You know up until this point, if you’re subscribed to my email list or if you follow me on social media, that I’ve been advocating for teachers to use this first part of your summer break to rest and recuperate.

As we prepare to head into July now, I want to plant the seeds for you to participate in the reimagining of schools that’s happening in your district. I want to ensure that your voice is heard and that your school’s plan for the fall is developed with your input and insight. Without support from actual classroom practitioners, the plan is not going to succeed.

In this article and podcast episode, I’ll share:

  • The importance of time to rest and regroup before preparing lessons for the coming year
  • Why you shouldn’t wait for your district to finalize plans before you speak up about your needs
  • How to seek out the overlap between what’s best for teachers and what’s best for kids
  • How radical acceptance can prepare you to create much-needed change in our schools
  • Ways a flexible, resilient pedagogy can simplify your workload and help you support students more effectively
  • Why I believe the work we’re doing this school year will be some of the most important of our careers
  • 5 core beliefs that will guide the work I do this coming school year, and the ways I’ll offer support

If you’re not subscribed to the Truth for Teachers podcast,

click below to play or download the MP3 and listen on the go:

You DON’T have to prepare for the coming school year right now

I do want to stress for those who haven’t heard me say it that you deserve and NEED time for rest and not thinking about school this summer. It’s imperative every year for your mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical health, and even more so after months of crisis distance learning. 

Make no mistake — this pandemic has induced collective trauma on us as a nation. The impact is not the same for everyone. And like all trauma, the effects are not going to be the same for every person. Also, sometimes you think you’re doing just fine and then you have a bit of a breakdown later or the stress manifests through physical symptoms and you realize, oh wow, this impacted me in a lot of ways I wasn’t able to see at the time.

I implore you to use some of your summer to heal from that trauma. Take care of yourself and recuperate after a very taxing spring. Do things that are restorative for your mind, body and soul. Tend to the aspects of your life that you had to put on the back burner during emergency teaching. Focus on getting home projects taken care of and other things you may not have had time to do during this past school year.

The best way to prepare for fall — particularly when you don’t have all the facts and information needed to prepare — is by shoring yourself up mentally, emotionally, and physically. Get yourself healthy and in a good headspace so you’re better equipped to handle whatever may come in the future.

You can use my summer planning guide to help if you’d like — I give this away each year around this time, and updated it for 2020 since this summer has a very different set of challenges.

The idea is that you create a solid, yet flexible, overview of what you want to do during your break. You choose themes for each week of your break and batch similar tasks, so there’s time set aside for cleaning/organizing at home, relaxation/staycation/vacation, working on back-to-school stuff, etc. So, if you’re worried about whether you’re going to have time for everything that matters, or feel like you can’t just relax right now because there’s all this school work for fall hanging over your head, using these planning templates to help you out. 

I think personally that adapting to the changes this coming school year will be the biggest challenge of my career in education and I’m guessing that same will be true for you. The way you set up your self-care this summer and use your break now can help you feel more energized and rejuvenated for the hard work ahead. 

Even though you may want to start preparing now, or feel like you “should ” be getting ahead, please know that you DON’T have to do that at this moment. There’s no use attempting to solve problems before we even understand what they are. As hard as it may be, dismiss anxious thoughts about the coming school year and resist the urge to prep too much right away. 

We just don’t have enough information at this point to envision classrooms in the fall, and you’ll end up creating double work by doing things now and having to redo them when circumstances change. 

This IS a time for providing input to government and school leaders

Your governer, state Dept. of Ed, district leaders, and school administrators are already working on plans for the fall, and they cannot create something workable without your support. Those in leadership need your input, regardless of whether they are asking for it.

I believe now is the time to be advocating for what’s best for teachers AND kids. Often teachers are made to feel that these two things are mutually exclusive, when I believe they are fully intertwined. If a policy or procedure works for teachers but isn’t good for kids, then it’s not the right solution and we need to keep working toward a better one. If something is good for kids but not for teachers, then we can’t stick with that solution long-term either. 

You know how I feel about this if you’ve been listening to the podcast for awhile — I do not believe that teachers must do “whatever it takes” for kids when that “whatever” requires them to individually compensate for under-resourced and understaffed schools and inequitable systems. We need to change the systems, not place the burden for mitigating damage from those systems on the backs of individual teachers.

