A year like none before, for sure. And hopefully, a year like no other to come. For the many human lives, the friends, the family members, the neighbors, the colleagues we’ve lost, to COVID, police brutality and the myriad challenges 2020 has wrought, we look upon your absence with grief and pain and anguish; we will not allow your life to have been lived in vain.
There’s nothing about the return to school this year that is remotely recognizable. For the most part, teachers are home, students are home, parents in some cases are home; at some point in all of our lives we’ve wished to be home, but never could we have imagined anything like this. Stating the challenges this year has brought seems a perfunctory exercise at this point. We are all painfully aware of what’s not working and how it feels to live in this state of certain uncertainty everyday. So instead of trying to allay your worries with inspirational words, I think it more befitting to share with you a few tactical ways to remember your power and help you to exercise your power during this time.
- No one is an expert right now, so make your voice heard. Of the many things this pandemic has illuminated, chief among them is the fact that expertise in crisis management doesn’t currently lie within many of our schools and school systems. That is to say, planning for the unfathomable hasn’t been top of mind before now. Although this presents a real opportunity for growth in our education system writ large, it also represents a real opportunity of voice for you. There are no small ideas. There are no irrelevant options. There aren’t any inappropriate curiosities. Now, more than ever, is the time to assert your ideas, to put your thoughts for the way forward on the table. The road ahead doesn’t have to be put upon you; you can build it and bring others along to walk your path.
- There’s no blueprint for the way forward, so offer your own. In the political sphere, there is a concept known as The Overton Window, which is essentially a model for pushing the conversation around ideas along a spectrum to a certain pole, over time. For example, there are ideas that are considered safe, sensible, popular and acceptable. There are also ideas considered radical and unthinkable. The model asserts that if you want to push the conversation around what’s possible to the fore, you don’t start with safe, acceptable ideas – you start with radical, audacious, nearly unthinkable ideas. Then what happens over time is any ideas that aren’t as radical and unthinkable, become normalized. Let’s try this out. Say you offer to your school or district leadership, school board or union officials the idea that instructional hours should be 10am-2pm from now on, that teachers should work only a three-day week, and that all instructional staff should be allowed to telecommute permanently as their primary mode of instructional delivery if they so choose. Wow! Radical! Perhaps the electorate just won’t engage in those conversations, or perhaps the reactions to such audacious suggestions are negative on the whole and don’t get much traction. What you’ve done though, is open up the conversation for a real shift in the number of instructional hours, an analysis into whether Monday-Friday has more merit than challenge, and permanent hybrid solutions become palatable. There are entire industries that will never be the same again, and I don’t think ours is very different. So offer your own vision for what the future might hold and push the conversation in the direction of your ideas. You have NOTHING to lose.
- Trade-offs MUST be made. Public service institutions are not well known for identifying areas where losing something in one respect will allow for gain in another. However, to navigate a crisis event, it is imperative that leaders make difficult, situational decisions that may see diminished quality or quantity in a particular set of outcomes to experience a return among others. To do this, leaders have to be very clear about what the organization’s values, the priorities, the investments they are willing to make, and which of those things could be reasonably sacrificed for a greater, longer-term outcome. Leaders who are unwilling to identify trade-offs, those who don’t believe they can make a decision between two important priorities or constituent groups, do their organization everyone touched by the organization a disservice; they effectively set up a future circumstance that disallows a sustained presence of critical areas of the organization’s work. When you make a trade-off, you aren’t declaring something unimportant or of less value. Instead, you are acknowledging the context of the decision to be made, putting stock in an area of function or practice that will produce desired outcomes, and you are committing to addressing the area of loss in a way different to previous at some more appropriate moment in time.
- Power is taken, not given. The education profession is fraught with many, decades-old, complex challenges. At times, educators can feel like victims of the profession, disempowered even. But the reality is far different than the overwhelmingly negative feelings that have become baked in to the commitment to teaching and learning. The reality is that the profession does not and can not operate without talented, committed teachers, teacher leaders, school leaders, and support staff. That being true, the power then, doesn’t lie within the system, it lies within the hands of you, the educators. So what does that mean during this time? Well, it means that you make it perfectly clear what you are willing to identify as the stakes. It means that you voice not just your frustration, but your suggestions for what is possible. And it definitely means, that you don’t go the aforementioned alone. A community of educators is a powerful machine. Organize. Advocate. Use your power to seed empowerment amongst your colleagues. As a collective, you can’t be ignored. Power defines the rules, the rules don’t define who has power.
At 4DL, we stand for educators. We stand with educators. We are educators. As this pandemic continues to iterate, use us to help you exercise your voice whenever necessary. Reach out to us to help bring people together, to organize, to form collective groups of empowered people. Remember that “no” isn’t a real answer, because where there is will, there is most certainly a way.
Wishes for the most empowering year yet,