As I reflect on this crazy Covid year, I am surprised to find that there was much to be joyful of and thankful for, despite the disappointments and frustrations. Here I will celebrate some of the twinkle lights of joy.
Change starts with disruption
Any student of change or change leadership knows that the process often starts with a needed disruption of current practices. Now – that disruption is not usually so dramatic and the need for change not usually so urgent – but still, a disturbance forces us to change. The difference with Covid is that the change was not something planned. There was no training in advance, no grand mission for what we were trying to achieve, we were just plunged into an utterly new context and mode of doing school. We reacted. We were scared. We got it wrong. We reflect. We tried again. It was awful. We are exhausted. We can’t wait for this long break – It is so well deserved.
One could look at our experience of teaching in Covid as if surviving battle, and it certainly felt like that some days. But I think there is so much more to consider. It showed us that we could utterly rethink how school is done overnight. Suddenly the impossible became reality. We crystalized curriculum down to the most essential. We created learning engagements and students had as much or as little time as they needed to master and complete the task. They had digital coaching sessions when needed. No longer were we tied to the minutes in the classroom. Those who needed took longer, those who didn’t moved on. Learning plans, goals, and engagements were explicitly shared in advance because they had to be. The learning targets were very clear to students. Key teaching points were recorded for students to watch and return to as needed. This is the personalized competency based education we have been talking about. It is possible, we just did it. How do we make it live when we are on campus? What have we learned about rethinking the schedule in the online world that we can take into the on campus world? What strategies were essential for online learning that are actually great differentiation practices that should continue? How can we prioritize curriculum to do deeper, rather than wider as we did online?
We prioritized connecting with students, developing relationships, and individual well-being. “Practice self-care” became a mantra. Why did it take a pandemic to bring these ideas so clearly into focus?
Exposing the Cracks
I was having a conversation with a friend recently and she said that the pandemic exposed all the cracks in our systems – our global, political, and health care systems on the larger scale – but also our smaller institutions of our daily life. For teachers, that means school. In our school, the time people had at home while the Black Live Matter protests took hold around the world, forced a painful reflection of our own practices (or malpractice) of justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion (JEDI). It was painful. We are facing it. As James Baldwin said, “Not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed until it is faced.
The catalyst, however difficult, was essential in shaping our conversations and work together as we rearticulated the vision and mission of the school. Would JEDI have been so elevated in the conversation had we not exposed the pain underneath the facade of inclusion? As Elizabeth Lesser states above, change is an inside job. We have to acknowledge with kindness the work we need to do among our community, ourselves, within our systems, to create the change we want to see in the world.
So yes, there has been pain in the last year – chaos, exhaustion, fear. And that has all been catalyst for conversation and change and a revolution in educational practice as a necessary response to an extraordinary situation. It unsurfaced the cracks in our systems that require attention. It forced us to reframe our priorities, and that is cathartic. That provides a path forward and that is inspiring. That is a twinkle of joy in the darkness of this last year
An incomplete list of twinkles of joy from this year:
- Watching my students and own children develop independence in their learning out of the necessity of working from home
- Greater patience and understanding among colleagues and students as we navigate the bumpy ride together
- The intentional planning for self-care, well-being, and connection within our school day
- The time spent understanding the importance of names in the JEDI training sessions
- Playing 20 questions and categories on zoom with my class
- Quiet moments with my family
- My daily walk with the dog during the 3 hours we were allowed outside in the worst of lock down
- Reconnecting with old book club friends to create a zoom book club focused on the work of anti-racism with women from across 15 time zones