Denial, Anger, Acceptance: The COVID-19 Grieving Process

As we have transitioned into new territory, I’ve found that many of us seem to be undergoing a process of grief. Initially, I of course was in denial, just as many of my staff and students were. I wanted to be at school as long as I was able to, I wanted to see the staff coming in as they came to gather their things from their classrooms; I wanted connection. I honestly thought we would get through this situation expeditiously, and our working from home routine would only be temporary.


Never in my life would I have thought it even possible to be away from my school, students, and staff for such a prolonged period of time. Before, when I heard the word “pandemic,” I would think of historical outbreaks such as the Black Death from the 14th century, the American epidemics from the 16th century to include smallpox, the Philadelphia Yellow Fever from the 18th century, the 20th century American polio epidemic… the list goes on. The point is, I’m still in shock to know that COVID-19 is really happening, not only to our state, but the rest of the world here in the year 2020—the 21st century—during a time of such technological advancement.

Reality Sets In

So, what happened next, after the denial? Reality set in. I realized I wouldn’t be able to see either my students or staff each day, at least not face to face. The school’s hallways, once filled with hustle and bustle, were going to be empty and silent. I would no longer hear the sounds of laughter, the murmur of voices in conversation, or witness the teaching and learning dynamic happening in the traditional school setting. I was furious, but most of all, heartbroken. For most of my students and staff, our new normality of online instruction is an uncomfortable setting, not to mention the pressure the staff feel in meeting the expectation of accommodating those uncomfortable kids in a 100 percent virtual world.

Whaley School’s halls in our new normal

After navigating through those first two weeks, I reached out to staff to see how they were doing. I wanted to make sure they felt supported and were practicing self-care during this time. They shared my concerns about our students’ well-being; in fact, as I was composing this blog, I found that one of my students had been abruptly moved to yet another foster home. After reaching out with staff, my main feeling was how selfless they were. Every single staff member I spoke to was more interested in discussing ways they could ensure our students had food and clothing, among other basic needs. Admittedly, I’ve been feeling very alone and isolated during this melancholy time away from work, but I guess it is to be expected while in quarantine. My spirits, however, were lifted after touching base with my awesome team of educators. I discovered how much of a toll this situation has taken on them, just as it has on me, and I received something from them I felt I needed—a connection.


I’ve always been a fixer. I want to be able to help, however that may look, and what I realized is that it might be me who needed a good check in. All of my own children are grown, our dog recently passed away, and my husband is self-employed and works out of the house regularly. I was sitting here in “Zoomland” at home alone each day.

I guess it was then I finally reached acceptance, at least the beginning of it. Once I accepted there was not much I could do about the pandemic, I was able to look at what was going on with my emotions. It was time to start taking better care of me.

I decided to pick myself up by my bootstraps, get outside for some much-needed fresh air, and host some of my own “hangouts” with friends so we could talk about something other than virtual learning or COVID-19. This helped change my outlook for the better.

The Importance of Self-Care

Having the ability to meet virtually with students and staff may become the norm over the next few weeks. However, as leaders, we have to take the time for our own self-care. Getting outside or choosing to meet virtually with friends and family can help maintain strong connections and positive mental health, similar to how we interact each day. As a person who thrives on connection and building positive relationships, these other avenues to connect were helpful in my own emotional health.

Leaders, you are taking care of many! Make sure that you are taking care of yourself, knowing you are taking care of others. Reboot each day, connect with people to talk about something other than work, laugh a lot, and get outside!

Robyn Harris is principal of Whaley School in Anchorage, AK. She is the 2018 Alaska Principal of the Year. Follow her on Twitter (@WhaleySchool), Facebook (Whaley School), and her blog (


  • This is the Best of the Best Special School in Anchorage. This is my 2nd home. We are very proud to whole theirs Staff and the Principal Ms. Harris. We miss our “Parents University Conference”. This is an The ” A – Team “. We love the Security Team, Administration, the teachers and other specialists.

    Thanks so much for your amazing job!!!💖💖🥰🥰

    Solimar Ledesma-Albaladejo

  • Elizabeth Congdon-McGee says:

    I think this is right on. The grieving process is experienced through a loss and many educators feel that loss. I know I do and as a school counselor it has been extremely hard.

  • Katy Bakker says:

    Perfectly put, Robyn! I can’t wait to be back in those four walls with all of the students and staff.

  • These are the exact words I would be writing if I had written this blog. You hit it right on the head! As a former Principal of the Year, I received this praise because I put my students and school first. I have been doing that since March 18th when we closed school for good. I am worried everyday for my at-risk students and my staff. I pray daily that no one gets sick as we are in the “hotbed” of the virus in New Jersey. Thank you for your thoughts and support.

  • Joan brown says:

    We’re all in this together, your so right. I miss the routine and the kids. I wonder how there doing When we can get in touch with the family.. Im so grateful to have our staff reach out to others at this time kids and co workers. Making mask to help the community, keeping in tough with family and neighbors. Checking up on ones that are alone. You have done a great job keeping us informed. I wish you and all our staff and kids wellness mentally and emotionally at this time.

  • Anonymous says:

    Your blog is right on point. When your out of the routine of school, kids and work environment, you become a little lost. Checking up on kids by staff making sure they have what they need is very caring and assures us there ok. You keep us going and want to thank you for caring not only the kids but the staff to. Thank you.

  • Valarie Scholz says:

    This! I miss “my” students, co-workers, and my routine. Hope to be back to familiar soon.

  • Tiffany Mukaabya says:

    You hit it spot on.

  • Joan brown says:

    You nailed it, with our school routine interrupted by covid 19, you have always made sure staff and students are doing well. The support of our staff working together has made Whaley a special school. thank you for supporting all of us.

  • Crysta J. Svendsen says:

    Thank you for sharing what is going on for you Robyn. It often helps just knowing that we are feeling similar feelings and not alone at this time. I miss our Whaley Family!

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