And it happened…our worst fears became a reality with the announcement that schools will remain closed for the duration of the school year 19-20! As a result, teachers, staff, school leaders, students, and parents are making long-term plans to continue teaching and learning from home. For most, this will be done through evolving virtual platforms and for others, with no access to technology devices or internet connectivity, still with worksheets and paper packets.
To find solace and cope with this new normal, many have gone to social media to express a myriad of opinions, feelings, and wonderings.
A recent post from an educator stated: “Your teacher friends are not rejoicing. We are not cheering. We are not celebrating. We are heartbroken. Be kind.” Another teacher posted: “Virtual teaching will never replace the love, the laughs, the learning, the smiles on students’ faces, and the “aha” moments that happen in an actual classroom. The quarantine isn’t a break for teachers; it’s a heartbreak.”
A parent wrote: “Does anyone know the number that parents are supposed to call if we need a substitute teacher?” Another parent expressed: “I would have LOVED for my kids to be in this #VirtualLearning environment! Check out the amazing work being done by this #PublicEd teacher and her students.”
While others posted: “Educators are flying the plane while building it. What we have learned is that a virus cannot stop their commitment to kids.” (Eric Sheninger), and yet another stated: “I have always felt that educators are the best at supporting each other, but at this time of crisis, that has never been more clear! The wealth of support, resources shared, and willingness to guide others through this journey of uncertainty and unknown has been profound.” (Laci Fisher)
“Masters of Change” or “Victims of Change”
Regardless of the challenges and opportunities brought forward by this pandemic, we have two options: become “masters of change,” or “victims of change.”
Each of us can choose to thrive with optimism, face every challenge as an opportunity to exercise our creativity and collective wisdom. We can choose to roll up our sleeves in order to tackle this challenge one step at a time and make things happen–one way or another–for the benefit of all children and, ultimately, our great Nation. Simon Sinek posted that “Optimism helps. Optimism is different from positivity. And optimism is not naive either. Optimism accepts the truth or reality and looks forward to a brighter future. Optimism is the foundation of hope. And hope keeps us moving forward. There is light at the end of this tunnel, and we will get there…together.”
On the other hand, we can choose to be pessimists, remain stagnant, ignore what comes our way, become overwhelmed by seeing the worst in every hurdle, and ultimately, succumb to complacency and despair. Shawn Achor, the author of The Happiness Advantage, said it best: “Constantly scanning the world for the negative comes with a great cost. It undercuts our creativity, raises our stress levels, and lowers our motivation and ability to accomplish goals.” For we know that as the old proverb confirms, “Change is the only constant in life” (Heraclitus), certainly, a point of reflection for all of us.
Lessons Learned from “Forced-Change”
Change touches us all, but now the choice to become “masters of change” or “victims of change” is pressing, and as time passes by, continues to intensify in scope and complexity. As a young military spouse during the Gulf War (1990-91), I was personally involved with managing “forced change.” During this time, the U.S. Army was forced to question its own beliefs regarding the importance and influence of military families as an important combat multiplier variable in accomplishing the Army mission.
The pioneer families who embraced this “forced change” with optimism, courage, and determination became “masters of change.” Thanks to their efforts, they contributed to designing and implementing many of the programs and support systems currently in place for today’s military families.
In comparison, I believe we are being presented with a great opportunity to have an immediate impact while also transforming the educational systems of the future.
e2L “Masters of Change”
The engage2learn team is also leading the way and modeling ways to effectively manage “forced change” with a “master of change” mindset. The actions of every member of the e2L team have always been grounded and guided by our unconditional loyalty to the e2L mission “to help the neighborhood public school be the first choice for every family,” as well as our own personal values and beliefs as educators and parents.
From the beginning of this “forced change,” we knew that coaching and training virtually were going to be a different experience for our coachees and for us. So, we rolled up our sleeves and worked tirelessly to prepare for this new reality. We retrained ourselves. We did our research and used our clients’ needs assessments to collaboratively design Virtual Learning Resources, which are now available for the general public. We also developed professional learning onboarding courses within our client-based eSuite platform to support our coachees’ virtual teaching and learning and chosen learning model platforms.
