Living With Uncertainty

Either this is all a big nothingburger, or one day soon we’re all going to look back on these photos and cry.

I’m betting on cry, though:

I live about as far away from that distrcit as you can be and still be in Indiana, but this teacher’s comments kind of sum it up:

“I most definitely felt like we were not ready,” said Russell Wiley, a history teacher at nearby Greenfield-Central High School. “Really, our whole state’s not ready. We don’t have the virus under control. It’s just kind of like pretending like it’s not there.”

And honestly, “not ready” doesn’t mean “didn’t plan”. It’s just that there’s some things that just can’t be open safely right now. And schools are probably one of those things.

This post from University of Colorado-Denver educational leadership professor Scott McLeod showed up in my feed this week. He offered some statements that every superintendent and school board member should read and ponder before making a re-opening decision:


How many kids have to get sick before you shut down again? What are your decision-making criteria? [practice saying these out loud and see how they sit with you]

Well, if 1 kid gets sick, that’s sad but we’ll stay open…

Well, if 10 kids get sick, that’s terrible but we’ll stay open…

Well, if 100 kids get sick, that’s a tragedy but we’ll stay open…

If 50 kids at that one school get sick, we will shut that school down but the rest of the district will stay open…

Until 20% of our students are sick, we’ll stay open…

How many educators have to get sick before you shut down again? What are your decision-making criteria? [practice saying these out loud and see how they sit with you]

Well, if 1 educator gets sick, that’s sad but we’ll stay open…

Well, if 10 educators get sick, that’s terrible but we’ll stay open…

Well, if 100 educators get sick, that’s a tragedy but we’ll stay open…

If 20 teachers at that one school get sick, we will shut that school down but the rest of the district will stay open…

Until 30% of our educators are sick, we stay open…

Until we can’t get enough substitutes to adequately cover classrooms, we stay open…

How many kids or educators have to die before you shut down again? What are your decision-making criteria? [practice saying these out loud and see how they sit with you]

Well, if 1 kid dies, that’s sad but we’ll stay open…

Well, if 10 kids die, that’s a tragedy but we’ll stay open…

Well, if 3 teachers die, that’s terrible but we’ll stay open…

Well, if 20 teachers die, that’s a tragedy but we’ll stay open…

Until 10% of our staff are dying, we’ll stay open…”


Honestly, those questions should snap your head back.

I wouldn’t want to be in a role where I needed to make that call. I suspect that in many demographically similar communities to mine, parents really really really want their kids in school (because they remember last spring), until the first positive case turns up. Then they’ll really really really want schools closed, like yesterday. Because how dare you.

We have a special obligation to make decisions in the best interests of the health and safety of our kids. Which makes the school opening decision both seemingly simple, and at the same time incredibly complex. Our students rely on schools for nutrition and counseling and individualized education services that are multiple times more difficult to deliver in a remote learning environment.

Districts across the state spent all summer crafting their contingency plans for re-opening and operating during the pandemic. Then as the number of cases in Indiana accelerated during the summer, several districts have scrapped those plans and opted for a virtual learning mode when school resumes.

On Friday the district where I live announced plans to open on time for in-person learning. The teacher pages I follow lit up like a Christmas tree. It was a bit of a surprise as several nearby districts had already announced plans for a virtual open for the first quarter.

Meanwhile states have been sorting through options for high school sports. Associations in Indiana and Illinois both announced plans Thursday, keeping me (football & wrestling dad) obsessively scrolling my twitter feed for news.

The two states couldn’t have been further apart, philosophically:

One district in my son’s athletic conference, working on the recommendation of the county health department, opted not only to open virtually, it also suspended all extra-curricular activities during e-learning. That means the high school in that district won’t play a football game until the sixth week of the season. Who knows, by then the entire state might be shut down again.

Who’s right? I’ll guess we’ll find out.

Same story with school re-opening in my district and my son’s district. The superintendent in my new district is leaning strongly towards a virtual open. School board will announce on Tuesday. Either way, we’re both ready to roll. Between homelife and his football practices, he’s heard a drumbeat of “control what you can control”. It’s practically a family motto now.

And not just in our family. The latest episode of Jennifer Fulwiler’s podcast “This Is Jen” struck the same chord.

Jen feels like learning to live with uncertainty is a life skill that most of us struggle with. For a lot of us, it doesn’t fit our personality at all. But in our current environment, it’s one of the best tools we have. We kind of have to pick a lane, mash the accelerator, and go.

Of course it helps to do your homework before you pick that lane. Do your research. Ask the “what if?” questions. Play out the worst-case scenario. Use Colin Powell’s 40-70 Rule (Go get his book My American Dream. Summarized: in any moment of decision you’ll never have 100% of the information you need. If you can’t get to 40% sure of the outcome, that’s a no. Once you get to 70% sure, that’s good enough to go with.). Then go.

Her closing piece is underrated: In the darkest times, find the thing that you can control and can get excited about. That thing is going to vary from person to person. Julie Reulbach wrote eloquently about it this week. For teachers staring down a school year that may be filled with fits and starts of in-person instruction mixed with long stretches of virtual learning, that might look something like:

  • planning on paper or a GDoc for the first unit
  • thinking about planning for the first unit while drinking coffee on a rainy Sunday morning
  • touching base with colleagues (tough if you’re changing districts and aren’t on school email yet but an inbox message on social can accomplish the same thing) to get an idea of what you’re teaching
  • or if you are ready: build the slide decks you’ll use for each lesson in the first unit of the year. Now cut the video of you presenting each lesson (Screencastify or Screencast-o-matic is your new best friend).

Eventually you’ll be at the point where your students who are absent or doing virtual learning are covered. And if you get the call tomorrow that school is shutting down and you’re going virtual for the next nine weeks, so are you.

Because that call is coming. Maybe sooner than you think.

Of that, I’m virtually certain.

Author: thedullguy

High School Math teacher, Gavit High School, Hammond, IN. Football and wrestling dad. Opinions mine.

One thought on “Living With Uncertainty”

  1. This statement: “In the darkest times, find the thing that you can control and can get excited about.”

    One of the most difficult things about this situation is the feeling out of control, the indecision about where to even start.

    Like

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