As 2020 winds down, I hope you’re able to find time to wind down with it. This year has thrown theory out the window and challenged all of us to rely on our skills and leadership to continue making a difference in the communities we serve. The constant drumbeat of adversity calling us to pivot and adjust on a daily basis has been unbelievably taxing. Please give yourself the time and space to relax and take care of yourself over the holidays.
With pause comes the opportunity to reflect on just how much we accomplished this year. Even in a year as tumultuous as this, there are silver linings that prove we don’t (and shouldn’t) have to go back to “school as normal” once the COVID-19 vaccine is fully distributed.
At my own home, my two children have had polar opposite experiences this year. My daughter, Olivia, is a social butterfly and loves working in teams. When she learned this fall that learning would remain remote, she was crushed. But, she has had the opportunity to deeply explore what it means to work independently and be her own source of motivation. She also learned how to advocate for herself (and thankfully had responsive educators), letting her teachers know, “It’s not that I don’t like math, it’s that I’m not learning it the way I like to learn.”
That advocacy opened up the opportunity for Olivia and her teacher to brainstorm ways Olivia could create the conditions to work the way she learns best. Although learning remotely hasn’t been ideal for her, gaining the skill of self-advocacy and building intrinsic motivation is something I want her to continue developing, even once in-person learning resumes.
For my son, Tucker, he would prefer remote learning until the end of time—a feeling I’m sure millions of young people have also experienced. Being in big groups has never been Tucker’s favorite way of learning. He is low-key and has never liked that he had to wait around in some classes, while being rushed in others.
What remote learning has newly provided him is the opportunity to take the time he needs with lots of quiet time to himself. He is gaining confidence in his ability to learn and is not so worn out from a day of “school.” I believe this process of discovering how he learns best will ultimately lead to a greater confidence and comfort working in different settings, when the time comes.
It’s always amazing to see just how differently we all learn. There is no “one way or the other.” This diversity in learning preference, where individual strengths and weaknesses lie, the pace at which young people move through different competencies, their individual lived experiences, and so much more should inform how our education system responds to each young learner.
This pandemic has given us the opportunity to better understand the unique supports and structures each young person needs—whether they are in our homes or our learning communities. And, those understandings can’t be lost in pursuit of “returning to normal.”
Rather, it’s more pertinent than ever to ensure the exact opposite occurs. We must continue leaning into these new learnings and use them to inform how we can transform learning for every single young person in our communities and beyond.
As we take a collective breath during the holidays, let’s also gear up for what could be a transformative year for education—led by learner-centered leaders just like you.