My Top Three for 2022
Over the last few years, it has been my practice to post a “Top 3” January blog related to our educational transformation efforts and ways these ideas might be manifested in the coming twelve months. While I can honestly say that I have been truly impressed by the heroic efforts of our school system in the last twenty four months to keep our eye on the ball and advance the cause of education in our most trying of times, I think it is also fair to say that the lingering effects of the COVID 19 pandemic has cast somewhat of a shadow over the very good work we have been doing, so much so that the discourse around these aspirations have in some cases receded into the background.
Part of the challenge rests with the hopes we had for this year not being fulfilled. Most of us started this year with some expectation that schools would look more like they did prior to 2019. We stopped using cohort groupings, the staggered starts and dismissals, the double recesses and lunches, and the hybrid instruction. We also half-expected that the vaccines would somehow eliminate the virus. As the year progressed, we all observed that sadly the number of staff and students in our communities getting infected was not decreasing but was still climbing. More so, the resultant issues around student and staff wellbeing continued to rise. Issues over mandatory masking and vaccinations in school plagued us during the fall, while the arrival of Omicron closed the door on 2021/22 as a “near normal” year.
True, the first twelve months of the ordeal brought some of our educational intentions and obstacles into sharper focus. For instance, we learned more about the fundamental importance of school of adult and student wellbeing to the health functioning of our schools. Anxiety and fear ripped through our school communities and punctuated for us how important the place called school is and how intentional we must focus on student mental wellness as an inseparable part of the academic learning experience (I would highly recommend you read Wellbeing in Schools, a recent publication by Andy Hargreaves and Dennis Shirley to get a perspective about its importance under our current circumstances).
So, this year I have decided to break tradition and not predict anything about this year. The truth is that the twists and turns of the pandemic have baffled even the most talented futurists among us. Instead, I have decided to share two words that have become important in our lives, and one that will become important, at least for me. At a minimum, I am making a commitment not to use the first two words in any of my correspondences or conversations about pandemic conditions in schools. The third word will be my personal touchstone for 2022.
Pivot: I was introduced to basketball in elementary school and fell in love with the game. I learned early on that jump-stopping and pivoting were important skills to successful play. Sadly, too many of us have coopted this term to respond to the various changes we have had to make in our health, safety, and educational protocols. For example, I have been guilty of saying something like, “We will need to pivot to online learning.” No more. The next time I use the word pivot will be when one of the guys in my men’s basketball league commits a travelling violation, as in, “You dragged your pivot foot, buddy.” Time to consider new alternatives. A simple word like “switch” may do the trick nicely.
Unprecedented: I get it - there are numerous things that have occurred that we have not personally witnessed before. For instance, it was only because of COVID-19 that the word “super-spreader” was added to Webster’s dictionary in 2020. However, I will make two points about the “unprecedented” nature of our circumstances. First of all, there is a precedent for this pandemic, albeit a century ago. Many of us know that the Spanish Flu ravaged the world from 1910-20, taking millions of lives and stopping the world in its tracks. While our knowledge in the field of virology has vastly improved since then, our predecessors did, in fact, know how to slow the spread of the virus. You need only do a little research to see images of people wearing masks and physically distancing in the early 1900s to realize that what we are doing now is not entirely new (go figure). Secondly, I would like to think that we have sufficiently mature vocabularies to not repeatedly use “unprecedented” to describe the unpredictable events we encounter. How about unparalleled, unmatched, extraordinary, unique or uncommon? Unprecedented is off my list.
Resolve: I think we all need some new words to help us navigate 2022. My friend and colleague, Superintendent Chris Kennedy, in his most recent blog said that his word for the year was FOCUS and asked each of us to share our word that will guide us for the year. I have many from which to choose, but I think mine will be RESOLVE. I am referring more to the noun and less to the verb. I recently mentioned to our principals that the last two years of my career have been the most difficult but also the most important. Nothing has tested my resolve to make a difference in the lives of children more than this disease. Each day that another challenge arrives, I perceive it as a test of my resolve to make a difference. It is for this reason that I resolve (v) to keep my attention to what matters most and how I can be at my best to support great leadership, teaching and learning in our district.