Since then, and still, now, we continue supporting each other’s levels of knowledge, growth, and mastery. We hold strategic, efficient, and effective virtual meetings to respond to our clients’ needs, and we follow the same strategies and protocols we are sharing with others, such as:
- 5 Norms for Virtual Meeting Infographic
- How to Set Up a Virtual Meeting System and Protocols
- Virtual Meetings That Work: 5 Quick Tips
In the midst of this transformation, we are celebrating the great work educators are doing on behalf of our children and our future. In the words of our CEO, Shannon Buerk: “I am simply amazed by all of the #PublicEd districts that have quickly shifted to #VirtualLearning for their #teachers and Ss alike. You’re evoking the #LifeReadySkills of #Collaboration and #Communication so seamlessly…what a silver lining! #engage2learn”
Because at e2L we are strategic and future-oriented, we are not just focused on responding to our clients’ current needs, we are also planning to respond to the new reality our clients will face once we return to the brick and mortar school settings. No small task, but the e2L team is ready to do whatever it takes to support our clients and advance our mission.
School Leaders Response to Change
Our school leaders are also committed to ensuring that during this pandemic and beyond all students, regardless of their learning needs, socioeconomic level, racial status, or neighborhood inequities receive the utmost viable learning experience. However, in its complexity, COVID-19 has also brought to the forefront the inequities and challenges existing in urban, suburban, and rural public education. Likewise, our students and families living in poverty, trauma, and dysfunction deal with significant issues that have been exacerbated by this pandemic. The good news is that our political, community, and educational leaders are engaging in crucial conversations supported by current data to expose this reality with optimism and courage. No doubt, we must remain vigilant and involved as much as possible for the fate of public education is at stake.
Our school leaders are collaborating with employees and businesses to develop creative solutions to address each district’s most immediate challenges. They are most concerned with ensuring that every student receives hot meals as well as quality and nurturing instruction, whether through virtual or more traditional paper packet means. In this effort, they are working hard to ensure that students have appropriate access to technology devices and connectivity to the Internet so that they can fully benefit from their virtual learning experiences. Likewise, school leaders and educators alike are striving to find balance between academics and socio-emotional learning during this crisis and ensuring that parents/guardians receive guidance and support so they can, in turn, support and monitor students’ learning at home.
Like the rest of us, our school leaders are also learning to successfully navigate this new landscape. They have already embraced a “master of change” attitude, and despite the challenges and setbacks, our school leaders press on because they know what’s at stake! In a LinkedIn post, the Superintendent of Westwood ISD, Wade Stanford posted: “Great leaders will not be defined by mistakes but instead, they will rise up and lead through adversity. They will persevere and learn as they face the challenge. They will lead in such a way that those around them will Grow through the adversity!!” (Cited with permission)
Mastering Change Through Creativity & Innovation!
Despite the challenges and stressors of this “forced change” and its resulting evolving virtual reality, our teachers and school leaders are becoming “masters of change” by creating fun and engaging ways to cope and make this virtual learning reality more manageable and nurturing for their students and themselves.
It is uplifting and encouraging to see how educators are making things happen in their virtual school communities. Below are some of these creative and innovative actions. So go ahead, try them…they are already happening somewhere in a local public school near you!
- Teachers are engaging students in fun and creative ways with several activities: joke of the day, quote of the day, show and tell, cross-curricular scavenger hunts, virtual lunch bunch, play virtual games, show off your dance moves, weekly learning or dress themes, recreating a classroom setting in a room or a garage.
- All are collaborating in school-wide activities: homecoming week, SEL activities, student assemblies, awards assemblies, traditional school events, neighborhood parades, administrators, and teachers set-up their desks in front of their houses and wave at students and parents driving by.
- Administrators share bright spots, post appreciation “yard signs” at teacher’s or cafeteria staff’s homes with messages like “Distance is Temporary But a (Principal’s) (Teacher’s) Love is Forever,” “Thank You for Your Hard Work,” etc. Mail or toss (newspaper-style) t-shirts with an inspirational message, such as: “Love First. Teach Second,” “We are in this together.” Post pictures or messages on their school’s social media page containing inspirational messages from students, teachers, administrators, and parents. Join individual teachers’ virtual class meetings to say “happy birthday” to students or just to say hello! Conduct short, ongoing surveys with students, parents, and teachers to solicit ideas, get feedback, and make needed adjustments.
