How Our Creativity and Resilience Can Build Stronger and Wiser Communities
Voices from the Field | Insights 15 April 2020
By Dr. Jenny Finn, Springhouse Community School
When faced with uncertainty, community is the best currency we have, and just because we cannot physically be together does not mean we don’t have connection.
Dr. Jenny Finn
Co-Founder, Head of School
I know I am not the only one who feels like life is very surreal at the moment. The spread of coronavirus has stirred fear, disconnection, scarcity, and hypervigilance for all of us. It has also given rise to empathy, creativity, introspection, and generosity. I have never experienced anything in my lifetime that has had such a significant effect on society as a whole.
As more and more states and territories order permanent school closures for the remainder of the academic year (including my home state of Virginia), we are left with large swaths of unstructured time to be with ourselves and with our families.
For some of us, unstructured time can feel like a relief—a time to rest and rejuvenate. We might take this time to learn new things—sit down at the piano we haven’t played in a while (or ever), make new foods like that Ethiopian lentil dish we always wanted to try, or read that book we’ve never found time to read. It also might just simply be a time to stop, be still, listen, and take in the beauty of spring.
For others, when the familiar structures that hold our days start to crumble, we can feel uncertain, overwhelmed, and anxious. New challenges present themselves, like how we will earn a living, take care of our children, and make sure we (and our neighbors) have what we need.
As the Head of School at Springhouse Community School—where we provide learner-centered learning to teenage-aged young people—and as the mother of a teenager myself, I’m particularly present to the family dynamic during this pandemic.
We are being asked to be with our discomfort over a much longer and sustained period of time. To help navigate this moment, it is important we be both compassionate and honest with ourselves and our children.
Dr. Jenny Finn
Co-Founder, Head of School
For teenagers, whose spheres naturally widen to include their peers and life beyond their families, being at home for extended periods of time can be challenging. With no clear end in sight, family systems start feeling added stress, and it becomes even harder to know where to turn.
Michael Meade, a mythologist and storyteller who we love at Springhouse Community School, writes “Any sense of security is a false one.” Most of us rely primarily on external circumstances for our security. Obviously, right? What else would we rely on?
With our daily routines, and the level of comfort many of us experience, it is easy to be lulled into a sense of certainty that ultimately, is not as solid as we might think. With busy-ness, consumerism, and distraction, we can often just block out hard things like mortality, discomfort, and loneliness.
Now with COVID-19, we are faced with these things regularly. We are being asked to be with our discomfort over a much longer and sustained period of time. To help navigate this moment, it is important we be both compassionate and honest with ourselves and our children. Here is how this is taking shape within the Springhouse learning community, and how I’m keeping myself grounded as an educator and parent.
How We Are Adjusting as a Learning Community
Within 48 hours of Virginia’s school closures, Springhouse shifted to online learning. Looking at our small size, many might think that is why we could so quickly make the transition. But, it goes so much deeper than that. Our learning community—through intentional practices in compassion, honest group and self-reflection, and creating community—has spent years building the wisdom and strength necessary to face the unknown together. And, it is that wisdom that allowed us to move swiftly and assuredly during this chaotic time.
With this compassion and honest reflection grounding our path forward, I have been able to more confidently look into the eyes of 23 teenagers and the Springhouse staff on my computer screen and know we can handle uncertainty together.
Although it might feel like the world is falling down around us, we are able to virtually join hands, take a deep breath, and explore this new learning environment together. We have created structures that orient around our six core values—Connection, Individuality, Creativity, Resiliency, Integrity, and Trust—which always foster relationship and learning, regardless of our circumstances.
Mentors are supporting teens from a distance with creative ways to feel close with one another. One of our mentors has organized group runs with their mentees by having everyone who wants to run (starting at their respective homes) to put earphones in and call into a group call. Another sends poems and words of encouragement through the mail to each of her mentees. Small group mentoring circles are held twice a week where mentors check in with the academic and social and emotional needs of the teens.
We continue learning from others and involving the larger community by having group panels in our online courses. We are offering a sexuality course in partnership with a local sexuality educator. And, in-house, we are providing courses on civics and government as well as agriculture and food security. In the agriculture class, we are partnering with the local food bank and supporting them in different ways as the demand for their services increases.
Even in crisis, we seek creativity the best that we can. It’s how we’ve always led learning at Springhouse. When faced with uncertainty, community is the best currency we have, and just because we cannot physically be together does not mean we don’t have connection. It’s just different now.
How I’m Adjusting as an Educator and Parent
This situation is so complex, confusing, and strange. It’s hard to know what to do. In times of struggle, it has always helped to turn toward what inspires me. Inspiration gives me strength, courage, and clearer vision to face what’s tough. I need to fill up and ground myself, so I can better show up for the world as it is right now—whether that is for my neighbor who is scared, my bored teenagers, people who are ill, or myself as I navigate unknown terrain. I need to give myself the space to do what’s necessary to both find joy in my days, and make choices that empower me, so I can serve my community with greater care and authenticity.
When fear dominates the day, the Earth reorients me to life. Walking in the woods has become medicine for me during these strange times. In Henry David Thoreau’s book, Walking, he writes, “Wildness is the preservation of the world.” As I walk each day, I hold the question, “What does the Earth have to say to me about life while our human world is in such upheaval?” The Earth still speaks to us while life as we know it is shifting dramatically.
The Earth is our wisest teacher. Like Thoreau tells us, it is the Earth’s wisdom that will orient us toward life, and preserve what is true in us. While human-to-human contact is limited, we have the opportunity to listen to the Earth’s intelligence. Emergence amidst complexity, the cycling of the seasons, and interdependence are all relevant teachings to the ways in which we humans move through the world.
As we continue navigating the complexities of unstructured time, losing track of what day it is, being in close contact with family for months on end, and attempting to feel some sense of security through it all, I wonder how this wisdom, if listened to more deeply, might inform our actions today and tomorrow. How might it evoke the creativity and resilience we all have within us and lead to us building stronger and wiser communities?
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