MOVE THE STICKS. PROGRESS IN THE AGE OF COVID.
Updated: Nov 17, 2020
If you're an American football fan you probably know that the expression "move the sticks" refers to progress a little at a time, since in football every ten yards of forward progress by the offense moves the yardsticks (sometimes referred to as the chains) ahead to measure the next ten yards of progress. While it may slow down the game and be unexciting to inexperienced or casual football fans, it's usually all an offense can do to retain possession. And without possession you cannot score.
Superintendents learn early in their careers that moving the sticks a little at a time is still progress - and moving forward is better than not moving at all or moving backwards. Institutional barriers and other obstacles common in education can frustrate superintendents who are hired by school boards to improve student outcomes. But institutionally speaking, it takes time to effect positive change in education and sometimes many, many years to realize it.
This concept has struck me as I witness the accelerated pace of change brought on by the pandemic. Overnight, districts have become 1:1 with computers and connective devices. Districts have trained all staff to operate in a remote environment and effectively leverage technology as a teaching, learning, and communication tool. It's been nearly thirty years since the advent of the promise that technology would level the playing field. Suddenly, the playing field is level, at least when it comes to access.
Many districts have also created a variety of program delivery options for students depending on their needs and the conditions in their lives. Districts that heretofore offered few if any options to the institutional model that amounted to the positive and negative sanctioning of certain role behaviors are expanding the education menu and providing students a taste of the future. And not through technology. Instead, by focusing on the power and potential of individuals and strengthening interpersonal connections to power students' potential.
The COVID mindset has moved us away from personalizing for students to personalizing with them. Primarily, this has occurred as a result of teaching social and emotional skills necessary for students to survive and thrive in remote learning spaces. Students are having to play a larger role in shaping their own learning experiences. The autonomy of distance learning fosters self-regulation and emotional control. The more independent students are the more aware they are of their emotions and the more successful they become in controlling impulses. It's a pandemic silver lining and a true blessing in disguise, if ever there were a blessing resulting from a pandemic.
Superintendents who have been plodding along ten yards at a time are suddenly lighting up the scoreboard. But they would be wise to recognize the fundamental distinction between pre-COVID and post-Covid education and not be overly fascinated by the infinite variety of possibilities that have emerged practically by happenstance, not because they were drawn up that way. At the same time it's a perfect example of how a threat can become an opportunity. To institutionalize it requires a measured approach.
Ten yards at a time sounds just about right.