted to change or revisit for a long time; this may be the perfect opportunity to set realistic expectations, redefine district HR protocols, and reestablish norms or morés. While your employees are expecting change, take advantage of this juncture to reset your department's course and effectively communicate changes. Revisit your toolkit. Keep the tools that work and toss those that don't, and then be ok with it.

Find a Happy Space.
Finally, find a happy space, a reason to laugh each day. When I was diagnosed with a neurological disease, the best advice I received was that laughter is like good medicine – find a reason to laugh every day. Daily we are inundated with negativity, noxious news, and devastating data. We have to make a conscious effort to find a happy space and laugh each day. Rarely do we think of work as a happy space, but you can create that space (internally or externally). Add something to your desk, workspace, or mental routine that makes you smile. Listen to something that makes you dance in your seat or add a treat to your lunchbox. Fortunately, our central office has its fair share of comedians, but I keep a big red "easy" button on my desk, and whenever I feel a bit overwhelmed or have to tackle a difficult task, I tap the button and hear, "that was easy!" HR leadership isn't an easy job, and navigating a pandemic isn't easy. Still, as long as you allow yourself to be human, hopeful, and flexible, you will find yourself averaging far ahead of the smartest first grader!