Questions for a Conversation about Coping with COVID
Kent Pekel

Join Interim Superintendent Pekel for a self-reflection on how you are coping with COVID.

Dear Colleagues, 

I hope that you found time and ways to rest during the MEA break. 

I didn’t begin this blog that way just because it’s a nice way to start, but because you need and deserve time to recharge yourselves so you can support our students as they navigate a world that is deeply different from the one they (and we) knew and lived in before the pandemic began in early 2020. As I have met with many of you in schools, programs, and departments across Rochester over the past four months, I have heard and observed that the weight of the COVID-19 pandemic is still very much with us. Some of us feel overworked and overwhelmed because we are filling in for colleagues who are out sick or in quarantine. All of us are grappling with the challenge of educating students who have not been fully engaged in school for almost two years. At times, it seems like some of our fifth graders are really third graders, and some of our high school seniors are really sophomores. 

Still further, many of our students, parents, and even colleagues seem to have lost the filter they used to use when deciding what is and isn’t appropriate to express. Things that people once refrained from saying (or that they would say very gently) are now being said and shared without restraint. Many students and some adults aren’t sure how to interact with each other in person after living for almost two years in a social media world where almost anyone can say almost anything. 

One of the most valuable things we can do to navigate challenges like the ones we are working and living through is to talk about them. Sometimes that talking leads to solutions, and sometimes it just validates what we are thinking and feeling. To support that kind of constructive conversation, you will find below a set of questions I wrote that you may want to use in an upcoming staff meeting or PLC session, or just reflect on yourself. 

If you decide to use the questions and they prompt a productive conversation, I hope you will share the insights you gain with me at kepekel@rochesterschools.org. I may not be able to respond at length to all of the emails you send, but I will read and learn from them all. I also encourage you to share your insights with your principals and program directors and with the member of the school district cabinet who is responsible for supporting the work of your school, program, or department.

How Are You Doing?
questions for a conversation about coping with covid
  1. On a scale of 1-5, how much stress are you experiencing in your life at present? A 1 indicates that you are experiencing very little stress, a 3 indicates that you are experiencing significant but manageable stress, and a 5 indicates you are experiencing a level of stress that you think would be difficult to sustain for a significant amount of time into the future.
  2. If you rated your level of stress at a level of 3 or higher, what is one specific cause of that stress that you feel comfortable sharing?
  3. What, if anything, could your team, department, school, or the school district do to help you reduce the stress and address the challenges you are facing during the continuing COVID-19 pandemic?
  4. Is there anything that you do that helps you reduce stress in your life?
  5. What experience in your past could you look back upon to remind yourself of your ability to handle stress and persevere through difficulties?
  6. What is one positive word that you think we should keep in mind as we work to support each other and our students through the kind of global pandemic that happens once in a century?
Resources for Support

In addition to the support that I hope you will find from your colleagues, additional resources are available through our employee assistance program and other sources. Here are links to those sources of support, which I encourage you to access early and often if you need them:

  • RPS Educator Wellness Site:  This site includes resources to assist staff in developing and practicing skills to increase resiliency and well-being, including the Employee Assistance Program, Staff Resource Phone Line, Staff Emotional and Mental Well-Being Resources and the Emotional and Mental Well-Being Blog. https://educatorwellness.org/
  • The Employee Assistance Program: This program is an RPS benefit for all staff that provides professional, confidential consultation and referral services to address any personal or work concern that may be affecting your well-being, free of charge.  Appointments are available in-person, virtually or by phone. The EAP site contains additional details about how to access these services. https://educatorwellness.org/#Employee-Assistance-Program
  • Educator/Staff Resource Phone Line:  This phone line was created specifically for RPS employees and is staffed by RPS Clinical Mental Health Staff. The line is confidential and provides guidance and resources to the support you need. https://educatorwellness.org/#we-are-here-to-help
  • Educator/Staff Emotional and Well-Being Resources: This page includes additional resources such as podcasts, books and videos. https://educatorwellness.org/resources/
  • Emotional and Mental Well-Being Blog: This blog is another avenue for staff to share relevant thoughts, experiences and information related to emotional and mental well-being. https://educatorwellness.org/blog/

Historians will someday study the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on our students and our society. We will be better able to help our students meet the challenges of this historic moment if we take care of ourselves and each other. 

Thank you again for the extraordinary work you are doing with our students and an extremely challenging time, 


Kent Pekel, Ed.D.
Interim Superintendent of Schools
Rochester, Minnesota