What A Difference A Year Makes

May 24, 2021

This past week, I was cleaning up my Google Drive and purging some documents that were no longer of importance. It is something that I do every year around this time while I am beginning my transition from school year mode to summer work mode. This year, I am going to have to spend some more time because I have been looking over A LOT of documents related to the COVID-19 pandemic. I realized very early on that I needed to start a COVID-19 folder and then create a variety of sub-folders that could organize all of the electronic documents that I had created and had been shared. Two folders in particular that I spent a great deal of time sorting through were the reopening of school folder and the pandemic graduation folder.

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As I went through the various documents, I was amazed at how far my school has come in such a short period of time. The planning that we did on the front end allowed our school to stay open all year long to in-person instruction. It certainly wasn't easy, but we did it together as a school and we grew closer as a staff because of this shared experience. We failed, we learned, we improved throughout the year and even though the stress took its toll at various points of the year, we can finally see the finish line in this year of the pandemic education experience.

Because seniors just finished up their last day of school, I think it is important that we reflect a little on what we have accomplished.



Nobody will ever be able to say that the education system moves too slowly after this pandemic. At the end of last school year and over the summer, we took on the monumental task of pivoting to a virtual learning environment to meet the needs of our students.

Regardless of our expertise with technology, we were able to embrace synchronous and asynchronous learning almost simultaneously so that we could teach our kids. We struggled at first, but we persevered and in the process, we modeled grit to thousands of students, which is a lesson they will carry with them forever.



This year, more than ever, I have seen the widest range of emotions from my colleagues in my 20 years of education. We laughed, we cried (multiple times), we vented, we exhibited copious amounts of grace, and we grew together. Jim Valvano said it best when he stated, "If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that's a full day. That's a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you're going to have something special." Well, when you do that for a full year, you certainly have lived.



If you haven't had the pleasure of watching the 1980's show McGyver, you should really check it out. In every episode of the show, he draws on his practical knowledge of science and is able to make use of everyday items to create unorthodox solutions to any problem he faces. What the man can do with a roll of duct tape, paper clips, and chewing gum could astound anyone and he is the perfect analogy for those of us in education who taught during a pandemic.

If you need proof, just check out the clip HERE. During every step of the way this year, we found ways to innovate our instructional practices so that we could serve our kids. We found new ways of doing things and also discovered along the way that there are some tried and true methods that cannot be replaced. We risked failing over and over again, but we put ourselves out there and we are better educators because of it.

We may not see the results in standardized test scores, but we succeeded and should be proud of what we accomplished. The traditional metrics of school success shifted to a focus on social and emotional well-being and mental health.
We came to realize that the relationships we developed with our students were far more important than the content we teach and even though our content is very important, we can achieve more if we take the time to get to know our students and their personal backgrounds. Relationships trump content every day of the week and twice on Sunday and we should be proud of the work that we did.
Oh, what a difference a year makes. We will certainly not forget all that this school year has given to us, but we can celebrate that we did everything in our power to serve our kids and our community when they needed it the most. I can't think of a better way to #OwnYourEpic than that.
#OwnYourEpic #Onward #FORGE
Dr. Jay Dostal is the principal of Fayetteville High School and has been named the 2021 Secondary Principal-of-the-Year by the Arkansas Association of Secondary School Principals. His piece was originally posted on his blog A View from the Principal's Desk: Rambling perspectives on education from the point of view of a high school principal.


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