In the past six months we have seen our schools shut down, open as virtual, navigate supply and materials pick up and drop off without contact, reopen, reopen again, deliver lunches without a lunchroom, reschedule, redraft, revote, renew, renegotiate, and so much more. For most teachers, they have zero idea of what tomorrow will hold for their jobs, the expectations of their role, or their ability to interact with their students (albeit face to face or virtually).
Near daily since March I have had the privilege of talking with educators. I’ve heard their frustration, seen their tears, heard their cries and angry screams, brainstormed into the wee hours, and laughed with some until we were exhausted. Though every challenge that has come their way they have individually and collectively navigated an increasingly bazaar time in our world history.
But to each of those educators, I would ask you to do one more thing: Please don’t close your eyes, right now I need you to notice.
Now more than ever we are seeing a few things come to life. We are seeing behavior, beliefs, values, attention, capacity, and more. And with every one of those things there are examples. Those examples are why I desperately want you to keep your eyes open even under the stress and burnout and absolute crazy. It is within these examples that we can see what is possible and what you deserve. As well as what you don’t.
You deserve connected systems that support this moment, that support you, and support you as a professional who chooses to not teach the same year over and over again. You deserve a connected system that supports you as the professional that is innovating and leading and making value in coming to school real and meaningful and uniquely purposeful for all kids.
To the teachers who are teaming in new ways, relying on the strength of the collective, and collaborating through it all, you are an example.
You are looking around you and finding opportunity instead of limits. You are working so hard to keep your kids, their families, and yourself and your family safe. Yet still you are seeking ways to use new tools to bring others into your work. You are leaning on those who know differently and have different skill sets that your own. You are owning your strengths and looking to your peers to help overcome your weaknesses. Like so many others living through this moment, you are acknowledging imperfection and fully owning that none of us is as strong as all of us.
To the superintendents who have been working with your entire staff and community to use time and space differently, you are an example.
You are proving near daily that you can think outside of the box. You have nurtured a system that is ready and willing to work together differently to do what is best for kids and the greater learning community. You are thinking about the dynamics of families and the commitment you have made to kids in your community and even with a pandemic you are holding true to your vision. You are taking it upon yourself to be the voice and calm, connecting your mission to the moment and making things work that you once thought unimaginable. You are using your voice to look out for our kids with information, insight, and expertise that only you hold.
To the City and County leaders who are putting out fires, creating new pathways to collaboration, and being vocal in helpful ways, you are an example.
You are taking on the role of leadership your community needs right now. You are standing up to keyboard-bullies, you are pitching in, you are recruiting substitute teachers, you are finding funds to pitch in for much needed supplies, you are meeting weekly with leaders and parents and teachers. You are hearing them all, equitably. You are not inserting yourself into the education system but you are acknowledging that we can all chip in through positive, collective action. You are the setting the tone for your community and how they will work through the current and future challenges of a pandemic.
To the parents and families who are making hard choices and acknowledging that you may or may not have your own needs met by every decision that is made while still being a positive force, you are an example.
You are the ones that are speaking your truth, without demands that may leave others in a lurch. You are ones leaning on neighbors for help and seeking solutions that work for your family. You are the ones that are not crying out with privileged anger, but making decisions that get your family through this time. You are the ones that are talking with friends about your stress and working through things instead of expecting others to fix all that is wrong. You are the ones with busy schedules, often with full time jobs and strained economies. Yet you put your energy where it needs to be, your family. You make calls and send emails, you use your voice. You are always the voice with ideas and opportunities in place of the demands that you could make. You are watching out for you and not pretending in any way to understand what every family needs during this time.
To the building principals who are nurturing your teams, helping them find calm, and taking action to get kids and teachers what they need, you are an example.
You are taking the stance that your job is not to put energy into the negative, but focus on moving ahead and showing that in this time your staff is strong and committed to quality, equitable learning. You are focused on what you can control and contributing to the dialogue about those things which you cannot. You are feeding opportunity through brainstorming and team challenges, and more. You are being intentional with any “yes” and purposeful with any “no.” You are calling on your national networks to lift you up, bring new ideas, and create a safe space for you to process all that your job has become. You are not giving up on your promise to your teachers to empower great things. You are writing grants, finding new ways to get your kids outside, and even in this moment you are giving yourself the freedom to dream.
To the teachers who are still innovating and leading in the learning experiences you are providing for your kids, you are an example.
You are tired, you have been verbally assaulted, your profession has been equated to that of a babysitter, you have been raked over the coals, and so much more. Even with all of that, you are not letting this moment get lost in its weight. You are focused on creating those learning experiences for kids that count. You aren’t worried about “what they have lost” in the past six months, but rather focused on “what they have gained.” Even though the beautiful flexible learning spaces were yanked out of your rooms, you are still finding ways for kids to work together on important work that has meaning and purpose. Even though you are working day and night you are still giddy with excitement over the one new thing you tried and the new projects your students are engaged in.
To the non-profit leaders waiting in the wings and helping in any way that you can to support kids and families who need you most, you are an example.
Your fundraising went to pot, you have lost staff, given up office space, hunkered down and contributed in ways you never thought possible during a pandemic. You are taking the responsibility to serve your community in whatever capacity they need. You are living your commitment to serving others and it is hard and tiring and frustrating. You are not giving up, you are delivering services in new ways, and you are sustaining the progress you have made with your stakeholders. You are moving your communities forward. You are silent servers, but you are mighty and you are a living example of the action your community needs right now.
Around so many communities there is concern, anger, fear, and a little bit too much hate. Around so many communities there is also giving, contribution, positive support, encouraging action, and respectful dialogue. In this moment we can notice who is chipping in, or we can notice who is making demands with no real contribution. In this moment we can notice who is making things better, or we can give voice to the bullies. In this moment we can see the loud be treated as the sovereign, while the people who are heads down doing the hard work that will sustain through this moment are being vilified. In this moment we can learn who understands public education as it can be, and those who are tied only to what it has been. In this moment we can learn who we can trust with our livelihood and who we cannot.
In this moment there will be lessons, so very many lessons.
In this moment we can raise the bar for just about everyone in our community or we can lower it. Our energy flows where out attention goes. Don’t just ignore that yucky, but shut it down. Don’t just survive, find new ways to thrive. Don’t let others belittle the profession you have nurtured as an innovator, give them hell for not doing the hard work.
Teachers know that we see you, we hear you, and we value your efforts to make the most of this moment.
Please don’t close your eyes.
Jody is a thought leader in and advocate for public education that meets the needs of all children in a continually changing world. Follow her work at jodybritten.com.