A bank teller, Jeff Bezos, and a Starbucks barista walk into a...school district reopening planning session. No, really. These may seem like disconnected personas, but in their book, Primed to Perform, authors Neel Doshi and Lindsey McGregor use all three real-life stories to explain how organizations should prepare their employees in planning a response to uncommon and changing situations. Each story, from the barista handling the inconvenience of running out of ice for a guest’s iced coffee order to the bank teller keeping their calm in the middle of a bank robbery to Bezos dropping everything to work with a team responding to a customer’s complaint in the early years of Amazon, illustrates a lesson that school and district leaders are facing now when it comes to reopening planning – the need for adaptability in an environment where the norm has been disrupted. There has been no greater global disruption in the 21st century than the one caused by the coronavirus. With school districts facing the long-term effects of the pandemic closures and planning for a reopening in the fall, the need to be adaptive becomes even greater.
In a single month in 2020, the unthinkable happened. Students in all 50 United States were impacted by school closures. Districts pivoted to short-term responses and initial guidelines for at-home learning. Now, a month after the coronavirus pandemic effectively halted traditional education for more than 50 million students, most districts have implemented or are in the process of implementing virtual learning plans and teachers across the country are finding creative ways to continue instruction through a screen.
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Located along the Hudson River and just 60 miles north of New York City, Newburgh Enlarged City School District is no stranger to strategic planning. With the adoption of Vision 2020 a few years ago, Newburgh reflected on successes from the current strategic plan including the creation of more options for secondary students, the launch of two new high school campuses, the increased focus on technology integration, and recognition from the state for their Certified Nursing Assistant program. They also celebrated increased student proficiency across core subjects. With Vision 2020 set to end in the next academic year, however, the district aims to capitalize on these successes and continue to align on a district direction in their new strategic plan, Beyond 2020.
After selling our D.C. area home and looking for more than a year to buy what we would call our “forever home,” my husband Mike and I finally closed on our dream piece of property. It checks off all of our boxes. More than an acre of flat, usable yard space for our kids. A pool with a diving board (my 4-year-old’s only requirement). A Harry-Potter-esque cupboard under the stairs for our dog (my 3-year-old’s only requirement). And room to grow. It’s perfect. It’s also stuck in the 1990s in terms of decor and layout. So minutes after closing, we did what any couple who watches way too much HGTV would do: we began making our list of renovation projects.
“And we both hit our goal weight!” “That’s amazing! So how did you celebrate?” “We ate an entire box of donuts! And then gained all of it back.” On an August visit with a group of teachers I’ve been partnering with for over a year, our conversation steered toward the idea of setting goals. In the education world, goals are set all the time, and often displayed or communicated prominently. A teacher may set the goal of 10 consecutive perfect attendance days, 90% of students showing mastery on an upcoming unit exam, or 100% of students growing 1-2 reading levels in a single year. Outside of the education world, too, we set goals all the time. Many of these are health-related – eat more greens, lose weight, drink more water, get more sleep. Some are financial goals – get a raise, save for a vacation, make a million dollars. And still others are achievement-based goals – write a book, buy a house, run a marathon. As the teachers I spoke with this summer shared, they set a goal to lose a set amount of collective pounds, and they did! But there was a huge problem with their apparent success. Two weeks later, they had gained it all back...and then some. They had hit their goal, but had failed to build a habit.
Our company is known for having a unique organizational culture. We have eliminated the traditional organizational hierarchy of direct managers; we employ a self-organizing team structure; and if you attended this year’s Personalized Learning Summit, you know we also view trivia and dancing to 80’s music as valuable team-building time. Something that is not as widely known is that we also have internal monthly challenges. During the month of November, our CEO challenged us to meditate for five minutes every day. That was the entire challenge. Five, uninterrupted minutes of silence where we took time to pause and reflect. Resources were shared. Apps were downloaded. An accountability chat room was created. On the first day of the challenge, nearly 20 team members meditated. Two weeks in, there were less than 10 people meditating with fidelity. And by day 30, very few had continued the practice.