Inspired Ideas
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Inspired Ideas

Looking Back on a Tumultuous School Year: Pause, Reflect, and Re-Imagine

By Errica Dotson-Hooper, Manager of the Teaching and Learning Center, HCDE

As this tumultuous school year comes to a screeching halt, I hope that you take a moment to celebrate the fact that you made it.

Thinking back, it all feels surreal because at this time last year, many of us wondered how we’d ever manage and if we’d make it through or out, alive. Some of us were full of fear, angst, doubt, and despair about what was taking place in our families, our communities, our nation, and even in our world. Each day in 2020 seemed heavy, gloomy, and overwhelming. I remember one day thinking that God must really trust us to have us endure so much, so suddenly. A thought that would cause me to laugh and then I’d instantly be brought to tears.

In the midst of this chaotic scene, I decided to start a podcast for educators to stay connected and to create an outlet to share social and emotional best practices so that collectively, we’d come through this time whole. Many of the conversations before the actual interview were so powerful. I quickly realized that many were searching not only for answers but for who they would become because of the pandemic. Some were launching businesses, taking up new hobbies, writing books, and even expanding their families by 4 paws or 2 feet! But all in all, educators across the country were trying to find peace and normalcy in the midst of such a difficult time. And when they finally seemed to be finding their way, school started and it was time to get back to work.

Over the past nine months, I have seen many teach and lead in ways that were previously uncommon, pushing themselves to reinvent the process in the best interests of students and families. And while it was hard, I did see a sparkle — a glimmer of hope in the eyes of many as they re-imagined the possibilities for urban education. I believe that some realized that their efforts were not in vain, as students came alive, engaged, and curious about instruction. The fear around trial and error quickly dissipated because need outweighed nerves. We found new ways to integrate technology and cutting-edge methods to assess learning and growth. And because of this, many students have begun to view their role in the work differently, taking more ownership and leadership in the classroom as more choices were extended. Students who previously would not utter a word were giving presentations virtually and working collaboratively with enthusiasm.

In addition, some families decided to opt-out of the traditional education setting all together to home school. After watching their children work virtually for several months, some parents realized that they could do it better. Many parents have successfully stood as both principal and teacher of their own pod or micro-school. And the outcomes have been inspiring to say the least, game-changing at the most. Leaders have nurtured everyone from top to bottom, implementation social emotional practices in every aspect of school life to ensure that they, along with their teams, were not running on fumes.

Tough times called from tough measures, but we made it.

Perusing social media recently has been intriguing, as I’ve witnessed many making bold new moves in their careers, moving up or out to pursue a new life path. This is truly an exciting time because, in the midst of the pain and discord, many have seemed to find their way back to who they truly are and on the road to who they truly were meant to become, out of a sheer desire to live their best life in all of its many colors. After a year of pandemic pressure, I believe this is the best self-care practice an educator could put in place.

So while the gentle breeze of spring trades places with the warm embrace of summer, it is my hope that you will take time to pause and to reflect. To evaluate and to innovate. To laugh, to dance, and to pray. But most importantly, to consider it all, in light of who you have now become so that you will do it differently. That you will do what’s best for you, the first time.

Errica Dotson-Hooper is the Manager of Teaching & Learning for Harris County Department of Education. A native of Los Angeles, California, she is a graduate of Howard University (BA), Stephen F. Austin State University (MEd) and Dallas Theological Seminary (CGS-Christian Education). The Teach for America alum (Houston ’02) has worked in education for over 17 years in a variety of capacities serving staff and students in HISD, CEP, KIPP New Orleans and KIPP Houston. She is also the host of The Wellness Space Podcast.

To be reminded why your work is so very important and for more stories and advice, visit our collection of teacher perspectives at The Art of Teaching.

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