- Counselors share virtual words of wisdom, character, kindness, and personalized messages with students, but especially with students who may be struggling or who simply need a little encouragement. It works wonders for mental health, resiliency, and for managing pandemic associated stressors.
- Communities in School and other alike organizations continue offering and delivering all kinds of support and resources to families. WiFi equipped vehicles (school and public transportation buses) serve as internet access hubs in hard-to-reach areas.
- Librarians support teachers with standards-aligned and fun-facts resources, invite students to participate in virtual reading clubs, or invite special guests to read to students or guest speakers to talk to students about specific topics.
- What are your ideas?
Our Parents Are Change Agents, Too!
Because parents/guardians have also been directly affected by this “forced change,” we need to enlist their cooperation and advice. We know that information is power, so the more we engage in two-way communication and information-sharing, the stronger the nature of the participation and empowerment of all stakeholders will be. After all, our parents/guardians are also navigating the complexities and challenges associated with this new reality, and with everyone’s support, they, too, will become “masters of change.”
Here are some valuable sources of information, advice, and ideas developed by engage2learn: The Parent Toolkit for School Closures, available in English and Spanish, and How to Keep Kids Learning While Working from Home. Another source is found in the FocusMe.com website, for example: How Work-at-Home (Homeschooling!?) Parents Can Stay Sane During this Pandemic.
Parents can also help their children become “masters of change” by focusing on The Importance of Social Emotional Learning During a Pandemic. No doubt, an excellent resource for teachers and parents who want to make sure students learn not only academic content but also Life Ready Skills.
Parents can help their children to effectively manage change by establishing normal, but not too rigid, routines and by balancing time spent with technology and outdoor and leisure activities. Just by establishing some simple routines and norms with a dose of flexibility and balance will help students embrace and manage this experience with courage, optimism, and growth mindset. This will help make the transition back to the classroom much smoother and less stressful for all. We know that maintaining structure during school closures is important, but it should not overshadow the well-being of students, especially for young students.
The Choice is Ours!
The unprecedented challenges and opportunities brought forward by the pandemic of COVID-19, the closing of schools, the fast and furious implementation of virtual learning, the exposure of inequities in education, and the constraints of the stay-at-home and social distancing orders are leaving us with a decision to make. Just like those pioneer military families of the nineties, we can choose to become “masters of change” or “victims of change.”
However, I believe that many of us have already chosen to embrace this “forced change” with optimism, courage, and a growth mindset. I have personally witnessed how educators, parents, and school leaders are unequivocally responding to this call to action! Many are already seeing this challenge as an opportunity to thrive and rise above our current circumstances.
Perhaps we have realized that we are at a tipping point in education? Perhaps this “forced change” and the subsequent and intentional concerted efforts to manage it will lead us to an earnest and profound transformation of the how, the where, and the what of teaching and learning? Perhaps we are realizing that our educational system needs to become an ever-evolving reality and not a prevailing status-quo? Perhaps we have to explore deeper levels of courage and crucial conversations in order to truly focus on guaranteeing and providing equity and excellence for all students?
If only we would be willing to disrupt our “comfort zones” and our archaic status-quo and truly embrace change in ways not experienced before in education? Perhaps we will finally understand Dr. Seuss’s poignant words: “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” Perhaps, in the not-so-distant future, students will be able to continue learning via individualized, customized, integrated instruction by alternating between face-to-face formats and digital resources, virtual platforms, and evolving technologies.
The choice belongs to each of us! After all, “Change is hard at first, messy in the middle and gorgeous at the end.” (Robin Sharma) However, the question for reflection and the call to action remain: What are we going to individually and collectively do to maximize the outcomes and the possibilities hidden in this “forced change”? How far will we take our choice to become “masters of change”? What kind of commitment will we demonstrate when redesigning and shaping the learning experiences our students deserve?
Perhaps we will fulfill Malcolm X’s prophecy that: “Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.” The most pressing task now is to continue adapting practices and mindsets in response to this “forced change” in education with the ultimate goal of improving and providing all students with the learning experiences they deserve! We can do this together!