I’m tired of teachers — and for that matter, administrators — being given impossible goals and told to “figure it out,” and I’m wary that’s going to happen on an exponential scale this coming year. You can work 18 hours a day, 7 days a week, and spend your entire paycheck on resources for your students, and it’s still not going to be enough to compensate for systemic problems and institutional barriers.

What we’re not going to do this year is add to that by making every individual teacher figure out their own logistics for the vague guidelines from politicians and other high-level “leaders.”

We’re not going to issue impossible mandates and then abandon principals and teachers to “make it work” like they always do, and then turn around blaming them for the outcome.

That cannot happen in this situation and we need to interrupt those long-standing patterns every time we see them. Resist this deflection of responsibility at every turn. 

Seek out the overlap between what’s best for teachers and what’s best for students

I see what’s best for kids and what’s best for teachers as a Venn Diagram with a huge overlap in the middle. The solutions I advocate for will always fall somewhere in the middle there, and I’m not willing to settle for something that only serves one or the other.

Teaching conditions are kids’ learning conditions. If teachers are stressed, kids are stressed. Teachers are not disposable resources to be used up and replaced. We are seeing a revival of worker’s rights movements around the country right now for folks who are tired of putting their lives and safety on the line without having the proper compensation, resources, and support that they deserve. 

This is not a time for teachers to roll over and accept whatever they’re told to tolerate this fall. I urge you to join in the fight for safe working conditions, where you can protect your health and your students’ health, do your job effectively, and be compensated appropriately for it.

A manifesto of core principles and beliefs to guide this work

I’ve been thinking a lot about where I personally can add the most value, and I can offer support and resources in the way I do best.

I’m going to share part of my manifesto here for you. These are my beliefs and goals that will shape the work I do around COVID adaptations. You will see these perspectives interwoven into every resource from me this coming school year — emails, blog posts, podcast eps, social media posts, 40 Hour Workweek resources, and so on.

1. We’ll be creating space for a broad range of experiences, feelings, and possibilities.

There’s never been a one-size-fits-all approach to schooling and that’s even more true now. There is space for teachers to be excited and scared, optimistic and hopeless. There is space for students who are thriving with at-home learning and those who are struggling. We’ll respond to this range of reactions not by attempting to standardize it or force people to conform, but by meeting them with empathy, grace, and flexibility.

2. We’ll be preparing for multiple scenarios that shift throughout the year.

It’s likely that you may teach part of the year on a staggered schedule with a blend of virtual and safe distanced classroom teaching. What’s happening in your school may be different from other schools in your neighborhood or district, and certainly different than what’s happening in other states and countries. Plans this year will be fluid and
subject to change, and we will prepare for each scenario as it comes, based on what teachers are learning and sharing about emerging best practices. 

3. We’ll be focusing on a “one day at a time” mentality rather than speculating about the future.

Typically with my resources, I try to help teachers plan and work ahead. That will be true to an extent this year, but less so, because we don’t yet know what September will be like, much less December or February or April. None of us needs to figure out what to do six months from now. We’re staying focused on solving today’s problems so we have the energy left to solve tomorrow’s problems when they come. 

4. We’ll be accepting that learning conditions will not be optimal this coming school year, and will choose resilient flexibility over idealism or even just normal protocols.

So far, I’ve not heard any school district’s plans for reopening in the U.S. that are without extreme drawbacks and potentially devastating consequences. There are no ideal options at this time — nothing that would allow us to teach the way we would like to, or in a way that’s best for all kids. Rather than resist this reality, we are working with it, being flexible and adaptable, and remembering that these challenges are temporary. School will not be like this forever. But holding ourselves or students to the old standards is simply not going to work, from what we can see right now. And, we cannot insist on idealistic standards when we’re in a crisis.

We must accept that the coming school year will be a diversion from how we’d prefer to teach and the optimal learning conditions for our students. There are no solutions that are perfect right now. So, we will make the best of what we’ve got by focusing on maximizing whatever instructional time, resources, and opportunities were presented with. 

