​Listen closely: The silence is deafening

Posted on 20th Apr 2020 in International Education, University Study, United States

Dr. Ty Frederickson, Assistant Professor of Wilkes University, considers the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the teaching profession.

The vast majority of schools around the planet are closed, parking lots are empty, and our traditional teaching and learning spaces hover in the eerily still absence of students, support staff, faculty, administrators, and parents As an Assistant Professor in the Wilkes University Doctor of Education program, I have the privilege of supporting the professional development and research of some of the finest educational leaders in the United States and international school community. As we are acutely aware, our response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been shockingly uniform. Our Wilkes Ed.D. students lead schools in Central and North America, Europe, Africa, Australia, and throughout Asia. In our daily conversations, and regardless of their geographical location, there is an uncertainty about the future, a deliberate reflection on how to utilize this uniquely individual, yet shared, quiet,and a compelling opportunity to think about what the educational landscape will look like when this is over. At no point in our lifetimes have we collectively experienced such a total departure from the traditional brick and mortar settings of our schools. As a result of this comprehensive and uncertain situation, we are left wondering how to lead, teach, and learn now and in our shared future.

Do we return to the way things were? To do so would seem to miss a rare opportunity. We have some experience to guide us forward. For instance, we can relate to the feeling just before a summer holiday when we think about how to use our annual extended time off to be better prepared for the next academic year. How many of us have turned the lights out to our schools in June or December and walked away with the best of intentions for our return: to prioritize student agency, deploy that innovative idea, be more patient and effective collaborators, assess more meaningfully, heighten the relevance of our content, lead more purposefully, and so on? Here we are, again, with the freedom for new beginnings. The next time we find ourselves in schools, with our students, our colleagues, our communities, it will most certainly be very different. But for how long?

We are all too familiar with the experience of being inspired to act as a result of being disrupted. We have been quieted by the startling realization that comes from seeing our lives, our work, from a new perspective. At these moments of introspective stillness, we genuinely and forcefully commit to protecting the fire that has been lit in our minds and hearts. We anticipate returning to our schools ready to share our disruption. I have seen and felt this happen many times; we all have. The fire of inspiration and creativity burns brightly at first, but over time, against the forces of the status quo, and without others to bolster it, the fire naturally begins to cool until the next profound experience. But I posit that this introspective stillness is different. There is an exhilaration in the silence because we are all sharing in it at precisely the same moment. The collective awareness that our post-COVID-19 lives will illuminate new ways to teach, to learn, and to lead, and our shared commitment to sustainable innovation is likely to challenge virtually every aspect of our former institutions and the whole of our profession.

I teach a course that examines some of the most pressing issues in global education; not surprisingly, as my students have been navigating the unfamiliar terrain of school closings, COVID-19 has been integrated into every aspect of our work. We have taken this unique opportunity to deliberately think about and plan for leading meaningful, research-informed, sustainable change. Some examples include

  • Virtual Professional Learning Platform designed to support teaching and learning in the most under-resourced school communities in the world.
  • Re-structuring collaborative initiatives to promote high school post-graduate student projects designed to support student transition to, and ultimately success in, their post-secondary studies.
  • Re-imagining ways to provide the most vulnerable schools with the proper funding to ensure access to education and closely study technology integration programs to equip students with the technology to continue learning, even when the school is closed.
  • More effectively supporting female students and ELL with intentionally designed STEM Makerspaces to promote educational equity.
  • Intentionally designed mentorships and induction programs specifically for early to career principals leading in isolation.
  • Leveraging social media platforms to promote recruitment diversity for Cyber School hiring programs.

I share these initiatives as examples of what a deep and thoughtful personal introspection, coupled with a network of like-minded professionals, can imagine when given the opportunity. While they may not be wholly new ideas, each of them amplifies a disruptive response to the status quo in context. The only certainty greater than the exhilaration embedded in them is the fact that the community of professional learners that facilitated their germination stand ready to support them when the time comes.

We, like Robert Frost’s poetic voice in “Stopping by Woods on A Snowy Evening,” have “promises to keep,” and if we recognize that the “woods are lovely,” we may be poignantly reminded of how fortunate we are for this moment of deep reflection. It is in the woods of our respective quarantines that we feel the immense joy of being educational leaders. While we may not be in our buildings, and school may feel a little uncertain, there is real learning happening. As should be at the crux of all authentic learning, we are discovering who we can be. What we will be, not in spite of, but because of our isolation. What we are capable of, how to think critically about our profession and our world, and how to appreciate the fragility of our circumstance. We are rejuvenating the fire of our intellect and passions so that we are equipped for the task in ways we were unlikely to previously imagine. What will the new normal look like following this unexpected learning experience? We do not know, and that is okay. The chances of those fires staying lit is greater this time simply because we have felt the deafening noise of the silence. This promise softens our uncertainty and builds anticipation for the future of our profession

Ty Frederickson is an assistant professor of education in Wilkes University’s doctor of education degree. The Wilkes Ed.D. in Educational Leadership is specifically designed for international teachers and leaders who want to improve education around the world. Students in the program enjoy online learning combined with three, four-day residencies at international sites throughout the world, including Panama City, Dubai and the United States. Learn more at www.wilkes.edu/eddinternational.