“There is no such thing as a problem without a gift for you in its hands.” -Richard Bach
I know that you have been blessed with many gifts during this time! I am hoping that as you begin to emotionally recover you will be able to reflect and uncover the light that shines. A friend of mine shared this quote: “Your light is like the sky - bright and vast. And your experiences are like the weather. No matter how severe the weather, the sky has room for it…”
One of the gifts that I have uncovered during the shutdown is the connection with friends from the past. One email as I checked my phone had as the subject line, “DO YOU REMEMBER US?” Just like that, all in caps! I was thinking that it must be spam or someone phishing. But, reading quickly through the email I realized that the sender was a person I met in my dorm at Campbell Hall at Michigan State almost 40 years ago! I found out that he ended up going into education and served as an educator and recently retired. We shared emails of reminiscing a simpler time and made a pact to attend an MSU football game as a reunion when it is safe. But here is one of the emails that he wrote that struck me: “It was great catching up with you. The last time we spoke I was an eighteen-year-old freshman. When you think about it, I lived near you for only two months in the dorm. Yet, you made such an impact on me that I wanted to contact you almost forty years later!! When I think about this, it is because of your great people skills. You had them then and still possess them now. I am sure many of the things I recall are long forgotten on your end. Why? -- because you treated everybody that way. It doesn't surprise me that you went into administration. The best administrators I experienced had little to do with their decisions, and everything to do with their people skills.”
It’s about relationships, isn’t it? Although you are in the midst of having to make some very difficult and heartbreaking decisions about budget, school reentry and reimagination of schooling, what keeps you up at night is the impact on the people that you love and care for each and every day. Your staff, your students, your school community.
As you make plans to celebrate this very different ending to a school year and continue to be planning, rethinking, and reimagining what next school year is going to look like, I thought you might want to tuck away this very valuable perspective article from Transcend, Inc. 2020, Responding Recovering Reinventing Three Jobs That Matter for School Communities Navigating a COVID World
As a principal, you are used to the what-ifs and always thinking about what might be around the next corner. Although it is tough to be thinking about the future when you are trying to stay present in the here and now, the authors share that so many decisions made in the future will impact education for decades to come. How did we respond? How will we recover? How will we or WILL we reinvent the future of education?
The responding period according to the authors, is the immediate response of fulfilling basic needs, providing emotional support, and ensuring the continuity of learning. This is exactly what educators all over our state and nation did to ensure that kids were fed, safe, and learning continued!
The recovery period allows for healing, recouping learning, restoring the community, and reflection on what happened and getting ready for what lies ahead. This is a period of working and collaborating together to determine if school as we know it will resume as it was or will we rethink how it could be? The authors provide clear insight into how education has been delivered in this still industrial age and how it might look in a reimagined future.
Inequitable, Industrial-Era Learning vs Equitable, 21st Century Learning
- Rote learning vs Rigorous learning
- Narrow focus vs Holistic focus
- Assimilation and oppression vs Affirmation and anti-oppression
- Inequitable expectations and opportunities vs High expectations with unlimited possibilities
- Inflexible systems vs Customization
- Irrelevance vs Relevance
- Passive compliance vs Active self-direction
- Isolation vs Connection and community
- Siloed schooling vs Anytime, anywhere learning
This leads to the reimagining period which according to the authors continues now and into the future. What will you do as you recover? Will you resume school in the same old way or “will you cultivate better practices, structures, and capabilities towards local visions of extraordinary and equitable learning?” History tells us that schools are no stranger to this work, we have been here before. However, the authors suggest that the huge magnitude and duration of this pandemic disruption present a much more profound opportunity to “lean into reinvention.”
Here are five sample questions that the authors provide to consider when thinking about design choices for the future:
- How might we cultivate the kinds of relationships that hold students emotionally through the kind of massive turmoil we’ve been through and mitigate the effects of trauma?
- How can we respond to the increased variability of student knowledge and skills in more personalized ways, so that students who fell behind catch up fast and students who raced ahead can keep learning?
- Since buildings may close again at any point, and some teachers and students may not be able to come in due to vulnerability to illness, how can we ensure that continuity of learning does not depend on students or staff being physically present?
- How might we partner more deeply and effectively with parents/guardians and other community members, so they can stay plugged into their children’s learning and play meaningful roles?
- With the budget cuts we’re facing, how must we rethink various parts of our model, so students can be as well-served as possible?
How will YOU decide to respond, recover, and reinvent? It starts by healing and finding out the gifts that you uncovered, dealing with your own trauma and loss, and realizing once again that you are not alone in this difficult work. Connect with your colleagues at MEMSPA! Together we will reinvent education to ensure equitable 21st Century Learning!