“I can be changed by what happens to me. I will not be reduced by it.”– Maya Angelou
The most important qualities in education for the 2020-2021 school year will be transparency and flexibility. I believe these two values tie together the fundamental approach by which we must lead, in order to remain focused on what is best for our students and staff.
Number one -Safety. Number two -Learning.
As we plan how the school year will look for 2020-2021, there is only one thing that is truly clear: we simply don’t know. Now, in late July, COVID-19 has not slowed or stopped, despite the time lapse between our doors closing in March. Cases are continuing to rise and decisions made one day can change by the next. Political emotions run high as they always do in times of stress as well as being so close to an election. And, social media seems to be the place people release these emotions.
According to Statista, online usage increased by 18% the first week of March (Clement, 2020). The Harris Poll conducted between late March and early May found that between 46% and 51% of adults were using social media more due to the outbreak (Samet, 2020). While many people felt this usage increased their connecting to others, some used these platforms to vent and ultimately increase their stress and anxiety.
Historically, the beginning of the school year is never a dull time. Traditionally, it is filled with planning, collaborating to create meaningful learning opportunities, designing ways to begin a new year in creative and exciting ways for teachers and students. As a leader and teacher, I have always found this time to be extremely valuable for me to really understand the goals of the upcoming year and my focus. How can I support teachers? How can I build positive relationships with students and families? How can I ensure learning remains the top priority at all times?
This year, those questions have an entirely different feel. COVID brings unknown elements into play. Not only are we dealing with a health pandemic, but we are also grappling with the recent societal challenges of police brutality, equity protests, and the Black Lives Matter movement. All of these impact our students and our teachers. All of them will impact the classroom – virtual or face-to face. How do we ensure safety when best practices change frequently or, more accurately, there are no best practices yet? How do we teach our students the critical social justice standards that will build safe and respectful learning environments when eye contact may not be possible? And if it is possible, how can we establish trust when we are behind masks and far from one another?
While these questions are difficult, the answers are simple: transparent communication, flexible guidelines, transparent ideas and explanations. Grace, grit, gratitude for one another and for the silver linings. Finding new ways to connect to our students has never been more necessary. Thoughtfully planning ways to better get to know the dimensions of diversity within our staff and within our classrooms has never been more critical. A clear and consistent message, despite the lack of clarity and murkiness of the unknown, truly demands simplicity, flexibility, and patience from everyone.
As Glennen Doyle emphasized in her recent book, Untamed, we can do hard things.
This year, the return of teachers and the preplanning agenda is more than merely setting a positive tone to kick off another year. This year we must bring more optimism to our teachers. The sobering reality of our current uncertainty causes fear and stress for everyone. Transparency and flexibility are more than simple goals – they are required if we are to bring grace and grit to our students. Now, more than ever, we need to remember our why and lead with love through this crisis. We can do this…together.
“Each day remember your purpose. Remember why you do what you do. We don’t get burned out because of what we do. We get burned out because we forget why we do it.”Jon Gordon, The Seed