It’s like ”playing a game of 3D chess while standing on one leg in the middle of a hurricane.”

These were the words Richmond Superintendent of Schools and former recipient of the National Teacher of the Year, Jason Kamras, used to describe the process of planning for the opening of schools.

This vivid simile captures the complexity (3D chess), dexterity (standing on one leg) and danger (hurricane), that is inherent in what seems like a near impossible task.

It is hard to fathom the myriad of considerations, decisions, and complications that are consuming school leaders, teachers, parents and students as we prepare to “go back to school.”  – whatever that means these days.

Back to school was once a period of great anticipation and excitement. The anticipation is still there but the excitement has been replaced with anxiety.

For all of the best intentions and processes, school leaders are still overwhelmed with how to balance so many competing interests. They design processes, review best practices, comb through guidelines that run in the hundreds of pages, hold focus groups, field surveys, partake in training, hire consultants, consult with neighboring school districts and hold meeting after meeting to review consideration after consideration and try to make sense of all this input. All the while, awaiting decisions from their governors that may dictate their actions anyway. 

They are engaged in a difficult process designed to do what they believe is in the best interest for everyone.  Embedded in public schools is the very definition of public —  “concerning the people as a whole.”

Parents, teachers and other school workers also engage in their own processes attempting to make sense of it all. Trying to weigh the primacy of health and safety vs. education and economic considerations.  It is an entirety different calculation.  It is private.  What is best for my child, my family or me.

In anxious times, with so many competing interests, it is natural for tensions to rise. We lose our patience.  Grow frustrated. Even question the motives or intentions of others.  

The politicizing of this issue aside, I believe the overwhelming majority of people are acting out of good intent. School leaders, teachers, parents, students, all presumably want the same thing – our children to learn in an environment that is safe and healthy for everyone.  How to accomplish this is where the 3D chess, one leg and hurricane come in.

Like many, I’ve tried to do my due diligence and keep up with a rapidly changing landscape. And while never afraid to offer a suggestion, I also  acknowledge the limitations of my own knowledge and expertise.  I trust that those from our state and local communities are doing their very best for the greater good. I  cannot begin to imagine the complexity of their task.   

At the same time, I trust that students, parents and teachers, are also doing their best to figure out what is right for their respective families. Each family has their own unique situation and lived experience that it is impossible for others to fully know.

There are no perfect answers, regardless of how inclusive, creative or well-designed the process.

Kamras quote above has been widely shared, but only in part.  The lesser-known second half of his statement reads:

“So please shower students, families, teachers, principals, support staff, and school boards with extra love right now.”

It is our best chance to make it through that proverbial hurricane, still standing.  Hopefully on two legs and, if not mastered, then at least having managed well this crazy game of 3D chess.

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