Dear partners and colleagues,
This January has opened as an intense continuation of a year like no other in our collective memory. “Relentless, exhausting and humbling” is how many of you have described 2020.
But when I consider your leadership this past year, very different words come to mind: AWE and ADMIRATION.
Early on, regardless of how you personally felt, you pulled resources together on behalf of your students. Overnight you became internet providers, nutrition programs and full-time social service centers for your communities — all while keeping your day jobs as initiators of courageous conversations and leaders for student learning.
Student learning requires collaboration, and I am thankful for the ways that you and your teams have welcomed us into your work, even when we couldn’t be together in person. Recently, a CEL project director described a Zoom engagement with a leader as a “bright spot in my week.” That phrase, “bright spot,” really resonated with me as I reflected on the last 10 months.
“Regardless of how you personally felt, you pulled resources together on behalf of your students.”
As COVID-19 swept across the country from our home base in Seattle, so did uncertainty. Even so, it quickly became clear that the original plans for working with and supporting you had to give way to something else.
In those early moments of uncertainty, we did our best to focus on what was certain to us: that no matter the conditions, racial equity and limitless futures for students still mattered. As you moved into triage-mode to ensure that students were fed and connected and that the needs of your staffs were met, we improved our tools and resources. We sent you gentle reminders and tips to keep you going. We tested ways to work virtually.
We decided that our job was to keep the lights on until the time was right for you to resume the work of getting better. Some of those days felt dark. We practiced patience.
Before long we discovered that, regardless of the pandemic and the challenges it piled on, an ongoing focus on practice and getting better was a non-negotiable for you.
“Why the words AWE and ADMIRATION? Because throughout 2020, you were our bright spots.”
In the spring, Chris Lennox, who leads in Mounds View, Minnesota, emailed me. He was wondering if we could help his team figure out what instructional leadership looks like in distance learning. Soon after, Superintendent Jeff Pelzel asked if we would join his Newhall colleagues and him to observe student engagement in their virtual classrooms. Then, leaders, coaches and teachers in Mount Vernon, Washington, requested support to create a shared vision for student learning — one specific to remote math instruction.
These requests for collaboration and insight showed how important leading for student learning was to you — and also represented the first of many requests to collaborate and share approaches.
Working toward racial equity mattered to you all along. But after the murder of George Floyd, you asked us to better support you in leading for it, and we deepened our commitment and ability to do that.
Together with leaders across the Yakima Valley, we created the Central Washington Equity Leadership Network. We also collaborated with leaders from Minneapolis, Charlotte and Gwinnett County, Georgia in their efforts to strengthen principal pipelines with an even stronger focus on leading for equity.
To our hearts’ delight, many of you responded enthusiastically when we introduced our Student Experience Story Guide and asked to learn more — so that, ultimately, you can create schools where your students feel happy and proud.
“Working toward racial equity mattered to you all along. But after the murder of George Floyd, you asked us to better support you in leading for it, and we deepened our commitment and ability to do that.”
Why the words AWE and ADMIRATION? Because throughout 2020, you were our bright spots. Even more importantly, you demonstrated to your students and communities that they can look to you, their leaders, for hope in hard times.
You’ve lit the way for the year ahead — a year in which we know that you will be pushing through obstacles on behalf of your students. Pushing to ensure that leading for racial equity is ongoing, personal work, and it’s designed to interrupt the systems and practices that perpetuate inequity. The work will be hard, and it won’t stop, but we will be working together.
I, too, experienced much of 2020 as relentless, exhausting and humbling. But because of you, I still begin 2021 hopeful for what the year holds for students across the country. Your courage and willingness to get better has and will continue to make a difference. Our whole CEL team stands ready to work side-by-side in the important work ahead.
Are you ready to create an actionable vision of justice for your students? Mark your calendars for February 25 noon PST. Max Silverman and Michele Mason are hosting a free webinar to help you get started in realizing that vision. Please watch your inbox for more details.