3 Ways to Ensure We Don’t Miss the Opportunity for Education

Being intentional is hard under normal circumstances.  Being intentional when asked to engage in rapid innovation borne of necessity? Challenging, but possible.

Editor’s note: This post was originally published on Julie’s blog.

At ALP, we have been truly inspired by our partner districts and how folks have come together in service of people during this unsettling time.

Being intentional is hard under normal circumstances.  Being intentional when we are being asked to engage in rapid innovation, borne of necessity is especially challenging.

That said, as psychiatrist and researcher M.F. Weiner once counseled, “Don’t waste a crisis.” Here are three ways to ensure we don’t miss the opportunity for education in this pivotal moment in time.

Eulogize “All or Nothing”

I have lost count of the number of articles I have read in an effort to meet the needs of my own family and support the needs of learning communities during this time.

As a parent, I have read articles whose advice ranges from letting my kids eat junk and watch as much TV as they want to hyper structured routines.  As a coach and consultant I have seen district approaches to virtual learning range from districts that loaded up iPads with e-learning software and sent them home with every student in anticipation of this long term closure to districts who are prohibiting virtual learning of any kind because of the inequities it would cause.

Though there is neither a right nor a wrong way to approach a crisis, I would like to advocate for a movement away from an “all or nothing” mindset.

I am reminded of Todd Rose’s TED Talk, The Myth of Average.  In it, Rose details a problem the Air Force realized in 1952, which was that fighter jet cockpits were designed for an “average” pilot.  Further study revealed that there was no such thing. The Air Force started to demand production from companies supplying fighter jets that were designed to the edges of dimensions of size, which ultimately created an opportunity to serve from a more diverse talent pool.

While there are many connections one can make to Rose’s talk and current circumstances, I would ask that as parents, as learning communities, and as edtech companies supporting school districts,  we consider and design for our edges. Embracing the opportunity inherent in this crisis means letting go of the false promises afforded by an “all or nothing” mentality. It means pressing pause before designing for the lowest common denominator.  Let’s spend time finding, fighting and designing for our edges. It is the only way to ensure opportunity for all.

Collaboration vs. Competition

When I hear the expression “we are building the plane while flying it” I heave a big, dramatic sigh because…why would we do that?  That would be reckless, go against every piece of research and best practice we know and put people in actual danger.

I get that expediency is a factor right now.  Beyond meeting basic safety and wellness needs, kids need connection and access to learning.  Parents want to know what we are doing for their kids. Tax payers are clamoring for us to defend what amounts for many communities as the largest chunk of their budgets, when everyone is at home.  And everyone’s baseline is elevated as soon as they wake up.

The quickest way to build a plane is to build it with a ton of people.

And guess what?  With the Internet at our fingertips, we have never been closer to other communities facing similar challenges.

The biggest disservice we could do for our communities right now would be to try to solve common challenges in isolation.   Our collective goal must be to get every kid, every family, every teacher and administrator what they need to thrive in this new reality.

Let’s include one another in our celebrations and our challenges.  Let’s share what we are doing and ask for feedback. Let’s set our default to “reach out.”  Let’s hold one another accountable to a pro- collaboration, anti-competition environment of problem solving.

Balancing Immediate Action & Strategic Thinking

One of our family’s #COVID19 challenges is to recycle movies my husband and I watched growing up and share them with our kids.  Some are better than we remember, others worse, and some of them are like watching microfiche. It has been a fun pursuit nonetheless.

Last night, watching Three Men and a Baby, Dave and I turned to each other during the airport scene at the end and said, “Remember when you could accompany people to their gate?”  Our kids wondered why and we talked about that being one of the changes that came out of 9/11.

I think being strategic right now means thinking through how, not just school might change, but the world might change for people as well.  I appreciate we don’t know for sure and that there is much we cannot anticipate. But if putting off what we don’t know until we do means only solving immediate challenges, we are missing a key opportunity to be architects of our path forward.

Let’s think about “What ifs…”  Let’s create contingencies in the form of “If…..then…” Let’s start conversations with folks outside of education- folks in business, healthcare, engineering, social services, etc- that might inform our perspective, operations, and thinking. Let’s prioritize time to reflect on new and evolving information and what is and is not working, even with time at a premium.  Let’s be intentional about each and every step so we are anticipating and connecting our responses to each new challenge.


We are buoyed by your stories….those of everyday heroes running buses to take food to kids, willing to spend hours figuring out how to do what you do differently, finding simple ways to create connections that cross physical barriers, and all the while balancing the needs of your own families at home.

We stand ready to serve and roll up our sleeves alongside you…to design to the edges, collaborate, and think strategically at warped speed.

Let’s build this plane together.

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