Three Wishes for 2023
It has been my practice for the last few Januarys to make predictions about possible changes in the K-12 sector. This practice goes back as far as 2015 when I highlighted the top ten issues facing our education system and some things to watch for as we sought to transform it. Fast forward to 2019 when I made six not so bold predictions about deep learning, graduation assessments, and diversity, equity and inclusion driving the educational discourse (Of course, there was something far more profound that was to change the course of teaching and learning around the world…that few of us could have predicted). Slowly coming to grips with the initial impacts of COVID-19, I focused my 2020 predictions on the importance of social-emotional wellness, identity and learning places. Acknowledging that the pandemic was not yet done with us, in 2021, I doubled down on my thoughts about the importance of wellness, educational equity and outdoor learning spaces (Not super original, but appropriate under the circumstances). Some of you will recall that I broke tradition in January 2022 by sharing some thoughts about three words that had come into sharper focus as a result of the pandemic: “pivot” and “unprecedented” – which I planned never to use again; and “resolve” – which affirmed my commitment to putting the needs of our students first in the face of our most trying times.
So here we are in 2023, and I am again not super motivated to lean into too many grand predictions. This is not to say that 2022 did not bring about some significant events and achievements that could potentially shape K-12 education in the months and years ahead. Advances in sciences – from nuclear fusion to remarkable achievements in artificial intelligence to Covid vaccine developments – continue to speak to the need for our schools to prepare students for a world that requires creativity, collaboration, communication, critical thinking and citizenship. This coupled with the pressures of the pandemic exposing school systems to address what matters most, truly speaks to the need for us to make schools more humane, engaging and meaningful for the students as we prepare them for their futures. While our schools in general (and teachers in particular) should be roundly celebrated for the work they have done in the last three years to carry our society through the ravages of the pandemic, we also now see K-12 school systems not (yet) fully positioned to deal with the challenges we now face.
So rather than frame my “top three” as predictions of what might happen in 2023, I will build on my September 2022 post and position my thoughts as wishes for a system to which I have dedicated thirty-six years of my professional life.
- A Wish for Belonging: I wish that every students regardless of where they live in our community, who their parents are or what they happen to look like, feels like they belong in each classroom they enter, that their uniqueness will be recognized and celebrated, that their contributions are respected and valued by peers and adults alike, and that the fabric of the classroom invites them to feel safe and loved.
You need only look at post-pandemic attendance rates, examine numerous student wellness surveys available to us, or carefully listen to students to know that things are not “back to normal” (not that “normal” was great for all our kids). Belonging is a complex concept. It is nuanced to context, idiosyncratic and can only be perceived by the receiver. Try as we might to create welcoming environments for students, we must ask them about the effectiveness of our efforts. Their engagement and attachment to our schools (and by extension, their learning) depends on it.
- A Wish for Empowerment: I wish that each teacher feels empowered to create classroom experiences that give children the true and unfiltered joy of learning that each of us at one time or another has experienced, that this joy is fueled by their curiosities and something about which they are passionate, and that they can share this passion with classmates and family members.
You do not need to look very far to see that our school systems are under noticeable strain, largely exacerbated by staffing shortages. While not all classrooms in the province or a given district have felt the challenges to the same degree, we cannot live up to our aspiration for deep learning experiences for EACH child when our teachers have inconsistent access to the supports needed for it. Our teachers are the pointy end of the change transformation agenda, and we will not get there unless they are both challenged, empowered and supported to do this work.
- A Wish for Deeper Connection: I wish that every student feels emotionally and intellectually connected to the work being done in their classrooms, and that they uncover novel connections between these experiences and the world unfolding before them, that they use their skills to make the planet a better place for their and the next generation.
Returning to my comments above, when ill-being is as rampant as our students suggest now it is, we are not going to counsel our way to wellness among our students or staff. There are not enough school counsellors or community therapists to address the magnitude of the issues as it is currently portrayed. Instead, I think we need to go to the root of practices and approaches that touch the human soul and make us whole. I wish to see more kids playing indoors and outdoors. I wish students to have more curricular and extra-curricular play and more arts, music and dance in their daily lives. I really believe (and I am supported by the research) that this is an important part of the path forward.
Regardless of what comes to our doorsteps in the coming months, I wish a prosperous, exciting and healthy 2023 to all staff, students and families in our community.