Despite circumstances, let’s be optimistic about our future

By nature, I’m an optimist. I see the glass as half full. When living and working in Bali (2014-2017), I remember the day I sat at a local movie theatre watching the presidential election results on CNN. As a California liberal, I left the theater dumbfounded, wondering why, how, and what now? Perhaps in order to ease the trauma, my mind turned immediately to finding the silver linings that may propel us into an improved future state of things. I still remember the three potential benefits I identified that day as I rode my scooter back home:

  1. The election results might activate those of us who had been politically complacent and incentivize us to engage in the democratic process and take action in whatever way aligns with our interests and personal styles;
  2. The media would be forced to do some self-reflection and analysis to examine their evolving role in a democratic society; and
  3. The incoming President may actually succeed in “cleaning the swamp,” making government work more efficiently for all of us.

Finding the silver lining in the Coronavirus pandemic

When the current Coronavirus pandemic hit the U.S., and the Bay Area was the first area to “shelter-in-place,” I hunkered down in my makeshift home office and again pondered the eventual silver linings. Now, several weeks in, I continue to do so. For school districts and school reformers, like myself, we have many:

  • We have experienced an unprecedented (and surprising) level of individual, organizational, and societal resilience and adaptability
  • We have seen districts “centering” students most in need of support — those without access to technology, without access to healthy meals, with special needs, and with working parents unavailable to support home learning
  • We have observed a healthy shift in district culture that embraces student and teacher agency, experimentation, continuous improvement, creativity, and collaboration
  • While our educational organizations tend to be slow-moving, we have demonstrated our capability to move swiftly, when necessary
  • We have discovered that we can change things that we thought were “untouchable” because they were too embedded in institutional history and bureaucracy (i.e. grading policies, instructional hours, state testing requirements, and university admissions requirements).
  • We have learned that equitable access to technology (Internet, Chromebooks, learning applications) can become more universal, more quickly than previously anticipated
  • We have welcomed and empowered parents and other family members to become equal partners in educating our young people
  • We have proven that age-old adage, “where there’s a will, there’s a way”

What have you learned, individually and collectively, that may inform our way forward (i.e., post-pandemic)? What will become part of our “new normal” as we transition back to school-based learning? What past practices and policies can we abandon as ineffective or not necessary? What new needs, values, and priorities have emerged?

Now is the time to pivot to educating the whole child

As the founder of Scaling Student Success, a new California partnership dedicated to educating the whole child, I cherish the lessons learned to date. As per my last blog post, the current circumstances have accentuated the need and urgency to educate the whole child. Each of the school districts participating in the Scaling Student Success Community of Practice has developed a Graduate Profile to more broadly define student success. They recognize that, while the Common Core Standards, Next Generation Science Standards, and the associated assessments build a necessary foundation for student success, the academic core, in and of itself, is not sufficient to holistically and equitably prepare all young people for future success. As a result, these districts are fully committed to operationalizing their Graduate Profiles, assuring that each and every student has an equitable chance to develop and demonstrate the competencies articulated in their respective Graduate Profiles.

Districts going down this path are paying attention to the real needs of young people as they face unpredictable futures. In a very real way, the current crisis has accelerated the shift toward educating the whole child. Hopefully it will  become a higher priority in every community across the state, country, and world. That feels like a silver lining to those of us who believe the shift is in the best interest of our students, local communities, and broader society.

Join Us!

Scaling Student Success is currently welcoming new districts into Cohort 2 of the Community of Practice. If your district either has a Graduate Profile, or is thinking about creating one, and you believe that you may benefit from being part of a networked improvement community, please feel free to explore the Scaling Student Success web site and contact Executive Director Roman Stearns, at We look forward to hearing from you!

Roman Stearns is founder and executive director of Scaling Student Success, a new CA partnership dedicated to educating the whole child.