Happy New Year! I hope everyone had a safe and restful break.
I heard someone tell me recently that the worst thing about light at the end of the tunnel is that you see, in some cases for the first time, what’s inside the tunnel. There is encouraging news every day. It feels like everyone I talk to knows someone who has received the vaccination for COVID-19. At the same time, we still have miles to go together and it is becoming clearer just how traumatic this pandemic has been.
Back in October, when it was announced that our district’s schools would finish the semester via distance learning, there was at least some relief in knowing how the next few months were going to play out. Parents and educators are planners. Predictability permits perfect planning.
We know we are beginning this second semester in the distance learning model our stellar team of professionals has designed and honed over the last several months. We continue to get better every day at facilitating engaging, interactive instruction. We will continue this semester to build on our success in bringing students to campus within the safety guidelines set forth by state and county health officials. Connectivity pods, student enrichment through co-curricular activities, academic support, and athletic conditioning will remain our priorities.
I wish we could map things out more concretely at this time. I wish we could make a promise that, for example, the class of 2021 will have an in-person graduation or that 9th graders will have a proper on-campus orientation before they enter 10th grade. We can’t make those promises yet, but we’re doing everything in our power to get us there.
The other aspect where this is all difficult for us as educators and parents stems from the desire to guarantee the best possible outcome for our kids. We typically tie these outcomes to results of standardized tests, college readiness, or other objective measures. I have been a part of much collective fretting about “learning loss” and plans for remediation over the coming years. Understandably, everyone is concerned that academic milestones will be impossible to meet. Furthermore, distress arises from the unknown long-term impact of not meeting those milestones on the timeline to which we’ve adhered over the past several decades.
But what if we’re wrong? Might these milestones now truly be obsolete? Instead of assuming that our students are getting lapped in some imaginary race around a make-believe track, what if we saw this singular moment in history as THE defining milestone of their development as successful, self-fulfilled, contributing adults in society.
Our students have learned to be adaptive, flexible, and resourceful. Maybe they mastered a difficult concept in their math class by deep-diving on YouTube or by applying that concept to stretching the contents of their refrigerator into a week’s worth of lunches for their siblings. By masking when in public or sacrificing time with friends and extended family in order to help slow a global pandemic, they’ve learned what being a part of something bigger than yourself truly feels like. They’ve had to cope with loss. Whether a canceled sports season or a deceased loved one, that grief is real and probably unprecedented for our students.
It hasn’t been easy for them, nor smooth for the rest of us. True learning never is. But I’m going to reject the notion that our students are falling behind. In fact, I’ve noticed something lately when I interact with students who drop by campus. Maturity. Body language, eye contact, assertiveness: it all points to a wisdom our students now possess that wasn’t evident before. Adolescents, at this pivotal developmental stage between childhood and adulthood, are in many ways advancing at an accelerated rate.
As we continue to see each other more frequently, advancing safely and incrementally to a return to in-person school I am looking forward, perhaps more than anything else, to listening to them. I am eager to learn from their experience and insight about how we all move forward. What world they want to help build when we come out of this tunnel together. I am so excited to hear the stories they will tell about how they survived this difficult time.