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Changing Tack to Sail Into the Wind: Starting a School Year That is Like No Other

By: Dana Britt on September 9th, 2020

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Changing Tack to Sail Into the Wind: Starting a School Year That is Like No Other

Teachers  |  Virtual Learning  |  School Leadership

In February, my husband and I bought our first home in Pasadena, Maryland, right on a creek that leads into the Chesapeake Bay. What we’ve learned since moving in is that a good number of our neighbors are sailing fanatics, which has led to my husband trying to convince me to buy a small sailboat (a 40-50-year-old Sunfish to be exact). My response was that we needed to build up at least a few skills and knowledge about sailing before making a purchase because the few classes I had taken in the past on a small lake were not going to cut it in the Chesapeake Bay.

One of my favorite instructional videos (because of the excellent illustrations and the narrator’s soft Australian accent) is this one on Youtube. This video describes how to perform a “close-hauled” sail, which means to sail towards the wind. We learned through the video and our classes that it is impossible to sail in a straight line into the wind. Instead, you must first begin sailing almost 45 degrees to the right and then “tacking” or changing direction back the other way, over and over again. The familiar expression “changing tack” comes from this maneuver.

As leaders of districts, buildings, and classrooms, we feel like we’re starting this school year like no other by sailing into the wind. The task seems impossible – because of logistics, because of ever-changing data, and because some stakeholders hold directly opposing viewpoints – whether we are beginning fully remote or in-person through a hybrid model. Either way, we must remember that the only way to sail into the wind is to be ready to change tack. Successful sailors don’t hope that it won’t happen, but rather they know and embrace that it will and plan out the points at which they will change tack intentionally. The districts we support in this return to school journey have appreciated our ability to call out those points in advance as well as to act as an outside observer to point out when the district’s path has veered off course.

A successful virtual or remote learning strategy will be important for all districts this fall, regardless of whether they are starting hybrid or remote. Education Elements is working with a number of districts to prepare, using resources like our guide to the First 20 Days of Virtual Learning and Distance Learning Guide for Principals. We’re having conversations about different types of models for staffing, what high-quality video instruction looks like, and how to facilitate different forms of professional development for not only staff but also students and families. Check out the resources below and schedule a time to chat with us so we can help you and your district change tack to sail into the wind this fall.

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*Update -  I was finally convinced about the sailboat. And sailing into the wind is difficult, but not impossible through patience and constantly changing tack.

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About Dana Britt

Dana Britt is an Associate Partner focused on leading innovation in the state of New York. Prior to joining Education Elements in 2015, she worked in the District of Columbia Public Schools for six years, first as a high school English teacher, then in the district office as the manager of educational technology. In that role, she supported the district-level rollout of blended learning across 111 schools and built up a particular expertise in designing district-wide professional development and selecting, purchasing, and adopting new digital content and tools. At Education Elements, Dana has supported schools over 100 schools in 16 states. She has led the implementations of Fulton County Schools (GA), Syracuse City School District (NY), Marion Central School District (NY), and Waterloo Central School District (NY). Dana holds a B.A. in English from Wellesley College and an Ed.M. in Technology, Innovation and Education from Harvard University. When not thinking about personalized learning, Dana enjoys rock climbing and training for her next marathon in Washington, DC.

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