I am purposefully writing this post on March 13, 2021, one year after the COVID-19 shutdown in New York forced everyone in the New York City suburbs to undergo changes that very few living had experienced before. Schools and businesses shuttered first for what seemed like a week or two, then possibly a month, and then, well, we have all been living it.
Nothing about the last 12 months has been easy. We have all experienced loss — for some of us, so great that our lives are forever altered. We have also, one year later, grown and changed in ways that have provided, and will continue to provide, immense opportunities.
While the loss/opportunity list is long, this post will explore three of these loss/opportunity pairs that have had a tremendous impact on me and, I imagine, all of us.
Throughout the pandemic we have had to welcome flexibility in ways we would have never thought possible. Very little stability from day-to-day has been the norm, the only thing we really know is that we have constantly been navigating uncharted waters. This focus on flexibility has forced us to leave the inertia that normally slows our change patterns behind; we simply have had no choice but to adjust. This forced welcoming of flexibility has pushed all of us into the realm of being much more comfortable with the unknown and, therefore, being open to shifts in thinking, practice and life in general. As educators, this puts us in the position of having an opportunity like none other to make major changes in what we do and how we do it, all while being more exhausted and taxed than we ever have been before.
This has been a scary year. We spent the first few months having no idea what was going on and simply knowing that things did not seem to be improving. The last few months have been just as scary, as sickness has continued and the challenges of vaccinations have been on the forefront of everyone’s mind. While that fear has had a negative impact on our psyches and well-being, and none of that should be ignored, it has also built up tremendous stores of resilience in all of us. How can we be so defeated by things that can’t even come close to comparing what we have all experienced this year? A more resilient education system allows for richer thinking, more risk-taking, and more stick-to-itiveness; these are all ingredients we need if we are to help students become the best they can be.
We all have much to be grateful for. If you are reading this, then you have lived through a year like none other. While much has been lost, and there is much that we have not been able to do over these last 12 months, we also have much to be thankful for as we consider where we are a year later. We all experience different degrees of selfishness; no one can always be selfless. That said, the tremendous pain and suffering that we have gone through, or that those close to us have experienced, have helped us to realize that we are each individuals in a much larger ecosystem. We need to remember that while we have much great work to do and much influence to share, we are no better, no greater nor more important than anyone else. We must be grateful for all that we have and all that has brought us to where we are. More prominent gratitude means less prominent selfishness and, with it, hopefully less worry about ourselves and more focus on the needs of others and learning and leading through a relational lens.
As I woke up this morning, I sat down next to my oldest daughter, who was reading. I looked at her, looked at our dog and had the opportunity to reflect on these three paired characteristics. For better or worse, none of our lives will ever be the same. And while I would not wish the negatives of the last year on anyone, I would want everyone to experience the opportunities. As you reflect on one year later, I hope you feel the same way.
Fred Ende is the director of curriculum and instructional Services for Putnam/Northern Westchester BOCES in Yorktown Heights, N.Y. Fred currently blogs for SmartBrief Education, and his two books, Professional Development That Sticks, and Forces of Influence, are available from ASCD. Connect with Fred on his website or on Twitter.
Like this article? Sign up for ASCD SmartBrief to get news like this in your inbox, or check out all of SmartBrief’s education newsletters, covering career and technical education, educational leadership, math education and more.