Where There Is Hardship There Is Opportunity

Where There Is Hardship There Is Opportunity

By Gregory Firn, originally published on LinkedIn

It was a long weekend — a lot of debate, discourse, and discussion underpinned by opinion, optimism, and of course, partisanship. Rhetorically, when did the health, well-being, and safety of self and others become partisan?

Suffice it to say, as far as we have come as a nation, we have “miles to go before we sleep and promises to keep” before we unite and behave as “E Plurbius Unum.”

As daily we witness the hardships of COVID-19, it is very difficult to see past the day-to-day struggles, challenges, and tragedy confronting so many Americans and citizens of the world.  Emerging however, is the beginning of disregard and denial of these realities. Please don’t become callous, deaf or blind. “The good of the one has never outweighed the good of the many.”

We must simply not dismiss these tragedies because they haven’t personally affected us individually.

As we have and will continue to see, Americans answer to the call to serve and sacrifice for others.  We rise above our circumstances to proactively assist others who are sick, hurting, or in need. Never before in this magnitude has the content of our character been on display for all to see.

For me, seeing past this moment in history not with blind eyes, but with an eye of opportunity, an eye on how to contribute to a greater good, an eye on how to address deficiencies, inadequacies—and yes, inequities in those systems and institutions that, in the ideal were designed to make us one, are a priority.

This opportunity is not opportunistic.

Rather, it is an opportunity that has, for at least my professional career spanning over 40 years, been evident – self-evident to so many. That is, our system of education was not designed to adequately, effectively, or efficiently educate all children. This is not a criticism of educators.  It is, however, a criticism of the system in place.

I have shared previously the profound impact Dr. Ron Edmonds has made in shaping my vision, mission and true north as an educator.  He challenged me at my core when he said,

“We can, whenever and wherever we choose, successfully teach all children whose schooling is of interest to us; we already know more than we need to do that; and whether or not we do must finally depend on how we feel about the fact that we haven’t so far” (Educational Leadership, October 1978).

At this time in history, I believe we can address many, if not all, of the prevailing challenges of the education system by not longing to return to pre COVID-19 practices, policies, and programs.  Rather, we can authentically and realistically address inequities and deficiencies in the system.

How?

We must collaborate not isolate, cooperate not oppose, and coordinate not compete. The design of a system of, for, and by the outcomes we desire and expect from an education – for each citizen – each learner must be paramount.

Though it may seem perfunctory, an open, transparent conversation about the dissatisfaction with the current system of education informed by data — not opinion, not hyperbole, not emotion, not partisanship — is essential.

To do so begins first with answering this question: What is the aim, goal or outcome of an education? If we can find common understanding and agreement with the goal of education irrespective of where and by whom – public, private, parochial, charter, virtual, or home, we can begin in earnest to address dissatisfaction.

COVID-19 is an impetus for the conversation about the aim or outcome of an education.

The disparate efforts to continue learning, although commendable and reflective of the deep care and concern for learners by educators, reveals the lack of clarity, consistency, and constancy of the aim and outcome of education.

Admittedly, schools and school systems across the U.S. hurriedly reacted to the situation with the resources and means at hand. Yet, in doing so, they exposed long-standing inequities, shortcomings, and faulty design of the current education system.

For all of us who have led or are currently leading organizations, there is a tendency to focus on the mission.  Often lost in obscurity is the vision – the ideal –  what the work looks like when it’s completed.  Now more than ever, we need to make time to discuss and agree on the vision of education.

Does your vision of education include each learner? – even those who don’t look like you?  Those who may have different learning needs? Those with disabilities? Come from different homes or have no home at all? Those solely dependent upon schools for their learning or for a hot meal?

Vision is important. It must be inclusive, not exclusive.  It must compel us to create, design and implement with intention and purpose a plan to meet or exceed our aspirations, not just trite or pithy verbiage.

I posit that with agreement and subsequent commitments to a vision, the mission will become clearer.  The clarity of mission will compel us to examine the policies, structures, practices and programs that either support or work against the vision we seek.  Moreover, a clear vision will give us all permission to abandon systemically the form and functions that work against realizing the vision we seek.

Over the next several days and weeks, let’s engage in a conversation to identify and agree on the aim and outcome of an education.  It is time to write a new story — a story where “all” means “each” in action, not just words.

ABOUT GREGORY FIRN: With over 33 years of experience in education and over seven years of private sector leadership, Dr. Gregory Firn has done everything from teaching to running entire school districts to launching new products and services into the K-12 space. His deep experience and passion for helping under-served children has been instrumental in helping companies develop the products and strategies that will successfully serve the K-12 education market. Dr. Firn has written over 150 educational research abstracts published by Effective Schools Ltd. and presented to over 50 different conferences, workshops, and trainings. He earned his doctorate from Seattle Pacific University, where his research focused on learner-centered education. Originally from Tacoma, Washington, Dr. Firn is the product of the public school system including an undergraduate degree from Washington State University. Connect with him on LinkedIn.