Recently, I heard a word for the first time. That word was “upstander.” While I have heard of people who I would consider “upstanding citizens,” I had never heard of an “upstander.” An upstander (as opposed to a bystander) is one who is compassionate, trusted and actively promotes kindness and civility. I have lived in Ogden all my life and have known many upstanders who have made our city a better place to live. During the past 14 months, I have seen numerous examples of upstanders lifting and supporting others through the pandemic.

Not one of us ever anticipated that we would be forced to live through a global pandemic. Certainly, we have gained valuable, yet painful lessons. Let me share four:

Lesson 1 — Take care of the vulnerable

We have learned how critical it is to care for the most vulnerable among us. People who look outside themselves to care for those most in need are true heroes. Early in the pandemic, someone said to me, “We’re all in the same boat.” I thought about that for a moment and then suggested, “We might all be in the same storm, but we’re not all in the same boat.” I know that some families have been affected far more severely than others. Many have lost loved ones. Others have lost jobs and livelihoods. Some have not had access to vital resources to weather the storm. We know that some of our students have experienced significant academic learning loss or suffered significant trauma. Each of our schools is developing a comprehensive plan to provide assistance and support for those students and families most in need.

Lesson 2 — Teachers are among the most valuable in our society

During the pandemic, we have certainly learned that teachers are among the most important members of our society. I have witnessed firsthand as our teachers have led through crisis, provided a continuity of learning and supported the well-being of their students. I can never fully express to our teachers just how proud I have been of their heroic efforts this past year. Teachers have demonstrated unending leadership and innovation by ensuring that learning never stops and that no student is left behind. They have worked individually and collectively to create new ways to reach their students — helping them learn and allowing their education to continue. Teachers have continued inspiring their students to believe in themselves and ultimately realize what they are capable of achieving.

Lesson 3 — We need one another

Each one of us needs the lifeline that comes from relationships. Ultimately, our lives will be defined by the quality of our relationships. And, we were never meant to socially isolate. In fact, I stopped using that term months ago. Rather, while we may need to physically distance, we should never socially isolate. There was a once-popular song that advised, “First, be a person who needs people.” As a school district, we believed it was imperative to provide families with an in-person learning option even back in August (when much of the country wasn’t even considering that as an option) because we knew just how essential it was for children to have social interaction with their friends. Building and nurturing relationships that matter may be among our most important pandemic lessons. In the end, every joy that we experience in life will be the result of a significant relationship.

Lesson 4 — Civility counts

We have lived through one of the most trying times of our lives. I’m convinced that decades from now, historians will be discussing the pandemic of 2020 and analyzing how we came through it as a society. Living through this global pandemic has caused anxiety and stress which has taken its toll on every one of us. The resulting stress can produce moments of frustration, depression — even trauma. At times, this strain of stress can cause us to display less than civil behavior — even toward those we love and cherish the most. As a society, we are facing a crisis in civility. Civility requires a baseline of respect for one another. Ending incivility is everyone’s responsibility. In our school district, we have placed a high priority on creating a safe and welcoming climate where every child is safe and feels as though they belong. Civility and kindness go a long way in every environment — home, school and work.

I am confident that we will rebound from this pandemic. Coming through it the right way, however, will require a renewed and collective effort from every member of our community.

Dr. Jeff Stephens is the superintendent of Weber School District, where he has worked since 1984.

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