The Messy Middle

A consistent presence in the kindergarten class from year to year is the hermit crab terrarium.  Hermit crabs become members of the class, providing hours of entertainment as they crawl in and out of wooden block structures constructed by five-year-olds.  What I’ve always found intriguing about hermit crabs is how they inhabit a shell, then abandon it for a new one as they grow bigger.  These times we’re in feel a lot like the way hermit crabs navigate life.  

One of the people who has helped me immensely through the pandemic is Brené Brown.  Her words in this week’s podcast address how I’ve been feeling about where we are as a school, and the world in general.  She talks about Day Two, “the messy middle.”  Brené uses the example of when she holds a training session.  The first day is full of introductions, learning what the structure of time will be, and settling in.  Nothing too stressful.  Day Two is when things get harder, when participants have to dig in, be vulnerable, and do the work.  It’s an uncomfortable time that makes people squirm, want to run away and hide, and avoid facing their personal work.  Brené went on to express that this is where we are collectively with both the COVID-19 situation, as well as our process of reckoning with social justice and racial issues.  

Her words resonated.  Regarding COVID-19, we have gotten through the early phase and have established enough safety protocols here at school to open safely.  The Day Two part is sticking with daily screenings, keeping our groups/pods separated (even though it’s hard), staying consistent with calling parents when children show signs of even one symptom.  Maintaining elementary student motivation for wearing masks is also a Day Two project.  On a greater scale, as our state reopens again, we will need to use considerably more restraint and vigilance with face coverings and physical distancing to avoid the kind of spike we saw this summer.  It’s hard to be patient and consistent after so many months of restriction.  Yet we have to do it, if we’re going to get through this.  

Collectively we are in a similar place with race and social justice in our country.  There was an initial surge of commitment to reform around the time of George Floyd’s killing.  Conversations about race popped up everywhere in podcasts, radio, and TV shows.  Instagram was full of conversation about white privilege and systematic racism.  We are now in the Day Two phase, where we have to do the uncomfortable work of reckoning with our history as a country.  It’s the messy middle that Brené Brown talks about.  As teachers, we have the responsibility of translating this deep work into content that is developmentally appropriate for young children.  In some classes this work has already begun.  Studies of families, individual uniqueness, and identifying feelings are well underway.  From this foundation we will build our curriculum for expanding awareness about social injustice, implicit bias, and racism.  We’ll do it in a way that our students can grow into citizens who significantly become part of the change.  I don’t know what this curriculum will look like exactly, but I have faith that our teachers will create meaningful learning experiences for their specific classes.  We often do our best work when the messiness factor is high.  I feel certain this is one of those times.