Scattershooting

Sometimes I need to get my thoughts down on paper to clarify them and calm them down.

*Jamie has inspired me to start doing “morning pages.” Morning pages is when, right after you get up in the morning, you get out a notebook and write down whatever comes to mind in a stream of consciousness fashion. I am filling two pages on a legal pad with writing and then stopping. Maybe you start with how you slept or whatever was on your mind as soon as you woke up or what you were thinking about when you went to bed last night. One advocate of doing this calls it “taking out the trash” first thing in the morning before you start your day. It’s interesting how much trash there is to take out every morning.

*Fort Worth has been mired in conflict and debate about the reopening of schools. I am experiencing in my family a number of different approaches to this school year. Jamie is a professor at Tarrant County College. They decided around May or early June that they were going to do the fall semester online only. At the time I thought that was premature—it seemed to me they should wait and see how things went with COVID over the summer, that they might regret making the virtual only decision so soon. I was wrong. Making the decision early gave Jamie the opportunity to spend all summer getting ready for something “known.” She worked hard to prepare the best possible virtual learning experience for her students. And it did take all summer to prepare to do it well. She did a great job, she was ready when school started in August, and it is going well. It’s not perfect, and it’s not as good as it would be in person. But it is OK. Students are getting a legitimate, quality learning experience—as good as it could be under the circumstances.

*My daughter Ivy goes to Baylor and started her student teaching in August at Midway Middle School in Waco. Both Baylor and Midway made a decision months ago that they were going to go back to school in person in August. They put in huge efforts and preparation all summer to get ready, and they are doing it. In both cases it is going pretty well. Teachers are teaching, kids are learning, and when issues have arisen, they have adapted and dealt with them. It seems like Baylor has been able to manage and reduce COVID cases. After spiking at 603 cases September 3, Baylor now has 77 active cases, according to its dashboard. Midway has had a couple of cases. It’s not perfect, and it’s not as good as it would have been without COVID. But it is OK. Students are getting a legitimate, quality learning experiences—as good as it could be under the circumstances.

*My stepchildren are in 9th grade in FWISD. They started school virtually a couple of weeks ago, which was a couple of weeks after what we at one time thought would be the first day of school. They go to their classes online from 8:30 am to 12:30 pm. Some classes meet for 5-10 minutes for a quick check-in—take attendance, make announcements, give reminders. Other classes meet for most of the hour with the teacher teaching and then giving them time to do assignments at the end of the hour. Occasionally they have some school work to do in the afternoon after lunch. The FWISD school board met last week and decided that the option to go to school in person should start October 5. Last night they met for about 10 hours, until 3:00 or 4:00 this morning, to reconsider. As of today the plan is to go back October 19.

*It seems to me that the schools/systems (K-12 and college) that are doing the best are the ones that decided 3-4 months ago what they intended to do this fall (virtual, in-person, or hybrid). These schools were then able to give their energy all summer to the complex task of preparing to do it well. And they have spent the last month doing what they prepared to do. They have also been able to adapt as needed. Their time and energy has gone to preparing to accomplish the decision that was made early.

The schools/systems that are doing the worst are the ones that spent the summer going back and forth about whether they would open virtually or in-person instead of getting ready for one or the other. These schools weren’t ready when mid-August came around, and they are even now stuck giving their energy to the decision/debate/fight about what to do rather than to executing a well-prepared plan. Their time and energy has gone the decision about what to do instead of to the doing.

*All of this makes my think about leadership in a crisis or, at least, an urgent situation. I have a picture in my head of two timelines that start in late spring on the left side and go to today on the right side. For the systems doing well, there is a short section on the far left labeled “making a decision.” Then most of the timeline is a section labeled “planning and preparation.” Then there is a section on the right side going to today labeled “executing plan.”

In the other timeline in my mind, there is just one long section stretching from late spring to today labeled “making a decision.”

*I’m so impressed by the teachers I am seeing who are making huge efforts—who see themselves as essential workers, who have doubled their workload trying to give kids a “quality learning experience” but are handcuffed by what they can do (and especially who they can reach) in these current circumstances. I’m thinking about the FWISD freshman English teacher who led a great engaged discussion Socratic seminar style online on the short story my stepdaughter had read. I’m thinking about our friend who teaches at the FWISD elementary school nearby who, when they were at our house at 8:30 pm on Labor Day, was coming inside and using Jamie’s computer to log in to troubleshoot and problem solve. Ivy talks to me all the time about how hard the teachers at Midway Middle School are working.

*Black and brown kids and families have been disproportionately affected by COVID. That must to be a factor in all of our decisions and discussions.

*A TCU professor wrote this week that white people who think it would be best if kids go back to school don’t care how many black and brown people die as long as they can “go back to their own jobs and hobbies.” Let’s be better than saying things that are both inflammatory and obviously not true. At worst, let’s stick to either inflammatory OR untrue. At best, let’s speak words that are both healing and true.

*I regret so much that opinions about school opening and COVID, generally, have moved so much into Republican/Democrat partisan territory. Let’s be honest, if we know a particular person’s political persuasion, it won’t be too hard to guess what they think about how dangerous COVID is and what the appropriate measures are to be taken in response. I’m not saying both sides are equally “right;” I’m just thinking that it has become very difficult, if not impossible, to have rational, open-minded conversations about it. Most of us are looking at it, perceiving it, and reacting to it now through the lens of our political “team.” I can tell you for sure that when watching a Baylor football game, my understanding of what is or is not pass interference changes greatly depending on whether it hurts or helps Baylor.  

*I came across a great quote in a book I just read: I’m not here to fight all the alligators; I’m here to cross the swamp.

*I write and think about all this as someone who is, himself, deeply biased, flawed, and limited in my own perceptions and understandings. I am trying really hard to be curious and prone to wonder rather than being reactive and hardened in my opinions. In doing that, I am often fighting my own nature and tendencies. I read a book last week in which the author suggests that when we fail or make a mistake, we should exclaim, “How fascinating!” In that spirit, I can admit that my own life is endlessly fascinating. God, give us humility and grace.

*Over the last two days I have been watching Jamie tenaciously and tirelessly work on behalf of her three children—dealing with an insurance company, a school counselor about a scheduling snafu, and a teacher about an issue. I love her for that. She has a big heart for others, and she’s a fighter. I’m grateful for her and for all the parents out there giving it their all on behalf of their kids. And I’m worried about kids who aren’t getting their parents’ all or, perhaps better said, whose parents’ all still leaves a lot undone. And that makes me reflect that my all has often been enough for my kids, and sometimes it has not. Humility and grace.

*My good friend, colleague, and mentor in my work for the last four years has been telling me again and again how much he has been relying daily on these words from the Book of Common Prayer’s family prayer:

In particular, we implore thy grace and protection for the ensuing day. Keep us temperate in all things, and diligent in our several callings. Grant us patience under our afflictions. Give us grace to be just and upright in all our dealings; quiet and peaceable; full of compassion; and ready to do good to all, according to our abilities and opportunities.

Amen.

2 thoughts on “Scattershooting

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