re-opening school

I have given a lot of thought to the re-opening of schools in August. And, I have listened to some rich discussions on the matter. Twitter is full of thoughts on the idea. Several articles have been published recently that give me pause. This one made me chuckle...because there is a fine line between laughing and crying. 

Yet, it is maddening to think that leadership at the federal level keeps pushing misinformation or denying the science. I do not know what school will look like in August when students return. But, I know some tough decisions need to be made...by all stakeholders.  

I love the public schools my kids attend, but I also know they can't handle a lice outbreak on a good day and are not equipped to handle COVID on a bad one. School principals and superintendents are not epidemiologists or virologists and can’t possibly be expected to make plans like they are. 

—Dan Sinker, Esquire 


DL

Distance Learning

Following on my previous post about leadership, I attended Day 1 of the Distance Learning Leadership Summit, hosted by the Santa Cruz County Office of Education. Good discussions, over all three days. No one knows the answers to the big questions around Distance Learning, but I am optimistic about the discussion and events like this.

black box thinking

Last week, I read this book as part of my doctoral studies. It draws parallels between the aviation industry and other business sectors. In a nutshell, the book is about failure and how failure can be the impetus of growth and change. 

Failure is a dirty word in most organizations. And, failure is something many of us are now experiencing given the ways in which the system has failed us. Failure of leadership at the national level in response to the pandemic. Failure to hold officials accountable for their actions. Failure to ensure all citizens are given equal rights under the law. I could keep going, but I my intent is not to point to all the failures, big and small, in society and business. My point in talking about failure to echo the theme of this book.

Simply stated, there is often a disparity in the approach to failure and how it can guide our thinking. This is especially true when comparing the aviation company's approach to failure with the approach taken in the health-care industry. If we fail to analyze our failures, fail to share our thinking, and fail to improve our approach, then we are destined to be stuck in a loop of blame and ignorance.

Fail hard. Fail often. Fail forward.

quotes from Black Box Thinking:

  • “Learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t live long enough to make them all yourself.”

  • “A failure to learn from mistakes has been one of the single greatest obstacles to human progress.”

  • “Society, as a whole, has a deeply contradictory attitude to failure. Even as we find excuses for our own failings, we are quick to blame others who mess up.”

  • “It is partly because we are so willing to blame others for their mistakes that we are so keen to conceal our own. We anticipate, with remarkable clarity, how people will react, how they will point the finger, how little time they will take to put themselves in the tough, high-pressure situation in which the error occurred. The net effect is simple: it obliterates openness and spawns cover-ups. It destroys the vital information we need in order to learn.”

  • “Only by redefining failure will we unleash progress, creativity, and resilience.”

  • “Attention, it turns out, is a scarce resource: if you focus on one thing, you will lose awareness of other things.”

  • “When people don’t interrogate errors, they sometimes don’t even know they have made one (even if they suspect they may have).”

  • “When we are confronted with evidence that challenges our deeply held beliefs we are more likely to reframe the evidence than we are to alter our beliefs. We simply invent new reasons, new justifications, new explanations. Sometimes we ignore the evidence altogether.”

  • “Cognitive dissonance occurs when mistakes are too threatening to admit to, so they are reframed or ignored. This can be thought of as the internal fear of failure: how we struggle to admit mistakes to ourselves.”

  • “The problem today is that we operate with a ballistic model of success. The idea is that once you’ve identified a target (creating a new website, designing a new product, improving a political outcome) you come up with a really clever strategy designed to hit the bullseye.”

  • “Success is not just dependent on before-the-event reasoning, it is also about after-the-trigger adaptation.”

  • “In the absence of data, narrative is the best we have.”

  • “Marginal gains is not about making small changes and hoping they fly. Rather, it is about breaking down a big problem into small parts in order to rigorously establish what works and what doesn’t.”

  • “Creativity is, in many respects, a response.”

  • “If we wish to fulfill our potential as individuals and organizations, we must redefine failure.”

life

The new normal.  
I've heard this phrase a lot lately. Repeated in the media, on twitter, and in conversations. It crops up almost as much as the word pivot...another word that needs to disappear. Even the meteorologist used it recently. "We are going to pivot into some warmer temperatures over the next few days." Ugh. 


But, the phrase the new normal bothers me. Why are we trying to normalize this pandemic? We have all made adjustments to our daily routines. We have watched the economy come to a grinding halt. And, now many public school districts are facing massive budget shortfalls. There is nothing normal about it. 

School will be different as the Fall semester begins. That much is certain. Students, parents, staff, and every stakeholder in education knows this. I am optimistic that education can shift away from high-stakes testing, but I worry that many of the services will be absent when kids return to school. Districts here in California are already planning to reduce staff. And, librarians and counselors top the list. Elective course, like art and computer science, may not exist in the Fall. 

It is difficult to see a way out of this new normal, I suppose. Maybe we are looking at this situation the wrong way. Maybe it requires us to look beyond the surface. Maybe something good can come of this situation and create a new and better normal.