At the first staff meeting of the 2022 academic year, our entire team of coaches and coordinators was exhausted. We spent the first two weeks of the year in the buildings, covering lunch duties and placing where we were needed. COVID-19 was on the rise, and our time in the buildings, while mentally and emotionally draining, amplified the challenges our students and educators faced as they recovered from the pandemic’s losses. We were thinking about our current challenges when my boss shifted the conversation to the future by asking:
What are we willing to lose to change a child’s life?
The question hung in the air.
As a teacher, when something needed to be changed, I usually pointed the finger at the person in charge who I thought could quickly fix my problem. When I became an administrator, some of this attitude remained, but after two weeks of moving from classroom to classroom and building to building, I began to realize that the person who needed to make changes was actually me. As I moved from school to school and classroom to classroom, teachers told me there was too much technology, and students were addicted to the permanence of learning on computer screens long after we left the days of learning from tiny Zoom boxes.
As the weeks turned into months and the epidemic finally ended, the question still hung in the air. What are we willing to lose to change a child’s life? We are still buckling under the weight of the unjust education system that preceded the pandemic and the temporary solutions created during the pandemic. At the same time, we fear losing what has held us. To answer this question, we must shift from a scarcity mindset and demand abundance.
Minimum Viable Product
In the technology world, a minimum viable product is a product variant developed only for end-user accessibility. If you are coding any software, the minimum viable product will have enough features for the user to test the functionality of the application. it works, but it’s the bare minimum. In education, this is often described as “building the airplane while we fly it.” A new state requirement is announced, but the implementation date comes before any school has the resources or knowledge it needs to succeed. so naturally people do their best, do it and move on.
The weight of old mandates and training requirements was amplified by the pandemic and increased by the technology we quickly acquired to meet the needs of the moment. Time and time again we come up with a minimum viable product and move on. Whether these solutions were out of necessity or habit, they have a place in our classrooms and our desire to improve the education system. We know we need to move on, but we fear losing what we have.
Moving beyond scarcity
When we think of loss as the absence of an ex, we often mourn what is gone. During last year’s subbing days, I mourned the loss of my job as I thought it was meant to be, projects and canceled meetings intact.
Loss can also be something else. Sometimes we have to lose what we have to make room for more important things. This loss is generative and necessary, but it’s hard to welcome the space that comes from simply letting things die. Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh said: “People have a hard time letting go of their suffering. They prefer the familiar suffering to the fear of the unknown.’ In education, this familiar agony manifests itself as demands and mandates, programs and procedures, meetings that could have been emails. When we fear letting go of what no longer serves us, we adopt a scarcity mindset, believing that once something is gone, nothing new will grow in its place.
If our goal is transformative educational experiences for children, experiences that change their lives and our communities, some things have to go.
I choose to let go of tools that no longer serve students, policies that take time and energy, meetings that could have been emails. At its best, a minimum viable product helps the developer remove what no longer works and quickly focus on the features most important to users to quickly develop a powerful tool. We must transform our minimum viable products into useful practices, policies, and systems that transform education for our students and educators.
What are we willing to lose to change a child’s life? What are the practices we are willing to let die to change the life of an educator? What are we willing to lose to make a positive impact in our communities? These are the questions that now hang in the air.
Visualize and claim abundance
When we welcome the space that comes after what doesn’t work, we begin to operate from abundance. Gardeners prune roses in early spring so they can start the growing season and welcome healthy plant blooms. This is an abundance. When we remove programs that fill time and space in our classrooms but don’t expand our children’s hearts and minds, we save space for creativity and deeper learning experiences. This is an abundance. Our students and our educators deserve abundance.
As a new administrator, I often imagined this abundance, but I did not always act in a way that made room for those around me. I planted more and pruned less, not realizing that we all need a little space to grow. Moving from imagining to demanding abundance requires will and purpose; It is important to realize that in order to give the best to our students, we must give the best to our educators. If we are truly going to transform and improve education, all administrators, policymakers, and leaders must let old practices die and envision something better.
The first time I visited my school after I got my first teaching job, I didn’t have my classroom keys, so I looked through my door window. I had no idea how I would teach, who my students would be, or what my rules, policies, or procedures would be. That night I went home and filled ten notebook pages with my ideas and dreams for the year.
Sometimes when I get caught in the weeds, I think about this moment and what steps I can take to give students and educators a little more of the wonder I felt the first time I looked at my empty classroom. What can I miss to change a child’s life?
Although I am one administrator in one department in one district, I am committed to letting go of what no longer serves us for the imagination, creativity, and hope that brought me to this profession. Together, we must move from scarcity to abundance to demonstrate education equity for all.