Happy New Year! Many of us have been eagerly awaiting the day we could turn the calendar on 2020, in hopes of a fresh start in 2021. How many times over the past 10 months have you heard someone say, “this is not what I signed up for”?

Of course, they’re referencing the ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic on our personal and work lives. Most of us did not “sign up for” the challenges that we have experienced since last March. That being said, I also believe that with every great challenge comes an enormous opportunity to think and do things differently than we did before.

Over the past two hundred years in public education, we have “tinkered” with innovation by making slight changes here and there. In contrast, from March 2020 to now we have moved mountains to change our learning models. We went from textbooks to Chromebooks, from face time to screen time, and from pens to cursors. Our staff had to become incredibly creative in how they taught and how students would demonstrate their learning. We unleashed the opportunity for our “digital natives” — the students — to show their stuff by using technology we may not have even known existed. I can honestly say that creating Tik-Tok videos to demonstrate grammar knowledge was not in my pedagogy training. Let’s all send a HUGE shout out to our educators for their creativity and perseverance in making the changes necessary to do what they do best: teach.

Although most of us may be sick of Zoom meetings by now, I have to say that ten months of learning has helped this old dog learn some new tricks. Humor aside, I think we have all found a certain efficiency to meeting virtually and I believe that we may find ourselves using this and other new skills well beyond this pandemic. As educators, that’s exactly what we should do: seek new ways to support our students and then run with them.

These crazy times have allowed us to slow down and take in the things that seemed like a blur before the pandemic. I have a new appreciation for the beauty in our world: the frost on the trees and how brilliantly red a cardinal is against a snowy backdrop. The challenge of isolating ourselves has reminded me of the importance of being together and in-person. I truly miss seeing the smiles, shaking hands and seeing people. The pandemic has helped us realize that the relationship between humans is still the cornerstone of learning and living.

This week we brought back our elementary students to in-person learning and our secondary students to hybrid learning. I was moved to tears seeing our students back in classrooms and watching the caring interactions between our staff and students. Now that’s what I signed up for!

If we work side by side, we can ensure that the future will get brighter each day. Once again, thank you for your continued support and understanding. We have amazing students, we are all in this together, and we are #OwatonnaProud.

Jeff Elstad is the superintendent of Owatonna Public Schools. He may be reached at the district office at 444-8610 or via email at jelstad@owatonna.k12.mn.us.

Load comments