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Last week I participated in a Zoom conference with a group of new school and district level administrators. These folks are either brand new to the world of administration or have assumed a new level of responsibility in their assignment. I was honored to join them as one of three retired administrators the district has tapped to mentor and support them through the challenges they face.

At one point in the meeting, the facilitator asked us to ponder three questions, and to report out to the group our response to one of them using a single word, which we would then briefly elaborate on. The three questions were (I’m paraphrasing from memory here):

  1. What’s going well?

  2. What are areas you feel the need to work on?

  3. What keeps you going?

Great questions.

Being gainfully unemployed and probably the oldest person in the room, my initial, though fleeting, thought was that these no longer applied to me, at least in a professional sense. The next second, however, yielded great clarity for me, especially with regard to question number three.

As we navigate the uncertainty that comes from a perfect storm, it’s difficult to identify anything that is going well. We’re in the grip of a health crisis that has brought immeasurable pain to hundreds of thousands of families with no end in sight. We are seeing an unprecedented number of dangerous storms and the burning of vast swaths of land that are likely the result of abuses we have inflicted on our planet. We are facing serious economic uncertainty. Unemployment remains rampant and for too many children, the source of their next meal is unknown. Violence has erupted in the midst of a national racial reckoning and a contentious election cycle. Heck, we can’t even assure the safety of kids and their teachers as we struggle to provide something resembling a quality public education for the nation’s children.

What’s going well?

This amazing group of educators had answers, and imbedded in those answers was their response to question number three. “What keeps you going?” Along side the challenges they face, and could clearly articulate, was evidence that some things were, indeed, going well and they served as concrete examples of what keeps them going. I heard things like . . .

“I’m focused on personal growth and the opportunity to learn.”

“The commitment and persistence of my staff inspires me.”

“There are small victories occurring. Recognizing and celebrating them keeps me going.”

“Maintaining a focus on the positives is vital.”

“The realization that what we’re dealing with is temporary really helps.”

“It’s all about relationships. The realization that I am connecting with kids and their families in positive ways keeps me going.”

Brilliant. Reassuring.

Even though I retired several years ago from my active, daily role as a public school administrator, I didn’t retire from being an educator. I believe being an educator must be in my blood, part of my DNA. It’s who I am. It’s what I always strived to be. So, in that context, when my turn to share came around, I offered this as my single word and brief rationale.


What keeps me going, what compels me to remain an active advocate for public education is hope, the belief that something is possible.

  • It was a gesture of hope when I sat down to document my professional experience through the writing of my book, The Education Kids Deserve.

  • That this represents my 118th blog article, my weekly poking of the bear, is a testament of hope.

  • It is hope that compels me to persist in my argument that rather than ignoring a child’s innate curiosity and downplaying their need to be creative, these traits deserve to be central to the education of America’s children.

  • My cry to make the education of kids relevant to their interests and the requirements inherent in 21st century success is driven by hope.

  • It is due to hope that I continue to emphasize that achieving “standards” doesn’t rely on a system of “standardization.”

  • “One size fits no-one” is a statement of hope.

I’m writing this piece from the desk in my study, where I can observe what’s happening outside my window. What was recently green and tethered firmly to limbs and branches are now becoming red and gold, journeying with the capricious movement of the wind. The air is cooling and seemingly has a golden hue. The sky is a brilliant blue as the wind removes any trace of haze from the horizon. These changes represent a predictable pattern. We can be confident, based on our observations and our experience, that what is now red will be replaced with green, again. Yet, we also know that when that green returns, it will not be an exact replica of what we are in the process of losing. It will be similar and familiar. But, it will also be fresh and new; the beneficiary of rejuvenation that is only possible by embracing change.

What, you may ask, do your observations about autumn have to do with hope? Read on.

Like the seasonal changes, our society is experiencing tremendous upheaval and strain. And, while it seems slow in coming, we have reason to be confident that there is light at the end of the tunnel, that science will find a key to unlock the health crisis, which will, in turn, begin to ease our economic challenges. We have reason to believe that thoughtful citizens will find reasonable common ground to address racism and social inequity. We have reason to believe that it is possible to save our planet by taking decisive steps that will allow it to repair itself. Like the coming winter, our present circumstances are temporary.

I only hope we are learning some things along the way.

Our societal spring will come. How will we respond? Will we rush to blindly embrace what is familiar because, with a huge collective sigh of relief, we know it to be safe and comfortable? Or, will we allow ourselves the opportunity to reflect on our experience and identify ways to improve our comeback? Specifically to the area of public education, what will the reopening of schools look like? More importantly, what should or could it look like? Will we be content to merely blow the dust off of textbook covers and allow them to, again, drive curricular content? Or will we embrace more authentic methods that rely on inquiry over memorization? In our zeal, will we return to teacher dominated classrooms where instruction is delivered through largely one way communication to passive recipients? Will we race toward the prescriptive, standardized instruction and expectations we have grown accustomed to? Will creativity continue to play a diminished role in how we allow kids to learn?

I hope not.

Rather, I hope that we will find the courage, and the conviction, to discover new degrees of focus from the chaos we are experiencing, and that meaningful improvement will be the result. I hope that the old adage,“necessity is the mother of invention,” rings true and that our newly re-opened classrooms will be models of re-invention where creativity and innovative practices allow for purposeful and relevant learning opportunities for all kids.

Is that too much to hope for?


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