I’m an instructional designer and an independent education consultant, as most of you know. In that latter role, I am typically hired to facilitate opportunity chasing and problem solving. I usually work with K-16 writing teachers who tend to be a highly creative bunch, and it’s rare that I don’t find myself learning more than I teach inside of any situation that finds me in rooms with these people. I get to have a lot of fun, most days. Still: Whether I’m invited into a classroom to work with young writers or into a board room to work with administrators, nearly all of the work that I’ve done for the last fifteen years has involved some sort of opportunity or problem finding, and then, serving those who are leaning into it.

Until 2020.

In 2020, opportunities seemed to slide through our fingers as quickly as we found them, and even as we began tackling problems, they¬† shifted shape mid-process. It’s hard to know whether you’re gaining or losing traction when the targets keep moving or melting in front of you.

I’m used to working with at least a few educators inside of any experience who prefer to meet urgency with efficiency. I’ve been told that I’m pretty good at helping such people think in far more complex and nuanced ways. I’m appreciated for this.

But…um…this year? Yeah, well this year, that’s all been all but impossible.

Fear is a beast.

Fear makes all of us want to double down on templates, routines, and the pursuit of silver-bullet solutions. ME TOO. Gimme all the solutions, friends. I’m here for them! Need my email? It’s yours. I’m not complaining, because to some degree, every one of those things has helped a little. At the very least, they’ve created a good sense of false certainty that keeps me and many others showing up every day. And that is everything.

But.

It appears as if this little disruption we experienced last spring has become real life. It seems to be changing all of us in ways we did not anticipate, and I can’t even imagine how it will work more magic as spring turns into summer and becomes next fall.

A therapist once told me that when we are afraid, we cling to routine. We also become nostalgic. And denial is also good protection, of course. So, all of this talk of innovation right now? I get it I guess, but I also…so…so…really don’t get it. Unless you have the privilege of working in a district that is layers deep with administrators and packed with teachers who have no responsibilities other than those they meet at school, most people I know are prioritizing temperature checks and contact tracing over reimagining schools right now. If they can get off the phone with angry parents long enough to do so.

Do I sound cranky? I’m not.

I’m a little bored, though. I’m betting you are, too. I’m bored, but I often feel strangely stuck, and while I know how to fire up new projects, upset apple carts, and disturb whole universes, I’m thinking that’s not in anyone’s best interests right now.

Everything feels urgent and also stagnant and also frightening and also mind-numbingly dull. We’re all longing to feel accomplished and productive, and a little bit of efficiency might make everyone feel better. It might make things operate better, too.

I get it. Meeting urgency with efficiency could be just what the doctor(s) are ordering right now. And for the first time in my life, I agree that this may not be a bad thing. It’s complicated, though.

If you know me, then you know that I tend to be a quiet but often early adopter. I learned to let go of my perfectionism quite a long time ago, and this made me braver, more creative, and far more compassionate, too. I love a good prototype that needs tinkering with. I’m also not afraid to share my works in progress. I’m skeptical of those who appear less human than I strive to be in any space, and I thrive on divergent thinking and diverse perspective taking. At this point in my life, I’m pretty sure it’s my lack of certainty rather than my quest for it that trips me up most days. So, I realize that if someone like me–someone like that–is longing for routine, simple, swift solutions right now, I can’t stand in judgment of others who are doing the same.

So this year especially, I’m trying not to judge, and instead, just showing up and striving to be of use. Sometimes, I fail at both of these things, especially when I’m tired. I don’t know how it’s possible to be so tired from sitting in my house all day every day, but I don’t think I’m alone there. I see you. And you. And you.

And I hear those of you who have begun asking me what I’m learning about facilitating professional learning and even–the business side of being an independent consultant–in the midst of this strange year that makes us want to meet urgency with efficiency so we can all just feel some sort of “normal” again.

Here are the most important things I’ve learned. It’s a lot, I realize now. And I’m only realizing that because I’m reflecting and writing about it. Maybe it would help you to do the same too, if you haven’t already.

