January 2021 Coaching Tip of the Month
Usually, my January “Tip of the Month” reflects my learnings from the previous year and my ambitious resolutions that seem to multiply each year but do not necessarily reach the level of accomplishment! Mine tend to be something that goes in one year and out the other! Try as I might, the two-headed Janus has all good intentions, reminding me of my past achievements and my forward-thinking goals for the future. This year, our resolutions, advice, and hopes are much different than in any previous year. “The new year stands before us, like a chapter in a book, waiting to be written” (Melody Beattie). So, what should we write?
Connecticut Education Commissioner Miguel Cardona, President-Elect Joe Biden’s pick for Secretary of Education, said “… it is our responsibility now, and our privilege to take this moment, and do the most American thing imaginable: to forge opportunity out of crisis.” As Mr. Biden remarked, “…[Cardona] understands the transformative power that comes from investing in public education.”
Invest, we must. But, how do we do that?
First of all, we need to understand the difference between explanations and excuses. Every school stakeholder has heard a myriad of reasons why there are such inequities in schools: neighborhood blight, inadequate resources, crumbling facilities, economic disadvantages, unstable staffing, limited programmatic opportunities, disenfranchised families, racial imbalances, inadequate policies… the list goes on and on. These occur in our most neglected schools and are so often dismissed with, “It is what it is.” This is educational abandonment and abuse in the broadest use of these terms. It is the excuse we have learned to accept and in many ways, learned to ignore. After all, this, too shall pass – right? It sure does… it passes onto every subsequent generation until we stop it.
The pandemic didn’t cause this educational malpractice; the pandemic made it more visible. And, because everyone is suffering from the pandemic, the issues it raises are finally being recognized as critical ones.
Restoring the dignity, not to mention all of the above injustices, to all of our schools and the students they have promised to educate should be the ONLY goal we have going forward. These injustices need to be remedied without prejudice or malice. Every child deserves to be in a safe environment with classrooms that are fully “stocked” as a table at holiday time. Every child deserves to be in a classroom with a highly effective teacher who understands student learning and is committed to helping their students reach their highest potential. Teachers deserve the opportunity to grow in ways that help their students grow. Every school stakeholder deserves the opportunities to dismantle educational inequality and injustice.
Let’s think for a moment the difference between inequality and inequity… inequity means injustice or unfairness; inequality means an imbalance or being unequal. I think there must be ways to address both in all schools. Students must all be treated fairly and they all must be given opportunities to grow while understanding that not everyone will grow at the same rate. Our job is to ensure that all students are met with the expectations to grow and are given the tools necessary to help them achieve success. Not every child needs the same set of tools at the same time but every child needs to be allowed the possibilities to access those tools as they need them; students’ needs must be recognized and addressed in a variety of ways.
When I was growing up, my family experienced financial hardships and we floundered. I remember neighbors sharing groceries with us; birthdays and holidays were especially difficult. My mother, however, tried to treat us equally and equitably… we would all get new shoes but each would receive their shoes at a different time.
The new year is a time to reflect on achievements and relationships in the past and look forward to the future. I leave you with the words of the wise Confucius, “When it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don’t adjust the goals; adjust the action steps.” As we move forward into 2021, let’s keep the most important component of instructional coaching front and center… sustain those teacher relationships you have built over the years; re-affirm your commitment to keeping students at the center and helping teachers change and improve their practice so that student engagement and outcomes are transformed. Let our words become our actions.