5. We’ll be empowering teachers to help reimagine what schools will look like this year.

Now more than ever, it is essential for teachers to speak up on behalf of themselves and their students, rather than waiting to be told what to do and resigning themselves to whatever is mandated. I urge you to leverage the current circumstances to have a bolder voice in how your school operates.

Be in communication with your administrators about what’s going well and what’s successful.  You’re going to be working hard and experimenting a lot to find emerging best practices. Make that hard work visible. Share what you’ve learned, communicate about what is working well for kids and what’s not.  Speak up for your needs, knowing that the success of this school year is largely dependent on your input even if you’re not being asked for that input.

Be willing to diverge from known best practices and create new ones

I’m going to share something that you might not hear officially from anyone in your district, but I believe it’s the truth:

I think it’s likely that you will have to set aside a lot of best teaching and learning practices this school year, particularly if you work with younger students.

Intentionally going against what you know about pedagogy and the neuroscience of how humans learn best is going to create a lot of cognitive dissonance. There will be things you have to do that you would never choose for your students outside of a global pandemic where students cannot safely be in contact with one another. Kids may be confined to their seats more, moving less, interacting with each other less, not sharing manipulatives and books from the classroom library, or keeping 6 feet away from one another and from you. It will be heartbreaking for many teachers to undertake this challenge. It has the potential to break many teachers’ spirits and drive them from the profession. 

And yet, the willingness to diverge from our known best practices is going to be necessary, because we have to move into a different set of best practices that are based on the current circumstances.

To make this work with minimal harm to yourself and your students, I believe there are 2 things you need to be willing to do. The first is to practice radical acceptance, and the second is participating in the reimagination of schools with resistant flexibility.  

Practice radical acceptance of our current reality

Begin by accepting that kids need to be collaborating and playing together and socializing in ways that they cannot do in school this fall. Accept that the best practices you have built your teaching strategies around will be largely impossible as long as we need to safe distance from one another. Accept that the relationships you build with students this fall will not be able to develop in the way you’d prefer. 

This is radical acceptance, It doesn’t mean you think the situation is okay or pretend it’s not a problem. Radical acceptance is being brave enough to see and accept things exactly as they are. This is what the situation is, not only in schools but in our lives right now. None of us is able to do everything the way we prefer in this moment because we have to take additional health precautions for COVID. 

When you can accept a situation exactly as it is, you can then say, “Here’s the reality of what I’m dealing with. What thoughts, words, and actions can I choose to make the situation better?”

It’s okay to be in denial for a while. It’s okay to be angry. It’s okay to hate that this is happening to kids, and teachers, and our profession.

If you can eventually settle into that place of radical acceptance — of seeing the limitations clearly and accepting them — you will be able to make better choices about how to mitigate the damage, because you’re not draining all your energy into complaining, denying, and resisting reality. 

So practice radical acceptance, and use that to help you participate constructively in the reshaping of schools this fall.

Develop a flexible, resilient pedagogy that carries us through this year and beyond

The limitations and obstacles we’ll be facing (which are simply piled on top of the pre-existing inequities and problems) are going to be massive, and we have to mitigate the damage. 

We can’t just take away the stuff that was great for kids. We can’t just say, “This is terrible for kids, oh well.” We MUST reimagine schools. We have to find new ways to meet their needs as best we can.

I’m going to say more about what I’m calling  “resilient flexibility” in a future episode because it really deserves a deeper dive.

But, I sent an email out this past Sunday to folks about this concept, and got a reply from a teacher named Cindy ReVelle, who had encountered some ideas emerging around this online. The article Cindy shared with me was from Andrea Kaston Tange, who also discovered after sharing her thoughts  that other folks had been independently arriving at similar conclusions.

Andrea updated the post to share that Michigan State University is using the terminology “resilient pedagogy” and I really, really like that. It implies a release from the rigid approaches that didn’t meet the needs of all learners before.

Her post also linked to a Twitter thread from Joshua Eyler, who described the approach this way,  “Essentially, resilient pedagogy is a combination of course design principles and teaching strategies that are as resistant to disruption and to change in the learning environment as possible.”

When I started combing through all these resources, I immediately got excited, because it meant someone had put a name to all the ideas that were floating around in my head.

I’m very energized by thinking through the idea of what it means to teach with resilient flexibility, or to use resilient pedagogy, and I’m using it as the basis of my approach both with the 40 Hour Teacher Workweek materials as well as the lens I’ll use to shape podcast episodes.

