So not that long ago I gave an assignment to a group of educators who I teach as part of their international education and leadership master’s degree program. The class is titled, Innovative Practices, and the overarching theme for that particular week revolved around the idea of a blue sky vision for schools. The assignment was to write about, and then to defend what they believed to be more important when designing their school of the future, a greater focus on academic rigor or a greater focus on social emotional health and wellbeing. What I thought would be an interesting discussion actually turned into a fascinating debate on the very nature and purpose of education, and the essential responsibilities that we have as educators as we seek to prepare students for their lives inside and outside of school.
What made me smile about the outcome of this assignment (and where I was truly hoping they would eventually land) was that the group came to this rock solid conclusion…it wasn’t one or the other in isolation, it was a purposeful marriage of both. We ended up calling this parallel approach, “the beautiful balance”, and it was inspiring to hear the ideas, discussions, and recommendations that they all had for bringing this balance to life in their particular schools. There was a lot of talk about the importance and the imperative of a deep focus on social emotional health and wellbeing, particularly in a post-covid world, and that is the absolute truth, but a recognition as well that we can’t sway too far in one direction for fear that the high expectations and deep rigor that we want for our students might be compromised.
Finding this beautiful balance in schools is no easy task, and the work and commitment needs to be targeted, intentional and explicit. It’s deep and difficult work as we review things like curricular and advisory programs, course offerings, units of study, student workload, and beliefs around assessment practices. It’s about prioritizing systems thinking too, and watching for any unintended consequences that may knock us off balance, so to speak. It’s about a new or renewed commitment to developing not only incredible students, but incredible human beings as well.
As a part of the assignment they also brainstormed the skills, dispositions and attributes that they wanted as natural outcomes for their balanced students. They envisioned students who ask critical questions and fail forward and seek to understand. Students who inquire deeply and follow their passions and take ownership of their educational experience. Students who are inclusive and empathetic and collaborative and look for solutions to problems in their world. Students who persevere and challenge themselves and find comfort in being uncomfortable. Students who feel celebrated and valued for their accomplishments outside of the regular classroom, and who feel seen and heard and loved. And finally, students who ultimately feel a deep sense of belonging and who find success in all aspects of the day simply for being who they are as young people in our world.
That’s the balance that they are chasing, and it’s a balance that is not only attainable in my opinion, but essential for us as schools as we think about what might go into this blue sky vision. As a way to begin to find that balance, the place to start for schools is to target the social and emotional well being of kids, and teachers, as we think about and tackle the school experience post pandemic. It’s imperative that we look at how we can support not only students, but our entire community, targeting how we can get better in this area and using the last few years as a catalyst for change. It’s not okay to simply go back to the way things were, as the opportunity is here to focus on empathy, compassion, understanding and belonging. It is not the time at all to add more work and more stress and more homework to try and catch up, or make up for “all that lost time”. With an eye on the health and wellbeing of our communities we will take a giant step in the right direction toward finding that beautiful balance that we need in schools.
Anyway, I enjoyed the assignment and the deep discussion that followed, and it’s encouraging to know that schools around the world are currently focusing heavily on creating that beautiful balance for their communities, and I’m proud to know that we are one of them. Have a wonderful week ahead everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other.
Quote of the Week…
Next to love, balance is the most important thing – John Wooden
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