Why School Leaders Need to Take This Opportunity to Plan for a Return to Comfort but NOT a Return to Normalcy
Sometimes timing is everything. Just a moment can be the difference between catching a bus or missing it, meeting the person of your dreams or having just a typical day, or seizing the opportunity for real change in education or sadly, going back to the status quo.
The experience that we in education have endured over the past 18 months has been traumatic. In addition to the devastation that COVID-19 has wreaked in many of our personal lives, working in education has provided us all with obstacles that no other educators in the last century have had to face. Exhausting is the first word that comes to mind as I reflect upon this time period. As an administrator, I have been incredibly impressed with teachers as well as frustrated by new barriers on a daily basis and all of us are truly worried about the impact this experience has had on our students.
There are so many things to consider that are frustratingly negative and in many cases completely or at least partially out of our hands but I want to call attention to something extremely important. I hesitate to highlight the positives of a global pandemic because that carries a sense of disconnect with the reality of the situation but we would be foolish to throw away an amazing opportunity to improve education forever. As Tony Bennett (no, not that Tony Bennett), head coach of the University of Virginia’s Men’s Basketball team said, “If you learn to use adversity right, it will bring you to a place you couldn’t have gone any other way.” In a twisted way, the experiences of the last 18 months have provided us with a time and place in education where change, real change, stands a much greater chance of taking place. Change is something that many of us resist but we have been shown quite clearly that we are no longer operating in the same environment we were even a couple years ago.
“We have all been there before, right? We are about to begin something that is going to change our lives for the better. We know if we start exercising today, and continue every day, we will be healthier and feel better in a couple of months. We know that if we break down and call a family member that we have been fighting with, we will be able to move past our anger and resentment and make upcoming gatherings more enjoyable. We know that if we want to make schools better for our students, we cannot keep doing the same things and hoping for the best. We know these things inherently but still, we find reasons to hold off. We put up counterforces and then we stay exactly where we are.
Why is this?
The answer is simple - this is going to be difficult. Change is uncomfortable. We are going to meet with resistance. We will need to have difficult conversations. The list of reasons why you shouldn’t start is infinite. Why do it then?"
Excerpt from UDL Playbook for School and District Leaders
Why Make a Change Now?
So why do it? Because education needs a change, a big one, and the painful aspect of changing was forced upon us. COVID has provided us a tool for change that will not encounter the resistance that it may have in previous years. This opportunity cannot be squandered. Now, more than ever, we need to begin to fully utilize the principles of UDL in our administrative work and encourage and guide our teachers to do the same with their students. We need firm goals and flexible means. We need to honor and celebrate the variability of all schools, grade levels, teachers and learners in our districts. The old way of doing things is built to support the mythical average teacher or student. UDL embraces our people where they are and allows and encourages them to celebrate their strengths as well as their areas of need. It encourages all of us to work collaboratively so that we may continue to get better each and every day.
Embracing the Growth: Giving Modern Education a Makeover
Ralph Waldo Emerson once stated, “The mind, once stretched by a new idea, never returns to its original dimensions.” As we begin this new school year we will find that many of the things we had become accustomed to over our careers are much closer to normal than they had been in recent months. We may find a familiarity that brings us comfort (and thank goodness for this). What we need to protect ourselves against is a full return to normalcy where we sink back into a regular routine of “one-size-fits-all” operations in the classroom and in our schools. There was so much growth in how business was done in recent months. Yes, I considered “Zoom” a dirty word for a while and I am more than excited to have my first “in-person” staff meeting since March of 2020 but I will not discount the opportunity that this platform provided and can provide in the future when the situation warrants it. Our teachers and support staff have become experts in getting to know their students and working to identify what they need. Over the past year they have elevated their tech ability and learned to work more collaboratively and creatively than I have seen in 25 years in education. Do not go back to teaching and learning as it was done. We have a chance to revolutionize the profession and take giant leaps rather than baby steps! We have a chance to give modern education a make-over.
The time is now.
“Do not go back to teaching and learning as it was done. We have a chance to revolutionize the profession and take giant leaps rather than baby steps! We have a chance to give modern education a make-over.
The time is now.”
This is an opportunity that should not, and cannot, be ignored. Now, more than ever, educators all over the world need to begin to utilize or fully commit to utilizing UDL principles for their students. As leaders in education we have the power and the privilege to create a vision and strategy for this work. So let’s get started.