What this looks like, in my mind, is that you create ONE version of your lessons that works both face to face and online. It won’t matter if you’re teaching in your classroom or online next week, or if some of your kids are home and some with you in school, because you have a plan that works for any scenario.

What I envision is creating structures and frameworks that can be reused over and over again, not only throughout this school year, but for many years to come because they are flexible and resilient to circumstantial change.

This approach is at the intersection of what’s best for teachers and what’s best for kids.

It’s best for you, because you don’t have to create multiple versions of every lesson and redo things last minute with COVID changes. This is by far the most manageable approach to teaching I can imagine for the coming school year. It’s absolutely untenable to ask teachers to create online lessons and face to face lessons, much less conduct them both simultaneously. Reliance pedagogy simplifies the workload for teachers. 

And, it’s best for kids, because it provides consistency and helps ensure that kids have equitable access to learning whether they are at home or school. Accessibility is at the forefront with reliance pedagogy, rather than simply “covering content” or rigidly adhering to curriculum and expectations. It’s a more trauma-informed approach as well because it is flexible and responsive to kids’ needs. And, it’s an approach that helps ensure better equity so that the most vulnerable kids don’t bear the brunt of challenges ahead.

Again I’m going to flesh all this out more on the podcast in August, and we’ll be doing deep dives into this approach in the 40 Hour program beginning in July. Additional resources are included at the bottom of this article.

We can co-create a new reality for schools that’s better than our old status quo 

What I want you to take away from this for now is that a reimagining of schools is required right now, and that is a GOOD thing.

It’s not like the old ways of teaching and learning were so manageable for teachers and beneficial for students. We needed a complete overhaul of systems, and though this isn’t the catalyst for change anyone wanted, it IS an opportunity to create massive change very quickly, which rarely happens in schools.

I did a whole podcast episode this spring about this (episode 192), called “Schools are closed. This is our chance to reimagine them.” And there’s episode 196, about how some parts of teaching and learning are better now, particularly for some individual students and groups of students. There are kids who are much happier and healthier learning from home, and that says a lot about how the traditional ways of doing school were not serving them. 

Embrace the possibility for positive change here, and work to make sure the new approach to teaching is moving in the direction you want to see.  

You must be prepared to actively participate in the changes that are coming, because whatever is happening on Day 1 of school is going to be shifting. If things are a disaster the first few weeks of school, you can work with colleagues to compile suggested changes and new solutions. 

Absolutely nothing is written in stone right now and nothing is permanent. Take advantage of that opportunity to create change that’s ultimately better for you and your students. There will be a lot of shifting policies and procedures, so be prepared to experiment and share your findings in a constructive, solution-oriented way.

I believe this shake-up can eventually settle into something that’s better for teachers and kids than our old ways of doing school, but that’s only going to happen if classroom practitioners get to participate in the reshaping.

This doesn’t refer to endless complaining or tearing down all possible ideas because none of them are perfect. It means responding as the degreed, experienced professional you are. It means knowing your own worth and value, and leading from a place of confidence.

You know what goes on in your classroom better than anyone else, and you have the ability to find workable solutions and bring them to the table.

A few things my team and I will be doing to help support you

I don’t know what kind of guidance or support you’ll receive from your school, but I promise to stand in the gap where needed, and offer resources to help you figure out the logistics so you have the best possible chance of success this year.

1. We’re adapting the 40 Hour Teacher Workweek program for the July 2020 cohort.

We will create resources for simplifying your workload and streamlining your systems during COVID, because work-life balance is going to be more important now than ever before.

Each month prior to the release of the next set of 40 Hour resources, I’ll be making adaptations to ensure everything you receive is relevant and timely for whatever’s happening in schools. I’ll include a variety of ideas for hybrid models, staggered schedules, safe distancing in the classroom, etc. since each teacher’s local area will have its own unique approach. If you haven’t joined the community, learn more here.

2. We’ll be releasing weekly Truth for Teachers podcast episodes.

The podcast is on hiatus for the summer (other than special episodes like this one), but we’ll get back to our normal weekly schedule beginning August 2nd. 

