This post was originally shared in an email on December 18, 2020. If you would like to receive my next email update, you can sign up here.

As we wind down 2020, I cannot put a bow on this year. I don’t know the five things we should all learn from 2020 because I am still in it and processing the journey.

But I am ending the year thinking a lot about how so many things can be true at the same time. We can have missed out on a lot of learning and be overwhelmed by how much we have learned. We can miss school so much and see more clearly the things we never want our educators and students to experience again. We can celebrate hero educators and see all the things we need to learn to do better. We can acknowledge how much schools have been rising to meet the needs of a hard time and see that many schools are facing very real challenges. It’s a fallacy to debate what feels more true. They’re all true.

In the spirit of false debates, as we look to the work of 2021 I’m watching a split emerge between what I’d call “Team Recovery” and “Team Redesign.”

On one side, I see Team Recovery trying to figure out ways to help schools meet the moment created by interrupted schooling with strategies that can put students back on track. I hear Team Recovery worried about the risks of this interrupted schooling, focused on strategies that can mitigate the “learning loss,” and calling for solutions we can add: more time, more people, more resources, more attention.

On the other side, Team Redesign wants to help schools meet the moment by making long-overdue structural changes and finding new approaches for students who have always been underserved. Team Redesign is calling for different ways of doing business altogether: a different scoreboard, a different orientation to decision-making, a different approach to curriculum and content, a different way of thinking about resources.

Even if both teams are focused on preventing a generation of children from experiencing catastrophic opportunity loss, the conversations can be emotional. Team Recovery can feel like Team Redesign is ignoring the challenge of the moment or underestimating how challenging it is to make systemic overhauls within the current system and climate. At worst, it can feel like Team Redesign is disregarding the effort that went into school as we knew it and the value it held for many students and families. Team Redesign can feel like Team Recovery is ignoring the glaring problems inherent in an old “normal” that was not working for everyone in the first place. At worst, it can feel like Team Recovery is ignoring the pain and harm of the status quo.

As these debates unfold, the truth is, most of the school and system leaders I talk to are on “Team Survive Another Day.” They would love to have the debate but they have to finish contact tracing, process the latest update from their state department or health agency, call back that parent, and sneak in a few minutes observing instruction. They would love nothing more than to nail recovery and change some things forever, as soon as they can breathe for a minute.

If I have one hope for 2021 it is that we do not turn away from each other over false debates. I hope we create enough room in conversations to hear each other and ask, “How can we fundamentally reimagine and take seriously the challenges created by the moment and help leaders now?” If we do, I think we will find the same answers to serve all the needs. There is a lot of common ground across the things we know work, the desires families have for their students, and the motives that bring educators to this line of service.

We can meet both the challenge and the opportunity by giving every student more of what works, in a way that has never been done before.

I have faith in all of us as we look to a new year. It may look different but kids are learning an incredible amount right now. They are learning how to wear a mask to take care of each other; how to persist through difficulty to keep going; how to take care of themselves and their families in challenging times. The COVID-19 generation is being forged in strength and community. These experiences will shape the people and the leaders they become. They are capable of so much and can absolutely tackle the learning to come. We control how we respond and we have so many people in this field who want to get it right. It will require doing hard things to serve every student well, and we can do hard things.

As I said, I am too “in it” to tell you what the five things are, but I do know we learned a lot this year. And we will learn more in the year to come.

Here are the resources I have learned from recently:

Harvard’s PELP framework with a coherent instructional system attending to racial equity

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Written by

Instruction Partners CEO, former AssistCommish for TDOE, library lover, Sunday afternoon chef and head of the Jan, Owen and Liam fan club.

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