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The unknown

This fall brings with it several uncertainties. And yet, there are steps educators can take to make this trip into the unknown more a voyage of discovery than a path of regret. Here are three.

5 min read


The unknown


This month, many schools across the United States will start back up. For some, it will feel very much like how they left, with remote learning as a staple, or the only form of teaching and learning for the present time. For others, it will be a mix of in-person and virtual learning, with the potential for starts and stops as the country continues to struggle with the implications of COVID-19. 

If you haven’t seen Frozen 2 yet (and being in a household with two elementary school students, we’ve seen it a number of times), there is a recurring connection to one of the main character’s flagship songs. This song speaks to the questions inherent in confronting the unknown. The song isn’t pandemic-related (Disney isn’t that good at predicting the future); instead it is focused on confronting fears and welcoming risks, something very much akin to what we are all going through currently.

None of us have ever gone back to school in a situation quite like this, and none of us have any real answer at this point as  to what will make the coming year most successful for students, staff and our communities. Of course, we can’t simply throw up our hands and accept defeat. Instead, there are a number of steps we can take to make our trip into the unknown more of a voyage of discovery than a path of regret. Here are three.

  • Control time. Even if we have never walked a certain path before, we are apt to enjoy the experience much more (or detest it much less), when we can take the time to truly understand what is happening around us. Rather than let it control us, during periods of uncertainty, we need to make sure that we use time to our advantage. As best we can, we need to avoid emergency thinking at all moments, and allow for recognition and reflection, working closely with others as opportunities allow so we aren’t kept to our own silos or perspectives. Controlling time is never easy when we don’t know what to expect, but we can take solace in the fact that this is an area within our locus of control. We can set the parameters around how we use our time and how we help others use theirs. By making time work for us, we are always better prepared to make decisions, and more capable of making them to support others.
  • Travel together. Uncertainty pushes us to be lonely. We often double back or circle the wagons and refrain from using our connections in ways that would ultimately help us all. We all experienced (and continue to experience) this firsthand during our pandemic quarantining. If we were lucky enough to have family to quarantine with, we at least weren’t alone. But, we could (and can) certainly still feel lonely. Travelling together doesn’t mean we lose sight of what we need to do to stay healthy and well or help others do the same. Instead it means recognizing that we are walking the same path together and that we can use each other’s expertise and experience to ultimately come to a better process than we would have if we were simply doing the work on our own.
  • Chart a truly new course. Like it or not, every course we might choose to take to start this year will be new in some way. That said, now is also the time to welcome truly new processes and policies, ones that better our educational system for the students, staff, and families who encounter it on a daily basis. Our profession is one that has significant difficulty with change, and in our current situation, change is the only choice we have. With that knowledge in hand, we should take advantage of the opportunity to truly try, and learn from, very different practices. Failure now won’t feel the same as during “normal” times. Instead, it can feel infinitely better as it will help provide us with the answers to what doesn’t work, thereby helping us move further along the spectrum to what works well.

Travelling into the unknown isn’t like Frozen 2. There isn’t necessarily a guaranteed happy ending. However, by welcoming risk and realizing all that uncertainty can provide, we can do our best to create the perfect conditions for a really great sequel.

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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