You’ll be able to hear lots more about reimagining schools and what that looks like in practical terms. I’ll also have a number of outstanding guests, including classroom practitioners who will share what’s working for them this year,  equity specialists, activists for social justice, visionary school leaders, and more. 

Make sure you are subscribed to Truth for Teachers in your podcast player app to get the latest content downloaded to your mobile device automatically. 

3. We’ll continue sending weekly emails with encouragement and support.

More than 94,000 teachers already receive these messages from me every Sunday evening, and you’re welcome to sign up as well. These emails are typically different from the podcast content or share a slightly different angle or anecdote. There’s a sign up at the top of this page.

4. We’ll continue to use social media for sharing emerging best practices, work/life balance resources, and mindset and productivity tips, along with holding space for you to process what’s happening and get support + validation.

You can find me on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. I use each platform in a different way and share different messages on them, so feel free to follow whichever accounts are the best fit for you. My approach on social media is the same as my approach everywhere else (“fewer things, better”) so you’ll only see posts from me when I feel like I have something valuable to contribute.

What’s ahead is some of the most important work of our educational careers

Whatever happens in the fall … you don’t have to figure it all out now, and you don’t have to figure it out alone. Make the most of your summer while you’re on break, and know that we’ll get through the school year together when the time comes.

I’m going to be real with you — there is tremendous work ahead. But, we can come out of this with a way of doing school that is completely reshaped. Change comes in schools very slowly, but the progress we can make right now can happen at an exponential speed. Leverage this time to help shape the kind of schools you want to teach in.

Do not let people outside the classroom — including me — make the decisions for you about what teaching and learning will be like.

And, do not let the push for equity and racial justice fall to the wayside — it’s interwoven with everything we’re working toward this year and is an absolutely essential, non-negotiable part of reimagining schools.

These new ways of teaching must be trauma-informed and anti-racist. We must work to reshape schools in a way that meets the needs of ALL kids, including those who have been marginalized, overlooked, and discriminated against in the old ways of doing school. 

As I said in the beginning, this is probably going to be the biggest challenge of our educational careers, but I believe we were created for such a time as this. I keep thinking of that song from Hamilton, “How lucky we are to be alive right now.” That wasn’t said because it was a beautiful, peaceful easy time. They were in the midst of a revolution. 

And we are, too.

The pandemic is shifting the ground beneath our feet. We can long for the old ways which really weren’t serving all kids and teachers anyway, or we can step forward boldly into the uncertain, and co-create something better. 

This is going to be hard work. I still have moments where I feel like things are impossible and nothing short of a miraculous disappearance of COVID will make this school year tenable. I swing from wildly optimistic and hopeful to completely discouraged.  It’s tiring for me and we’ve barely even started.

And that’s just what the experience of life is for us collectively right now with the pandemic. It’s a lot, and it’s exhausting, and we’re not even unified as a country about goals and methods for staying safe. On top of that, we have an extremely polarizing election coming up this fall. The next six months in particular are not going to be easy in America, or anywhere else.

The question we must answer is, Are we just trying to survive this coming year, or are we reimagining systems to make our world better?

Things are going to be difficult and uncomfortable regardless.

So, will we simply tolerate that and try to “make it through” while other people make decisions about our future, or will we actively participate in co-creating a society we want to live in, one that is equitable and just for all of us?

Will we rise to the challenge, and use the pain and heartache as fuel to reshape our schools into the kind of learning environments that kids and teachers deserve?

How lucky we are to be alive right now. What an opportunity we have before us. It’s not going to be easy, it’s going to be worth it.

More Resources for the Emerging Practices of Resilient Pedagogy

Discussion

1 Comment

  1. Jessica Bulgin

    Thank you for this episode! I will probably listen to it over and over this summer, like a pep talk when I’m feeling down or nervous about the upcoming school year. Thank you for helping all of us clearly identify the priorities ahead of us . . . it was as if you were reading my mind . . . the interweaving of healthy and effective teaching and learning conditions . . . . anti-racism . . . trauma-informed teaching . . . WOW!

Post a Comment

Want to join the discussion? Feel free to contribute!

Want more ideas?

Here are a few other posts that might be helpful. You can also use the categories or search bar underneath to browse by topic and find exactly what you want.