I have never been too keen on doing “New Year’s Resolutions”. Besides the fact that I have a hard time sticking to them, I just feel they are too artificial. I can’t help but think how silly my New Year’s Resolutions made in January of 2020 would have looked after March 13th when all schools were closed in Pennsylvania.
A better idea, I believe, is to do a reflection on the previous year. Reflecting on the previous year allows you to learn from what happened. You can learn from things that went well and things that did not go so well. What you learn will help you as you navigate the upcoming year.
What I Learned in 2020
We Can Adapt
I will start with my immediate organization (IU8) and zoom out to reflect on the education field and society in general. The folks that work at Appalachia Intermediate Unit 8 are phenomenal. Without talking about specifics (right now) the fact that our staff adapted to such a huge disruption in their work and personal life while staying focused on their job is amazing. One year ago today, no one would have predicted the massive change in our society that we experienced in March. Our organization kept providing the best services available to the most vulnerable student population is just outstanding.
Before the closing of schools, we had a plan to introduce a new program/business to the world. Taking a step back to explain something, in some ways the IU is a type of business incubator. We scan the education environment and look for opportunities to offer programs and services for kids and schools. At IU8, that means that we subsidize a few years of a program to find out if it is going to be viable. We have a three-year window to prove whether or not the program can be sustainable. We put a lot of thought into these new “businesses”. Our Extended Campus program was supposed to have a soft launch in May. The business idea was to offer quality online courses for students and schools. The day schools closed, we decided to go live…to heck with a soft launch! Over the course of the Spring, the program shifted to offering online learning for teachers. We produced over 30 webinars in three months! I am so proud of the work everyone put into this program.
Shifting Our Practice
Our teachers and service providers shifted to an online format in record time. All of our services including, speech therapy, occupational and physical therapy, vision services, student programs, and curriculum training shifted to an online format. Think about this. Under normal circumstances, shifting all of these services to online would have taken well over one year. In most cases, we did it in less than two weeks. What I am particularly proud of, is the fact that we continually got better at our craft as we learned what worked and what did not work. This leads me to…
Becoming a Learning Organization
IU8 is starting to turn into a true learning organization. All of us have come face to face with the fact that when change comes, it does not concern itself with how prepared you are, or what you need to learn to make it happen. To adapt to the situation, you must humble yourself to learn.
How Society Views Schooling
The importance of schooling to our communities is obvious when you reflect on the past year. I am purposefully using “schooling” and not education. This year has taught me that there is a difference in how society views education and schooling.
Society views education as the curriculum. What is my son or daughter being taught that leads to a credential…in our case in public education, a high school diploma. When parents took on more duties of education as their children were home working online, they started to interact with what their children were learning. I see little evidence that this knowledge changed their attitudes at all about the curriculum.
School closings brought to light two stark realities about schooling.
Schools as Babysitter
First, the babysitting role of schools cannot be overestimated. Taking away the babysitting role of schools had a far greater impact than if a school changes a curriculum. When kids are home, someone has to be with them. This prevents adults from going to work. As educators, we cannot fool ourselves to think that the warehousing of kids to help their parents earn a living is not a major purpose of school. School closings made this perfectly clear.
The Importance of High School Sports
Second, interscholastic sports are the engine that drives schools. The traditions and customs that our society has wrapped around sports serve a purpose much larger than education. High school sports serve as a rite of passage between childhood and adulthood. Homecoming, proms, attending Friday night football games are rituals our local school communities use to mark the transition to adulthood for their children. When these traditions are taken away, there is nothing left to officially honor the transition to adulthood.
I am not arguing whether the importance of these traditions is good or bad. The fact is clear that sports, and traditions built around it, have become so entwined in our American culture because it serves as a marker to adulthood. Taking this process away from society leaves people unmoored.
Let’s Just Be Nice To Each Other
The hyper politicization of a biological event (a pandemic) is baffling to me. The meanness of society right now is discouraging. Actually, being mean is glorified by many of our political leaders, starting with the current President of The United States. Looking back on this crazy year, I hope that we all remember to treat all people with dignity and respect, regardless of what you think their political affiliation is.
In the words of the great philosopher Kenny Chesney,
“To see a full moon rise and a sunset fall
Being out here in the middle of it all
Sometimes, it feels good to feel so small
In this big old beautiful world
It’s a big old beautiful world out there
Sometimes you just gotta let it take you where
The roller coaster ride meets the tilt-a-whirl
It’s a big old beautiful world”