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2021: My educational guiding principles

For a million reasons, it is hard to look back on 2020 and think about it in the same way we would years past. 

It has just been that different of a year for all of us. 

Last year I wrote about my struggle with resolutions, and how I don’t think they are always as effective as we want them to be; too often we don’t hold to them and/or the change doesn’t stick around for long. So, with that in mind, my end-of-year piece was about what I called “nonresolutions”, which were parts of my practice I wanted to commit to keeping, rather than changes I was looking to move towards. While I think the idea had value, the conditions of the pandemic made keeping even “nonresolutions” more difficult than I would have ever anticipated.

Therefore, I am entering 2021 digging a bit deeper, and looking to do a better job elevating my guiding principles. These characteristics are elements of my identity that I feel strongly about, and that I believe I can keep to, regardless of what the year brings. My hope is by writing them down here, I will hold tighter to them throughout 2021 than I would have otherwise.

Recognize my privilege

The COVID-19 pandemic made clearer for me the long-standing pandemics of racial injustice and resource inequity. For a significant part of my life I have lived without understanding the challenges faced by my colleagues and friends, simply because I have grown up as a white male from a middle class family. By being less cognizant, I have exacerbated the problem by not recognizing areas to change to support my peers. The relative ease I have had in schooling, building a career, and moving successfully through life is not necessarily shared by all. By keeping perspective on my privilege, I can more appropriately support others (and myself) to make change that benefits all.

Take nothing for granted

The last ten months have taught me that I should take nothing for granted. All of us now know those who have been sickened by COVID-19, and many of us know those who have died as a direct result of the pandemic. This can’t become like the running refrain in the Harry Potter series where no one says the name “Voldemort” because it simply feels better to pretend he doesn’t exist. The virus has had a significant impact on everyone. And for that reason, I feel more grateful for all the things in my life, and more humbled by the opportunities I am provided with. Taking nothing for granted seems like a platitude, something you just say and don’t live, however the pandemic has made it practical for me, and I intend to keep living it.

Welcome both in-person and virtual if necessary

Pre-pandemic I would normally think that in-person opportunities to gather and learn were the only way. Sure, virtual opportunities existed, but, rather than allowing those across large distances to gather every once in a while, I just didn’t see the point. I didn’t have extensive background with purely virtual learning, and I simply couldn’t see the value. By being forced into a situation where I had to find that value, I have become a more varied thinker and better designer of learning. True, some situations suit either in-person or virtual learning, yet I see them as both having long-lasting value in the work we do in our profession. After all, we have spent ten months growing in this area, and we have a number of months to go before we could even consider educating the way “we used to.” And, knowing the work that we have all put into teaching, learning, and leading over that time, why would we want to go back precisely to the way things were?

Welcome flexibility’s place at the table

I had always considered flexibility as a trait that I put on a pedestal pre-pandemic. But, clearly, I did not truly understand what “flexibility” really meant. Since March, I have learned to say “I don’t know” to more things that I truly don’t understand, to say, “Sure” to more things I probably would have denied previously, and to say, “Tell me more” to more things that I probably would have had a ready answer for. In short, the pandemic has helped me become further balanced in my learning and leadership style, and that identifying with flexibility has opened me to a whole new way of working with others.

Writing for SmartBrief has been a great growth opportunity for me over these last few years. By putting digital pen to digital paper, I have forced myself to live by the ideals I write about (sometimes this is easier than at other times). By putting these guiding principles out into the world, I feel the positive accountability of pushing them to be present in all that I do in 2021. 

Wishing everyone a year filled with guiding principles that fulfill your mind, body, and spirit.

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.

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