An adage I heard once taught me that there are two types of people. One looks out at a barren, desolate terrain and feels despair and hopelessness. The other looks out at that same landscape and sees endless opportunities and possibilities. The former generally makes excuses about what “could have been,” and how they are cursed by bad luck, while the latter works to create a new reality.
At Price Middle School and PBSA, it is our job to train our eyes and minds to find opportunities when others lose hope. The past school year, especially, demanded an optimistic approach to our work. We had to create a new reality and make the very best of it.
We entered a pandemic last year in March expecting a “two week virtual break” not knowing that over a year later we would still be searching for the normalcy we took for granted. But we have proven again that if our mindset is one of growth and belief, then as the great Maya Angelou wrote “still, like air, we rise”.
With full acknowledgment that so many people have suffered in the past year, I would like to look back and identify the things that went well, the things we learned, the things that will make us stronger going forward. Here are a few things that came out of the pandemic experience that I am grateful for.
We bridged a piece of the digital divide, providing computers and Internet access to all students and families. We have set the bar higher for what is possible going forward.
We improved our project based instruction and showed that a PBL approach – rooted in what is going on in students’ lives right now – can truly engage students and drive academic growth. Our high quality PBL showcases elevated student voice and creativity.
We learned new ways to engage both caregivers and community stakeholders, with record attendance levels at parent-teacher conferences and in our PBL showcases. We held virtual conferences to access parents that previously have been limited by distance and time constraints. We instituted amazing drive-by and outdoor events. We created pop up shops. We formed street committees. We did countless home visits. We celebrate student achievement and commitment every week. We made a commitment to meet students wherever the need was.
We identified creative ways to meet the needs of our families, especially through a comprehensive grocery distribution program and mental health outreach. Our talented and dedicated school engagement managers led the charge.
We built a stronger organizational culture through improved communication and professional learning communities. We have connected professionally in totally new ways starting with our work teams last summer that included teachers and leaders from all schools working together to solve new problems. We created new cluster wide technology solutions like our learning management system Otus, and we created new standards for what virtual instructional excellence looks like.
We set a new standard for pre-planning, which allowed us to begin a year of instruction fully virtual, in a safe and sustainable manner. Our teachers gained a generation’s worth of knowledge and expertise by using a plethora of interactive instructional tools to engage our students in new ways.
We refined our data strategies, leveraging best practices for student intervention and personalized learning, acknowledging that this analysis is now more important than ever
We committed ourselves to equity with a “bottom-up” coalition within our organization, and we had monthly cluster wide training for all staff and on our cluster leadership team. Instead of avoiding the challenges of the conversations on race and equity, we placed them front and center in a time when our students and staff needed it most.
We supported one another through what seemed like tragedy after tragedy. We lost parents, siblings, friends, and even colleagues. Still, we rose and came to work with heavy hearts and a collective purpose to stem the suffering of our students and give them the structure they need and the education they deserve.
This last year proved that not only can we survive, we can thrive. In any circumstance. In any environment. Our only limitations are in our minds.
There are two types of people in this world, and one type looks at our students, our communities, and our schools and sees only the deficits, only the barriers. But I look at our students and see absolute geniuses, and we must treat them as such. Anything less would be to abandon an unpolished diamond before allowing the world to marvel at its beauty. Our community cannot afford to be wasteful with our prized resources.