The Importance of Focusing on the Good Things Too, by Dr Julie Harris

By Dr Julie Harris

These are indeed strange times in which we’re living.  Despite being relatively removed from the media (too old to be on Facebook and too many good books to read to be watching much television these days), even I have been following the news in the past few weeks, with the thought that I really should force myself to keep up to date on the course of the pandemic which is causing so much consternation at the moment.
The zillion questions I am asked whilst walking around the playground mean that I feel morally obliged to have researched the situation, the biology behind the virus and the statistical likelihood of risk to various age groups.  The questions I am asked in the Prep School are rarely of the ‘what exactly is herd immunity?’ and ‘how do corona viruses differ from the rhinoviruses you mentioned in assembly last week?’  It’s far more likely to be a student asking me if they’re going to die if they contract the virus because they have asthma or whether they should be at home rather than at school and why we haven’t closed the doors yet (both queries which I have fielded a number of times this week).
But it wasn’t until late last night, when I actually felt genuine guilt that I was so incredibly pleased with the results of marking a set of Year 7 French tests, that it dawned on me that a total focus on something worrying or bad or scary really isn’t good for you.  Why on earth should I not be chuffed that my students have worked hard and achieved excellent results?
I don’t normally watch the news – it’s an entirely deliberate strategy.  I have regularly been disappointed with the quality of the newspapers in WA since we moved here, so I got out of the habit of reading the paper and because the online/television media reporting was not to my taste either, I eventually chose not to keep abreast with the news.  A cowardly strategy?  Perhaps, but having renewed my relationship with regular news outlets over the past couple of weeks, I wonder whether ignoring the news has actually served me well.
I’d had a hard day.  The selfish Mr Morrison didn’t appear to realise that his level 4 ban on overseas travel coincided with my once-in-a-lifetime plan for extended travel outside Australia.  I intend to write to him and let him know that his idea is of great inconvenience to me personally and see whether that makes a difference; I’m currently reassuring myself that it may just be that he hadn’t known about my trip.  I’m as good as the next person at being positive and seeing the bright side, but I haven’t yet been able to convince myself that sitting at home in Midland for 13 weeks would be an appealing alternative to the backpacking trip around Eastern Europe that I have been preparing for since August last year.
This week, whilst WhatsApping my sister who is safely ensconced in rural West Wales, we were amused to reminisce that all we had to worry about in our childhoods were the cold war and the anticipated nuclear winters in which cockroaches and well-prepared citizens would allegedly be the sole survivors.
But thinking about the current situation, I realised that it might be more functional for me to focus on the many good things going on and I wondered whether considering these would make us more likely to stay sane and positive and retain our faith in humanity.  Amongst the toilet-roll hoarding (I am down to three, in case you were interested, but I do have a cunning strategy for the procurement of others) and the disappointing behaviour of some clearly deranged members of the public, there are heart-warming stories of altruism and thoughtfulness.
We have members of staff who have been buying groceries for elderly people in their neighbourhoods who cannot get to the shops.  Students have told stories of their concerns for relatives and how they know to stay away for the moment even though they miss them.  And teachers have worked many, many extra hours to ensure that we are providing effective learning opportunities for those who for various reasons cannot be with us at school for the moment.  I personally have purchased a small pot of water cress which I intend to try growing in my half-barrel pond and will be happy to share if we get to the stage of fearing scurvy in the community.  I’m not sure how many leaves we’ll get each, but the thought is there.
So I shall put on my best underwear (am I the only one who classifies their knickers into separate categories in terms of their appropriateness for interviews/parties/work/gardening?) and maybe even some different earrings (not that the kids will notice) and get on with my day.
And in particular I am looking forward to telling my Year 7 French class how proud I am of the work they’ve put in (we might even move on to conjugate some verbs other than ‘avoir’) and I have resolved to not feel guilty about finding small pleasures in these strange times.
I hope that you, too, are able to find things that give you pleasure this week.  Please enjoy them entirely without guilt.
Julie Harris
Director of Teaching and Learning

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23 Mar 2020 - 3:05 PM
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