By Stuart Udell, CEO, Achieve3000.
I was recently asked a very straight-forward question, “How do I return my school to normal as fast as possible?” My answer may surprise you.
The answer is anything but straight-forward. I don’t believe we should return our schools back to normal as soon as possible. And perhaps, we shouldn’t return them to normal at all. The COVID-19 pandemic was a seismic event in the world of education, shaking us to our very core. When delivering academic and social-emotional services to our children, it forced schools to dig deep, to be more inventive than we had ever been. More imaginative. More resourceful. More ingenious.
In the education biz, it is easy to become a creature of habit. And how much simpler it would seem just to roll back into our time-tested, comfortable world of “normal.” But rather than searching for comfort, leadership should be asking, “How can we make bold changes at this inflection point to ensure that our school is moving forward and is better than it ever was before?”
For many of us, 2020/2021 was the most challenging school year of our lives. For teachers. For administrators. For parents and students as well. We were all thrown a completely new set of circumstances with very few rules and asked to figure it out. And then, almost as if by magic, we all seemed to grasp the same two words in unison.
Of course, it helped tremendously that we were working with some very smart people. Our teachers and administrators immediately rolled up their sleeves, went to work and figured it out. Through the benefit of their hard work, their creativity, their love of the profession and their love of the children, they asked the two magic words and began to move us forward.
I have never seen a group of people work harder or smarter. Through a lot of late nights and a lot of crazy questions and even crazier answers, our nation of educators moved forward, often throwing out 150 years of precedent to find new answers based on methods that had never before been tried. It wasn’t always pretty. But it was beautiful.
As devastating as the pandemic was (and is), it compelled us to take a very hard look at the way we do things in education. In all candor, education was so set in its ways that perhaps it took a seismic event like a worldwide pandemic to unleash the mindset necessary to rewrite the unwritten rules that had become standards in this profession. And perhaps, a seismic event was long past due. But now that it is here, it seems that nothing is off the table.
We are enjoying the power of ideas. We are looking at technology in very different ways, discovering that it is possible for instruction to be truly flexible and personalized. For so long, we managed to use technology and change nothing. Now we are looking at changes and artfully applying technology to do the heavy lifting, reserving teachers for their skill and most of all, for their humanity. And very few of us are clamoring to return to normal, fast or otherwise.
The self-imposed shackles, forged in the fire of 150 years of “That’s The Way We Have Always Done It,” have been removed. Our educators are getting a long-awaited taste of freedom. Long forgotten passions have been rekindled. And we feel the excitement – excitement that many of us haven’t felt since we were new in the profession.
Schools are moving forward. And rather than returning to where we were, we are finding new ground for ourselves and our learners. I’m proud to be a part of it. And if, one day, this becomes our old normal, then on that day we may want to return. But I suspect things will continue to evolve and we’ll continue to make bold strides to the future. And we’ll be loving every minute of it.