Monday, November 23, 2020

We Can Do Hard Things

"Faithful to the past and open to the future, we must accept the burden and welcome the opportunity of proclaiming the Gospel of Christ in our times. Where this is a summons to change, we must be willing to change. Where this is a call to stand firm, we must not yield" (National Conference of Catholic Bishops, 1972, #41). 

At some point over the summer, I came across the following video: 


 The caption included with the post read, "2020 in 50 seconds." 

To say that 2020 has been hard is an understatement. I know that for some, this has been the hardest year of their lives. Death, sickness, loss of work, working in the face of health risks, virtual school, working from home, quarantining, wearing masks, anxiety, stress, political and racial turmoil. 




As 2020 draws to a close and the darkness of winter looms over us, we grasp for glimmers of light, for reasons for hope: potential vaccines, bipartisan efforts in the government, anti-racist efforts being a movement not a moment, a new calendar year and the opportunity to leave 2020 in the past. 

But, as we look ahead with hopeful optimism, may we also look back to take stock of our efforts to survive this year and remind ourselves that we can do hard things.

The world of education pivoted practically overnight. Schools went from in-person instruction to virtual school with almost no preparation, no precedent, no research on best practices, no knowledge of just how long this virtual experiment would last. 

Eight months later and many schools find themselves still in or returning to online instruction. 

There are undoubtedly many ideas about how to best navigate these unfortunate circumstances, coupled with emerging research about what works best as well as the effects that this approach is having, and will continue to have, on our students. Like some other aspects of our lives, hopefully this time of unprecedented schooling will leave behind some positive changes to our overall programming. Perhaps some of the ways that schools have been forced to operate differently in order to figure out what in the world to do this year can make us better once life returns to normal.   

First, perhaps school's efforts to figure out what is most essential to teach can result in the identification of power standards. When the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) were published in 2010, one of the touted advantages was that they would allow for teachers and students to go a mile deep over an inch worth of standards, compared to an inch deep in a mile long list of standards. 

Perhaps 2020 will allow us to be even more intentional in what and how we teach our students. 

Second, schools have had to amplify their efforts to communicate with teachers, students, and most importantly families. Even the best of communication plans could not have had a contingency plan for 2020. As such, new avenues for teacher-family communication, teacher-student communication, and school-home communication have emerged. Instead of forcing parents/families to come to school during an incredibly small window on 1-2 days for conferences, perhaps more frequent meetings can occur over Zoom. Given that many parents/families in work from home situations had to act as classroom assistants, schools needed to get these unpaid staff members up to speed regarding content, instruction, assessments, and progress. 

May schools continue to find ways to help parents/families take active roles in the education of their students. Out of necessity, teachers have hosted office hours and found other creative ways to communicate with and support students. May teachers make themselves available to their students in similar ways, albeit in person, in a post-pandemic world. Finally, may schools continue to transparently communicate with teachers, families, and students rationale for decisions and keep them informed of school news and events. 

Third, I've heard from many teachers and administrators that observing teachers has been difficult throughout the pandemic. Given the time demands placed upon leaders, there are many reasons that getting into classrooms and/or Zoom rooms would pose challenges. On top of this, the stress of the pandemic has inspired many school leaders to lighten expectations for teachers to participate in professional development outside of trying to figure out how to transition to virtual/hybrid/modified in-person/safety precautioned instruction. In this way, principals have shifted from chief evaluator to executive coach. Formative and explorative conversations fill staff rooms, Zoom conferences, messages, and inboxes. 

May school leaders continue to support teachers in this way in more traditional times and build upon this collaborative relationship forged in the midst of these trials. 

Fourth and finally, Catholic schools have had to figure out how to make faith, over the internet and void of the communal nature of our religion, important during these difficult times. Schools have had to intentionally make time for and consider the best approaches to community prayer, celebrations of the Eucharist, faith sharing, and offering general social-emotional-spiritual support. 

In some cases, this exercise of reimagining how we pray as a community may have also unearthed the beliefs underneath these practices. Why do we celebrate Mass as a school community? Why do we have morning assembly? Why do we start each class with prayer? If we truly believe they are worthwhile, we should not let the problems of a pandemic keep us from engaging students and teachers in these activities. In fact, perhaps it is even more important that we find a way to bring people into relationship with Jesus Christ now more than before. 

As stated by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in 1972, "Within both the Christian community and the educational ministry the mission to teach as Jesus did is a dynamic mandate for Christians of all times, places, and conditions...Proclaiming the Gospel is a perennial task and joy for the Church of Jesus Christ" (#'s 4 and 6). 

Jesus's commission is dynamic and proclaiming the Gospel is a perennial task and joy for us. We don't get a hall pass for 2020. In this way we must remember:  

The Christian community has every reason for hope in confronting the challenge of educational ministry today. To all our efforts we join prayer for God's help, and for the intercession of Mary, the Mother of Jesus. We face problems; so did those who came before us, and so will those who follow. But as Christians we are confident of ultimate success, trusting not in ourselves, but in Jesus Christ, who is at once the inspiration, the content, and the goal of Christian education: "the way, and the truth, and the life." (National Conference of Catholic Bishops, 1972, #155)

We can do hard things. Don't let 2020 cause you to forget.