By Christine Mason, CEI Executive Director
Paradox rules at the moment. Even as we are socially isolating indoors, skies are clearing as we have halted toxic pollution. Although we have become more and more concerned about our children’s time on their digital devices, classrooms have gone virtual. And parents who have been stressed out over how to work and spend time with their children, are home now with their families 24/7.
Even as we are faced with the urgency of using masks, gloves, and sanitizers, we can appreciate how they keep us safe. We are, in essence, “in retreat.” If you have ever had the luxury of participating in a retreat, you may be able to recall the wonder of the silence, the joy of putting life on hold, and the sense of peace and calmness that can arise by taking the focus off of the everyday busyness and centering in on what matters most. In retreat, we sometimes pray for the planet, take time to observe life’s smallest gifts—the gift of breath, the gift of a bird singing outside our window—and give thanks for all we have. Even in the midst of the many trials we have today, we are seeing expressions of gratitude, kindness, and caring for one another. It may be a city cheering for healthcare workers as they change shifts, industries switching production to increase our supply of protective masks, or neighbors leaving food instead of books at the neighborhood small libraries. At home, it may be the joy of seeing a young child’s delight in learning, the expression of satisfaction when a child knows that they got it! Things parents can sometimes miss in the evening 40-minute homework routine.
During this time when people are not coming together in person for our many routine meetings, families and friends are meeting on Zoom or through Facetime to chat. Children are asking questions, and families have opportunities to show their strength, concern, and caring for their loved ones.
Visioning During this Timeout from the Ordinary
During a timeout from the ordinary, we sometimes are able to gain a distance that increases our objectivity and gives us new insights. When we are hurrying to put together six hours of lesson plans, grade assignments, and prepare for standardized tests, it is sometimes difficult to find time to reflect, to consider the good and the not-so-good, and the areas where improvements are needed.
“A vision is not just a picture of what could be; it is an appeal to our better selves, to become more.”Rosabeth Moss Kanter
During this time of paradox, it may well be that with a little reflection we start to shape a vision for our schools, our children, and our communities that might far outstrip what we might have imagined a few months ago. Even in the midst of despair, we might be able to use our time—time given to us that has a new rhythm, a new pace, new possibilities—to begin a process of taking in the good, building on the gratitude we have, and the acts of kindness we are seeing, to envision a restart. A restart, a chance to rebuild, reconnect, and revise, for greater well-being. As we vision, let’s consider:
- Lessons on resilience. Richard Gerver (2013, 2015), an educator and provocateur, described how to help children prepare for the challenges of the future. In 2020, we are living those challenges today. What are we learning?
- Consider your dreams. The innovative, unimaginable, hopes for the future. As we are living with the unimaginable practice of social isolation, during a time of unimaginable stress for many, what are the previously unimaginable hopes and dreams you have for education, our schools, our communities? Not knowing what the future holds allows us to open up our minds, lean into creativity, and imagine possibilities that don’t yet exist.
- Hot Air Ballooning. In our book, Visioning Onward: A Guide for All Schools (Mason et al., 2020), we describe an exercise called “Hot Air Ballooning:”
Imagine you are floating over your community 10 years from now. Imagine that we have successfully passed through these months of living with COVID-19. With this success, there have been adjustments. What do you see? What is your role in this change? Who is by your side bringing your vision into reality with you?
- Enhanced learning capacity. With mindfulness, executive functioning (memory, attention, decision-making, cognitive flexibility) improves. Envision how communities, families, leaders, and everyone has begun to practice mindfulness techniques to relieve their stress. With this could come clearer thinking, greater understanding and compassion for the other, and improved decision-making. How might this influence our future?
We believe the best visions are inclusive—they consider many and are developed by many. This is part of what Jennifer Donohoo (2016) calls “collective efficacy.” The best visions may well arise from a time of introspection, sharing, dialoguing and debating, reflection and revision. Who knows, it might be that the visions we will have for education will be sharper, more focused, and in a word “greater” because of this timeout in 2020.
As you take the time to be—to be with family and to be with yourself—we encourage you to also take time to reflect on the good and to consider new ways of teaching, learning, and being. Make room to consider how to leverage whatever small learnings and gains we make during this time for the greater good for tomorrow.
To learn more about visioning, including our 8-step iterative process, explore our book Visioning Onward.
Bill Gates shares some related ideas in a recent post.
Gerver, R. (2013). Creating schools that prepare for the future. Debats D’Educacio.
Gerver, R. (2015). Creating tomorrow’s schools today: Education‑our children‑their futures (2nd ed.). Bloomsbury Publishing.
Donohoo, J. (2016). Collective efficacy: How educators’ beliefs impact stu‑dent learning. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
Mason, C. , Liabenow, P., & Patschke, M. (2020). Visioning Onward: A Guide for All Schools. Corwin Press.