Between Tensions

Due to COVID-19, schools are going online, having modified in-class sessions, or combining school operation methods. Unfortunately, this “new schooling normal” stresses many teachers. It is a story echoed by many of my professional colleagues—too much work, too little time, not connecting with their students, not comfortable with the unknown. I believe these anxieties come from the tensions teachers face today.

Let me elaborate on tensions; we make decisions that pull us in two different directions for every situation. Often these contrasts create tensions. For example, a teacher may have to decide between practicing healthful protocols through social distancing or creating strong teacher-student bonds with face-to-face connections. And in today’s world, teachers’ choices extend beyond health safety and into the curriculum, teacher-student relationships, technology, socio-economical and political areas.

Innovative firms, like the design thinking company IDEO, embrace such tensions. They believe that tensions harness the energy needed to generate creative solutions. These companies view the two conflicting sides as opposite points of a continuum. And the ingenious answer lies in the common ground found between these two sides. Dweck’s book, Mindset the New Psychology of Success, proposes that having a fixed mindset is seeing things static without a possibility to change. When we begin to see things as a continuum, we adopt more flexible to our perspective, or growth mindset. And having a growth mindset will help us productively tackle our tensions, thereby relieving our anxieties to a challenge.

So how do we go about addressing our tensions? An IDEO-led course to foster a collaborative work culture recommends that first, we should name our tensions. By labeling the opposite points, we separate our emotions and feelings, which allows us to think analytically and objectively. Let me give you two examples of tensions that many teachers face today. It might be useful to ask ourselves, does my situation fit within any of these continuums, where do my beliefs and values match, and how might I stand in the middle of these tensions?

Efficiency <–> Innovative

Many experienced and novice teachers have already built a repertoire of strategies, tools, and resources to teach their students. Logically, drawing from these resources would help the workflow of a busy teacher. Having such materials reduces preparation time and make the teaching process more efficient.

However, for many teachers, their repertoire of knowledge might not be as reliable as in the past. That is because they did not produce or develop their skillset under the current COVID conditions. Print resources may not transfer quickly to digital. Some classroom management strategies don’t translate to virtual. As well, daily face to face lessons doesn’t work if schools had to suddenly close for an unpredictable period. Therefore, teachers need to be innovative, whether it is training in new technology skills or rethinking how we design our student work.

How might I remain efficient using my resources and still see opportunities to innovate?

School Policies and Requirements <–> Students’ Needs

Even before the pandemic, what the school requires teachers to do does not always match what a student needs. However, with COVID-19, schools have developed many new policies to address the changes in how we operate schools. For example, health and safety, Internet usage, curriculum, and assessment are just a few areas impacted by remote learning or intermittent face to face teaching.

Such tensions come from a conflict in perspectives. School policies reflect the macro-level school governance. Having served in school accreditation visits, I appreciate such policies in providing the entire school or the district with standard procedures or code of conduct. On the other hand, individuals are multifaceted, and no single system could satisfy everyone’s wants. Nevertheless, teachers cannot only serve one set of stakeholders and not the other. Hence, a teacher must continuously balance seeing the big picture with their students’ needs. Suffice to say, it is not about looking for loop-holes in the school system but common ground to start.

How might I see another perspective that honors my students’ needs within my school system’s boundaries?

During these unpredictable times, it might not be easy to remain optimistic. When there are multiple stakeholders, we may feel pulled from both sides. Nonetheless, be mindful that we can choose to stand somewhere in the middle to ease our pressure. Let’s learn to position ourselves between tensions.

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