The New Normal

Welcome to our new normal.

My English teacher wrote these words in an email one week after our school district decided to close its doors for an extended spring break. Shortly before she sent that email, Colorado Governor Jared Polis announced that he would give an executive order to close all schools in the state until April 17th. Our two-week break suddenly turned into five weeks that would involve a paradigm shift in the way we learn and live.

One week after that, Governor Polis implemented an emergency Stay At Home Order for the state of Colorado. The order set the changes we were adapting to in writing officially. Not only were students being faced with the challenge of their lives changing suddenly, they now faced a sense of confinement to compliment.

Uncertainty has run rampant throughout the changes. After all, society has been forced into an undesirable situation. A situation that comes with a lot of loss — Loss of jobs, time, and physical connection to the community. Society is being forced to take unprecedented measures to yield a desirable outcome. But the steps to get there, whether they are being implemented by measures from our leaders or even members of society, are painful.  The situation almost reminds me of the episode “Stairmageddon” in Season 9 of The Office when Jim is facing difficulties with his wife Pam.

These steps taken to remedy our current situation (like closing school, implementing Stay At Home Orders) are similar to when Jim says to Toby, “If [Pam] can just hang on for a little while longer, this will be so huge for our family.” But Pam is like every individual, and the family is our world as we know it. Toby, a soft-spoken and mild-mannered HR rep, sums up the issue when he asks, “What’s the end date? It must be really hard for [Pam] to sign on to be unhappy if she doesn’t know when it’s gonna end.” But Jim, just like the dynamics of the situation, ultimately says “That’s kind of an impossible question.”

Students in America are struggling to sign on to being unhappy when they don’t know the end date. To ask when it’s going to end is an impossible question. Just two weeks ago, students were told they would be back to normal in a little over two weeks. One week later, two weeks turned into five. Some states like Kansas have even made the decision to suspend in-person learning at schools through the rest of the academic year, which means things may not be normal until next August. But the truth is, we will never be back to normal. This is the new normal.

Don’t think that statement means our new lives are meant to be spent in confinement and in front of computer screens. That may be the reality for now, but certainly won’t be the reality forever. Humans are social creatures after all. There will be a day where we step back foot in the on-campus classroom. We will return to malls, movie theatres, and restaurants. To an extent, things will be back to normal. But the substantial temporary changes in society will leave subtle permanent changes in society.

While school districts across the country are increasing access to technology, adaptation in the classroom isn’t as fast as a snap of the finger. Some educators embrace technology and incorporate it into daily lesson plans. Some educators use a mix, some don’t use technology at all. With the new, temporary normal, technology will be the lesson plan. Educators will now be forced to take the chance, to see what works and what doesn’t. The result is the new, permanent normal. Educators using more resources to effectively enhance and differentiate learning.

However, the new normal affects more than students and education. The workforce in the United States has rapidly switched temporarily from working primarily in-office to working from home. On the surface, the switch to working from home aims to keep us healthy for the time being. Going below the surface, the effects will be long-lasting, being that we are forced to see the benefits of working from home. Even early on, top executives are seeing that the temporary change could grow to levels of permanence. Lindsey Jacobson from CNBC reported that Jennifer Christie, chief HR officer at Twitter, concurs: “I don’t think we’ll go back to the same way we used to operate, I really don’t.” 

The new normal of working at home for business means a possible reduction in cubicle farms in lieu of working in the comfort of your own home, even if just partially. Working from home eliminates unnecessary travel (and the carbon footprint that comes with it) by leveraging the power of teleconferencing. The new normal embraces the benefits of working from home, something society was once slow at accepting. 

Our new normal begins with startling shifts in the way society functions that force us to think and work differently. As we slowly start to ease into previous routines, there is no doubt that something will be different. The small changes will have substantial effects on our future. We can handle these changes with complaints and doubts, or we can welcome them with open arms. The latter is the way to go because when we embrace the new normal, it will be just normal.

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