  1. I need to have a plan, and I also need to know that I’ll likely have to let it go. If I show up without the plan, I can’t be as effective as I want to be for the overwhelmed people who need to find opportunities and solutions and fast. If I’m not willing to let it go? Same. Expecting to follow any plan to its intended end point this year is a recipe for frustration. Having a plan and also planning to let it go if I need to actually builds a bit of certainty into our days. Also: Gamestorming and the use of other protocols makes for far better–and true–shared decision-making.
  2. Sitting with people in their grief is far better than trying to rush them through it or distract them from it.
  3. Documenting my learning–multimodally–matters much if I’m going to learn anything from it. Most days are survival. Without documentation, I fear I might repress much of this rather than learning from it. Documenting and reflecting on what I capture is helpful.
  4. Capturing my wins of the week is important, especially during those weeks where it feels no progress was made. Inviting others to do the same has been much appreciated as well.
  5. Standards based grading and reporting are essential. We can borrow lessons from these best practices, even if we haven’t fully moved in this direction system-wide just yet.
  6. Small learning targets are essential. Every grade level. Every content area. Every professional learning experience. Every personal goal. And the learning target matters, but the approach and the resources and the way we express our learning? Maybe notsomuch.
  7. Agile curriculum planning approaches and tools are essential. If there is anything I am proud to have been a part of in recent years, it’s far more agile curriculum planning work. The teachers who are moving writers this year in my world are the ones who planned this way.
  8. Using one tool in a variety of dynamic and increasingly sophisticated ways is far more useful than throwing a bazillion intriguing tools at teachers or children or parents in an attempt to keep things fresh.
  9. It’s okay to give teachers the things they need this year instead of coaching them through the process of creating them themselves. This does not make you a bad learning facilitator or leader. It makes you an experienced one.
  10. In fact, the products we give teachers can make for powerful coaching instruments, if we’re intentional about using them that way. This has been one of my happiest surprises. Taking the design load off of teachers has, in some cases, freed up time and energy and bandwith for professional learning, perhaps.
  11. The stuff we create doesn’t have to be perfect. It has to help those we serve make progress, and it could even inspire them to make something better and then, share it back with everyone else.
  12. Virtual professional learning often increases levels of teacher engagement. Really.
  13. Virtual coaching is often less invasive than face-to-face coaching, too.
  14. We are all still learning. We may not be learning what we intended to learn, what we planned to learn, or what we wanted to learn, but we are all learning, and we may even be learning things that serve us better than the things we planned to learn before COVID came along.
  15. Social media is very real, and people like me–who use it regularly–we need to be the change we wish to see there. Using it to provide just-in-time and just-right support to the teachers we serve in scheduled sessions is a very good way to use it. Countering misinformation and disinformation with facts and evidence is another good way to use it.
  16. It’s important for white educators to interrogate their curricula, instructional practices, and assessments, and if this year has provided anything, it’s enough disruption to stop everyone in their tracks. Taking the time–right now–to slow our decision making and do much more deliberate work here is actually an opportunity. I can’t stop thinking about the curriculum purchases, design work, and SEL initiatives that some were planning to launch into this year, unaware of this reality. Everyone is aware of this reality now, unless they are choosing to be actively ignorant or apathetic.
  17. It’s important for white consultants to decenter themselves in equity work, refer IBPOC experts to lead it, and call colleagues in if they’re not doing the same.
  18. Giving myself daily reading assignments and holding myself accountable for finishing them is critical to my professional learning, creativity, and joy. Especially when I don’t feel like reading.
  19. Authors need to take responsibility for ensuring that their work is culturally sensitive because publishers aren’t doing a great job here just yet.
  20. Marketing your consulting self and business well on social matters far less than being deeply engaged and generous with the people you serve there. And this helps you feel more connected, human, and cared for, too.

Were you hoping for more practical applications or tools? I dropped some into Sunday’s newsletter. You can subscribe here if you don’t want to miss future editions.

My PLANNING CAMPS will be running throughout the summer of 2021, too. You can participation asynchronously, join me for weekly coffee hours if you wish, and even enjoy a bit of screen-free remote PD by listening while you walk or play or work. Learn more here. I hope to see some of you.

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2 Comments

  1. What a beautiful celebration of learning, Angela. This is now printed and posted on my office wall and has sparked me to create a list of my own in my notebook. As always, thank you for your dose of inspiration.

    • I’m so glad! And I hope your ears are ringing, because I’m mentioning your incredible work in Sunday’s newsletter, Stephanie. Thank you for all that you do and share!

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