Because I live on the Barrier Islands of North Carolina, I am no stranger to hurricanes. In fact, we typically face one or two each year, some closer calls than others. In the last 25 years, I have experienced the power outages of Hurricane Fran and Hurricane Isabel, flooding of Hurricane Floyd, the double whammy of Hurricane Dennis, the sound side devastation of Hurricane Irene, and our downstairs river due to Hurricane Matthew. I’ve also felt the eye of Hurricane Arthur pass over our little town – a sight and feeling that still, to this day, takes my breath away.
In 25 years, I have never felt the overwhelming anxiety that I experienced as Hurricane Florence inched closer to the NC shore. With wind speeds classifying her as a Category 4 (almost 5) and no cold water, wind shear, or fronts to slow her down, we braced for complete destruction. By nothing short of a miracle, our coastline was spared the devastation that a category 4 hurricane would have brought. However, our neighboring communities continue to face significant flooding that follows 30″ of rain in such a short period of time. The idea that a slight change in the hurricane’s course saved my town while crippling another weighs heavy on my heart.
In spite of it all, I learned several things.
1: Take your time.
Clearly in the red cone of possibility for the direct impact of a Category 4 hurricane, we needed to secure our house and pack necessary belongings to heed to a mandatory evacuation. But, we also needed to remind ourselves that we had time to make level-headed, mindful decisions. What needed immediate attention? What gets packed with us? What stays behind? Where are we going? With the hurricane still days away, we had time to truly think through as many scenarios as possible, allowing us to evacuate with a feeling of clarity and preparation. Although the future was uncertain, I knew that I had prepared as much as possible – and I needed to trust that the universe would take care of the next steps for me.
2. Over prepare
Our list was long: Pack. Clean. Video. Lift. Sandbag. Cover. Secure. Move. Check the list. Check it again. We spent hours preparing our home, our schools, and helping our neighbors. While we had a “Hurricane List” to use, nothing prepares you for the moment when you put it into action. Ultimately, our efforts were not needed, however, we did not know that at the time. One positive: We now have a real “Hurricane List”, tailored for our family, home, and neighborhood.
3. Aim high
When you think that you cannot possibly stack your freezer on an 8″ block to elevate it just a little bit more from flood water, you actually can. I did. What if that last push is what keeps it from flooding? Push. You can do it. You can, and you will.
4. Make Data-Informed Decisions
Every three hours, we closely watched the National Hurricane Center’s projected path (and storm surge) and the vlogs posted by local meteorologists. All information – mandatory evacuation, 8-10′ storm surge, 125mph winds, 20″ of rain – informed us to leave. This was not a decision that we made easily nor one that we took lightly. I cried as I drove away from my home – unsure if (or when) I would see it again.
5. Be flexible, free to change your mind
12 hours after evacuating, Hurricane Florence took a significant turn south, entirely removing my area from the possibility of a direct hit. While I dreaded what this forecasted for my southern neighbors, I also knew that I could safely return home. And, I did.
6. Experts advise, but they are not in the room with you
Although I earnestly listened to the hurricane coverage and heeded the advice of experts in the field, I also recognized that they were not in the room with me. Just as I used their advice to evacuate, I also used information that they provided to make the decision to return – despite a mandatory evacuation. Sometimes, your knowledge of a situation coupled with expert advice leads you to shift gears immediately. Trust your intuition.
How often do these same truths surface in our learning environments?
As teachers, we can benefit by taking our time to build relationships with our students, over-preparing for our classroom learning experiences, and always aiming high in our preparation for and expectation of our scholars. In our decision making, we commit to using all data – not just numerical data – to make informed decisions for our learners. However, we recognize the need to be flexible and unafraid to switch gears in the middle of a journey, for we are the experts in our classrooms.