2 Exercises to Cope with Uncertainty and Clarify Your Vision for This School Year
“To admit uncertainty is to admit to weakness, to powerlessness, and to believe in yourself despite both. It is a frailty, but in this frailty there is a strength: the conviction to live in your own mind, and not in someone else's.”
-Tara Westover, Educated
How do you set a vision when the only certainty is uncertainty? How can you lead a staff team or a cohort of students without knowing where you are headed?
The return to school this fall presents a chasm of uncertainty for teachers, students, families, and administrators. This can be perceived as a loss of control over our schools and classrooms - and contribute to anxiety and fear. While I don’t have any answers to the and can’t assure you that this year will go fine and dandy, I can provide two exercises to help you envision and mentally prepare for the upcoming school year.
These exercises, a values reflection and a vision setting activity, are two that I use at Education Elements and in my personal life to set goals and reflect on where I am, where I’m heading, and where I hope to be. Structured thought exercise activities like these can be powerful, especially during times of change and transition.
You can do these exercises on your own or with a teaching partner. If you’re a coach or team lead, you can guide your team through these exercises virtually.
Exercise 1: Start with Your Values
While circumstances change, staying true to your values can provide a sense of “true north” and at Education Elements, we often reference Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle and the idea that starting with your “why” will guide the following decisions of “what” and “how.” Knowing your values and being able to communicate them, through words or actions, helps build strong relationships with adults and students - a critical component of coping with and leading through uncertainty.
Elena Aguilar at Bright Morning has a simple yet powerful values reflection activity that she recommends for teachers, coaches, and administrators. You can access the directions here and the list of values here. When I learned of this activity as an instructional coach, I began to do it twice a year -- once before the start of school, and again over winter break.
Psychology Today provides a slightly different values activity that leads you to reflect on the objects, people, and memories that are most important to your life.
Exercise 2: Write Your Headlines
One of my favorite workshop activities that we do at Education Elements is the “Headlines” activity in which we ask participants to write their own newspaper headline for the future. We use this activity with everyone from teachers to superintendents in order to help clarify the most important aspects of goals and vision.
To do the Headlines activity on your own, start by coming up with a question for the near future, such as “What do I want to be true for my students by the end of this year?” or “What do I want staff to say about my coaching at the end of the year?”
Then, craft your ideal answer to that question in the form of a newspaper headline - snappy, bold, and almost always alliterative. An example is “Seagull Students: Supported, Connected, and Learning in a Virtual World.”
Take this one step further and draw or digitally create your “front page” with your headline, a brief paragraph about the work, and an image. Hang these front pages somewhere.
If you do this activity as a team, each member can write their individual headlines and share with the group. The group can then identify themes and craft a headline to represent the team.
About Maria Morrisson Copolillo
Maria is a Design Principal at Education Elements. She partners with schools and districts to improve educational outcomes for all students through the creation of joyful, meaningful, and personalized learning experiences. Maria grew up in rural Oregon and is a proud public school graduate. Maria’s career in education began as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant at a public school in rural Yilan, Taiwan, where she taught English as a Second Language. After moving back to the US, Maria taught 6th grade math in Miami-Dade County Public Schools as a Teach for America corps member and was a regional finalist for the Sue Lehmann Excellence in Teaching Award. Maria went on to teach 6th and 8th grade math at KIPP New Orleans Schools. Her team designed and piloted a 1-to-1 device model that was then rolled out to KIPP schools across the region. Prior to joining Education Elements, Maria worked at a non-profit supporting teachers and principals across Los Angeles to implement blended and personalized learning. Maria earned her B.A. from Lewis & Clark College and her MS.Ed in Education and Social Change from the University of Miami. In her free time, Maria enjoys performing improv comedy, hiking, and crochet.