The Distance Learning Train Has Left The Station

I love my job. I love the energy and hope of schools. I love the shared commitment to growth and learning that permeates classrooms and conversations. I love how much I laugh (and sometimes cry) over the course of a day. I love helping young people discover what is unique and beautiful in them and begin to exercise their power. I love being part of creating a more just and representative world for the future.

That said, I have to admit that the beginning of each school year is a mixed bag of emotions. Who doesn’t love summer? The chance to unwind, recharge, and plan for the year ahead.

Roughly two weeks before school starts each year, I have the same recurring dream.

I’m boarding a train at the station. As I find a seat by the window, the world is a-buzz around me. The train is filling up with people, some of whom are familiar, some I don’t know. Meanwhile on the platform outside, travelers are frantically searching for their trains and struggling with suitcases, while loved ones are waving and blowing kisses. Beyond this scene, I see my life – my well-balanced and full life. I see my family and friends, as well as the places I exercise, buy groceries, relax. I see my stack of books, my favorite restaurants, and my beloved Giants. I see quiet evenings and slow mornings.

Then the train starts moving. I hear the whistle blow, and we pick up speed. As I look back at the station, I watch my summer life recede into the distance and eventually disappear. I don’t cry, but my heart is heavy. Eventually, I turn away from the window and take in the people around me. It turns out these are my people, and this is my life, too. Not everything has been left behind at all. I feel purposeful, and I lean in. And I realize that this train is my world now, wherever it’s going to take me.

All aboard! The distance learning train has left the station.

School started at Gateway one week ago. No doubt it was the most unusual and anxiety-producing launch ever. It was also awesome.

Similar to educators across the country, we worked hard all summer to transform our schools to meet the new realities required by COVID-19 and distance learning. Not only were there myriad logistical and technical challenges to tackle, we redesigned the ways we ensure learning is relevant and purposeful, support students both academically and socially and cultivate students’ connection to school.  

Here’s the good news: the first week of school showed us that we can do this. Students seemed genuinely happy to see their classmates and meet their teachers, albeit virtually. Teachers mastered Zoom waiting rooms, Zoom bombs and Zoom classroom management. Yes, we all felt the strain of new responsibilities, the tug of lack of resources, and the sadness of not being able to come together physically in classrooms and as a community. But, we also felt hope and commitment and a lot less lonely.

For all of us, the year ahead will require us to step up, to support each other, and to be everyday leaders. I know we are up for the challenge.

What does everyday leadership look like as school starts?

  • Remember that no matter what school looks like, it matters. Education is an essential building block of personal development and social progress.
  • Be patient with each other and lend a hand. We are all learning new technology and figuring out a whole new reality.
  • Say thank you and show your gratitude. Thank a teacher, thank a student, thank a parent. Thank you for showing up, for being resilient, for making the very best of the cards we’ve been dealt.
  • Seek others’ voices and viewpoints. Ask others what this experience is like for them. Try to understand their challenges, their hopes and their perspectives.
  • Be kind to yourself when you feel down. We are all emotionally taxed by the many challenges we are facing. It’s okay to feel things deeply.
  • Enjoy yourself. Look for the moments of joy and connection, not just the frustrations and challenges. Laugh out loud, dance, exercise, play, celebrate victories.

The Distance Learning Train has left the station.  Let’s enjoy the ride!

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