It has been an eventful week. On Wednesday, our students returned to school via Google Classroom and distance learning. On Wednesday evening our district Governing Board made the difficult decision to continue virtual learning for the entire first quarter of the school year. As you can know, based upon the national dialogue, the issue of when and how students return to the classroom is controversial, and emotionally charged. Regardless, for us the decision has been made and we now know the task (and many of the challenges) that lie ahead.
The corononavirus pandemic has been humbling. It is a vivid reminder that we are not in control. We have repeatedly witnessed that even the best-laid plans are susceptible to the whims of the virus (just ask the St. Louis Cardinals). So, our choice is to wallow in self-pity (a personal weakness), or press forward one day at day at a time — doing the best we can. As in most professions, this is tough because “our best” is not always deemed sufficient (by self, or others) and it probably won’t be in a virtual learning scenario. It would be difficult to argue against the notion that the majority of students would be best served by face-to-face interactions with a caring adult and in-person socialization with peers. This is without factoring in issues of technology access, food scarcity, poverty, trauma, and instability in the home (all significant issues at our school). But, right now, online learning is our path forward, and we are going to have to make the best of it. Even with the right mindset, this can be overwhelming. For example, one critical piece of this puzzle is getting all of our students a device and access to the internet (not to mention teaching them to navigate Google Classroom). We likely have over two-hundred students without WiFi and/or a device. That is a problem, and at the moment, “doing my best” is not sufficient.
This has me thinking about how we gauge success. So often, it is performance based and tangible. I completed my task list for the day. I finished that big project. I passed the test. My students passed the test. I got a good evaluation at work. Every student at my school now has a device and internet access. While there is nothing wrong with any of these things, given the current nature of our topsy-turvy world, tangible outcomes are often beyond our control. Perhaps we need to re-examine our metrics for success? I don’t intend to imply that we are helpless, or that we shouldn’t be making an effort to accomplish measurable results. However, I think we would be better served by following some guiding principles that will lead us in the direction we want to go while providing the grace we need when we don’t quite get there.
Before our students arrived, I wrote a letter to my staff and included this statement:
You are not expected to be perfect (so take that off your plate). At the end of the day, ask yourself if during the time available you gave your best to your students. If the answer to that question is “yes” then you can rest easy in knowing you have done what you can do.
This is not an excuse to cut corners, or throw up our hands and say, “Oh well.” It is permission to show yourself some grace, recognize that ultimately we are not in control, and acknowledge the limits we have as a human being. If you can do more, by all means, do more. If you need a break, take a break.
I won’t always get my to-do list done (if ever). It’s hard for me to imagine getting to “inbox zero.” I won’t have a device and internet access for every student on Monday. You won’t always have a great day teaching virtually. You may not connect with every student. Not everyone is going to be happy with you. All of those statements may be true, but we are not powerless. We can rest easy in knowing that we are doing our best (if in fact, that is the case).
I have become a big fan of the written works of Henri Nouwen. He got it. He understood what is important in our daily lives. A few months ago, I ran across this tweet from Eugene Cho — quoting Nouwen.
These are my new metrics. This is how I will determine my success for any given day. Some of you may think this is “fluff,” but I respectfully disagree. Meeting these metrics will be extremely difficult. I know I will struggle with many of Nouwen’s questions. Let go of my anger and resentment? There is so much to be angry about. So much to resent. Forgive? But, you don’t understand what they did. Love? I don’t have time for that — there are over two-hundred emails in my inbox.
Here is what I know. If I put my effort into pursuing actions that will allow me to answer yes to each one of the questions posed by Nouwen, it will be time well spent. I will move the needle. I‘ll accomplish some of my tasks. I’ll get a few emails sent. I will get some kids access to technology and learning opportunities. I’ll be able to connect with some students. I’ll have a sense of accomplishment. It may not be as much as I would like, but I will be able to rest easy in the fact that I have done what I can do for the day and there will be more opportunities tomorrow.
For me, these new metrics are a work in progress. That is fitting, since I am a work in progress. My goal is to find the right balance between accountability to others (my family, my staff, my students, and my community), and grace and forgiveness for my inevitable shortcomings.
Be brave. Remain positive. Stay safe.
You’ve got this!
Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.Desmond Tutu