As a descriptor of what is happening across the world, this blog title might be the greatest understatement of this year. At the time of this writing (Friday, March 20, 2020), the last seven days have seen an incredible disruption in P-16 education, maybe the greatest disruption in our vocation since Massachusetts, using the design of Horace Mann, passed the first compulsory education law in the United States in 1852. At that time, parents who refused to send their child(ren) to school were fined and, in special cases, stripped of their parental rights. Contrast that historical moment to today, when parents are not allowed to send their child(ren) to school as one of many strategies countries have deployed to flatten this pandemic curve. P-16 schools are going through major changes at break-neck speeds to serve their families and their students well. We are, in the words and title of author Tim Elmore’s recent book, Marching Off the Map. Becoming a virtual campus was not on the strategic plan for 2019-2020.
Off the map can be an anxious, frustrating, and scary place for us as educators. From the most basic questions such as, Are my students safe at home? Are they getting their basic needs met? to academic questions such as, Will my students make adequate progress if they are not in my classroom? Are my students with unique learning needs being supported? Am I able to create work that will engage students to lean in, to become leaders of their own learning? (Leaders of Their Own Learning by Ron Berger would be a great professional read if you have time for some personal professional development.)
Leading through such disruption is not something any school leader can completely prepare for. In February of this year, The Chronicle of Higher Education published a report entitled Preparing for Tough Conversations: How to Set the Stage for Major Change on Your Campus. One of my favorite quotes from the report forecasts the inevitability of crisis: “Any leader who hasn’t faced an existential crisis on his or her campus most likely will.” Guess what? Today every P-16 leader is suddenly on a level playing field.
The intent of this blog post, however, is not to share or compare historical disruptions in the educational system. Neither is the intent to offer the best/better/next practices in online education or how to run a virtual campus. Other organizations and educators are crowd-sharing their current practices in beautiful, community-building ways–from packets of content and at-home learning experiences that are sent home via school drive-throughs lines to online classrooms that have sprung up from schools that had been virtual deserts. On behalf of school leaders and learning organizations everywhere, thank you to all who have shared your best work in a moment when we need exemplars.
This blog post (and the subsequent one) intend to encourage school leaders to take a moment to reflect on how they responded to this crisis. Due to the magnitude of this disruption,your school’s response to the coronavirus pandemic begs for such reflection. Whereas schools are designed to be organic by nature, this level of swift change is unprecedented. The new language or context is itself incredible–community-spread, patient zero, social distancing, super-spreader, R0. The correlary catchphrases for leaders such as “crisis causes creativity” or “constraints cause crisis” or “crisis as a catalyst” have school leaders thinking outside the box. The small but mighty villain has arrived, and this real-life drama is requiring heroes and heroines to emerge and evolve.
Rest assured, Ephesians 2:6-10 is the series in which we are cast. You are saved, seated with Christ, and now sent. You are God’s handiwork, his masterpieces, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. God walks with you during this time of disruption…and opportunity.
Lean in and lead well,
P.S. Part 2 coming soon, “The After Action Review.”
Dr. Tim Van Soelen serves as the Director of CACE. Tim is also a professor of education at Dordt University. He has served as a principal, assistant principal, and middle school math and computer teacher at schools in South Dakota and California. Tim has his undergraduate degree from Dordt and advanced degrees from Azusa Pacific University and the University of South Dakota.