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We Are All Educators

by on August 18, 2020 5:00 AM


“The beginning of the new school year offers each of us a chance at renewal. As we shake off this long strange summer and head back into the classroom—virtually or in person—I’m looking forward seeing the Duke community at its disruptive best.” 

-Suzanne Shanahan, Director, Kenan Institute for Ethics at Duke University

For most of my life I’ve looked forward to the start of the new school year with great anticipation and enthusiasm. l loved going to school as a kid. I loved teaching, coaching and advising students throughout my career, and I enjoyed helping my own kids during their school years. There was always something special about the start of a new school year.

As a kid it was the excitement of seeing friends again after the summer break and starting a new year of adventures. As a coach it was the high expectations of a new season. As a parent it was the anticipation of our kids beginning the next step in their journeys. 

This year feels very, very different. 

Schools from K-12, to vocational institutions, to colleges and universities have begun, or are about to begin, a new year of classes. Some will go back in person, some virtually, while others will do a hybrid program with some of both. 

One thing is for sure: It will be unlike any start to a school year any of us have ever experienced.

Let’s get right to the most important point.  We will make this work because we simply must. We have to work together for the sake of the students because that’s what we do as educators. We care.

It does not matter if you are a teacher, professor, administrator, technician, custodian, nurse, cafeteria staff, bus driver, coach, parent, a neighbor, or even a student yourself. We are all educators. We all teach life lessons every day.

For those of you involved in the education field as professionals, I salute you. You are all difference makers. You may think your role is simply to teach a subject, advise students on their academic and career paths, help them when they get sick, prepare food, provide transportation, and especially in these times, to fix network connections to deliver a virtual experience! 

I believe you are all much more than what your job descriptions indicate. You are preparing young people to live joyful, meaningful, and passionate lives. You are helping them to learn to love to learn. You have one of the greatest callings an individual can have. You give so others can be better.

You are all about to embark on an even more important journey given the specter of COVID-19. I am calling on all members of your communities to pull in the same direction for the sake of the students.

Let’s get to the second important point: When things go a little sideways in the first few weeks, and we all know they probably will, do not panic.

Do not “catastrophize.”  What do I mean by catastrophize? According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary it means “to imagine the worst possible outcome of an action or eventto think about a situation as being a catastrophe or having a potentially catastrophic outcome.”

My friend Mark Woytowich recently shared a timely article from Ryan Walter, former NHL coach and Stanley Cup winning player turned author and corporate trainer. In his column, Ryan talks about French philosopher Michel de Montaigne’s poignant observation about worry: 

“My life has been full of terrible misfortunes...most of which never happened!”

Wasting time worrying about things you can’t control adds self-inflicted stress that saps you of your positive energy. You must find your way to stay positive, grind out the tough days, and you need to support each other. Parents, relatives and friends of the students must also do their part to be supportive especially given the additional challenges of the pandemic.

We all have to be more empathetic, flexible and patient, and give these educators latitude and the benefit of the doubt they deserve. We really are all in this all together for the sake of the kids, young adults, and returning adult learners.

We all need to put the social media “critics without credentials” and “keyboard warrior” mentality on the chill out setting. In fact, make it a point to only post encouraging stories. It’s always easy to be a critic. I implore you to refrain from knee-jerk reactions and launching into a chat room tirade, especially in these challenging and uncertain times, when the first thing doesn’t go according to plan.

Keep your conversations and discussions professional, don’t attack people, and give the educational leaders a chance to adapt to the uncertainty we are all about to experience. Before you decide to go all nasty on others, ask yourself if you really have all the facts. Do you have a positive solution to offer for your perceived catastrophic problem?

Just yesterday I did a virtual “welcome back to school” pep talk to more than 300 members of the Spring Grove Area School District staff. The topic was “Resilience and endurance during times of uncertainty.” Superintendent Dr. George Ioannidis and I have gotten to be friends as we are kindred spirits in making a difference in kids’ lives. This is in spite of the fact that we like to tease each other because he is a University of Michigan alum while I am a Penn Stater. All kidding aside, right now we are Big Ten brethren committed to a common goal. We are educators.

Are staff a little scared? Probably, and that’s ok! That means they are human. I wanted to assure them they are not alone, and that there are a lot of us who have their backs.

The best piece of advice I can give all educators is to control what is controllable and to have a positive attitude.  Be excited for what you are about to do. Work together and be creative and remember to take care of yourselves. Let’s all do our part, as educators, for the students.



Joe Battista has been an integral part of the Penn State and State College communities since 1978. He is best known for his effort to bring varsity ice hockey to Happy Valley and in the building of Pegula Ice Arena. “JoeBa” is the owner of PRAGMATIC Passion, LLC consulting, a professional speaker, success coach, and the vice president of the National Athletic and Professional Success Academy (NAPSA). He is the author of a new book, “The Power of Pragmatic Passion.” Joe lives in State College with his wife Heidi (PSU ’81 & ’83), daughter Brianna (PSU ’15), and son’s Jon (PSU ’16), and Ryan (State High Class of 2019).
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State College Area School Board Votes Down Proposed Changes to Start of School Year
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by Geoff Rushton
State College Area School Board Votes Down Proposed Changes to Start of School Year
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