Like many of us, my mind has been accustomed to anticipating the future and making decisions as a leader that best prepares the team for what is likely coming next. In fact, I find a great deal of comfort and pride in my ability to be forward thinking and believe it to be one of my best skills. But this time that we are living in has changed that. None of us can predict, with any level of certainty or confidence, what may be coming next. Stability can only be found in being sure that life, work, and play as we once knew it is in an ongoing cycle of change. Change is the new constant. And if change was difficult for humans pre-COVID, we can all expect this time period to be one of the most challenging and significant periods of our lifetime.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t share how disruptive this has been for me personally and professionally. And I believe this to be true for almost all of us. Disruption causes discomfort, but in an attempt to shift my thinking I’ve been reminded that it can also be the birthplace of innovation. I am choosing to see it as an opportunity to reinvent myself, to reinvent how we do the work in public education, and ultimately, create a better and more equitable system for all children. It seems that even with knowing we were in the midst of a public education system riddled with too much standardized testing, not enough social emotional learning or personalization, many of us find ourselves longing for what we knew-even though we know it wasn’t the best way to support and lead teaching and learning. It’s a classic lesson and it teaches us that every thing that is comfortable to us isn’t good for us. And without being forced to take on a new perspective, many of us would not be able to let go of the past-no matter how unproductive it has been for many students and educators.
Reinventing ourselves can be exciting work. We get to start over and clarify our values and beliefs. We can create healthier and happier versions of ourselves. We can make our work what we desire it to be instead of feeling stuck in a system that we know doesn’t work for all children. But this period of significance can also be accompanied by fear and anxiety. Not knowing is the height of discomfort and that is why we must solidly rely on what we do know. I am choosing to concentrate on those eternal principles that will never change: 1. Relationships matter a great deal. In the end, it’s our relationships with others that carry us through and make our lives meaningful. I intend to use this pandemic to create and build on those friendships and relationships that matter most to me. 2. The needs of the children must come first. With all the conversation regarding learning loss, it’s easy to gloss over those other needs-safety, security, food, shelter, hope-that our children all have and may even be heightened as a result of this pandemic. When we stop to ask ourselves what it is that our children need, we need to be gut level honest. We cannot make their social emotional needs less important than their need to learn. Both matter a great deal, and quite frankly it is about both need and readiness. If we don’t work to be sure our children are ready to learn, we will miss the opportunity to meet their need to learn. Let’s not assume that the only need for our children is to recover the learning they’ve lost. We all know being academically successful is built on a foundation of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. We need to be attuned to that with a precise focus. 3. The most difficult work can only be done successfully if we work well together. Collaboration is necessary for success, and during this time I find it to be essential. If we aren’t pulling our team together to share the load, engage in powerful discourse about next steps, and support each other, we can be sure that we’ve succumbed to an approach that is purely centered on surviving. As hard as things are, we need to survive and thrive, and in my mind the thriving part has never been more important.
I am hopeful that we can all take this opportunity to reinvent ourselves and our work in ways that benefit us and those we serve beyond this pandemic. My goal is to come out happier, stronger, and a better leader than before. To do that, I’ll have to let go of my need to anticipate what is coming next and focus on being purposefully present-enjoying every good and happy moment life offers, making the most of my experiences, and finding joy in knowing that moving through this pandemic one day at a time is more than o.k. instead of thinking ahead. I’m committed to being purposefully present and collecting all the joy I can find.
Until next time, be you. Be true. Be a hope builder.