Decisive Moments

Decisive Moments

Teachers don’t enter the profession for the accolades, the fame, and certainly not the salary. They do it in service of their communities, for the greater good, to make the world a better place. During no other time in recent history has the raison d'être of the teaching profession been exemplified with such profundity. Their essentiality within the very fabric of society, and how their role ubiquitously, pragmatically, and idealistically affects the core functions, dreams, and visions of our society has been thrust into the public spotlight and realized through the multitudinous educational challenges brought on by the pandemic.

The true character of the profession is on display during this critical moment in our nation’s history as their response to the crisis serves as a symbol of individual and collective fortitude, dedication, and resilience.

As an educator, administrator, teacher educator, and adjunct professor, I witnessed and experienced the pandemic’s immediate effects on the education system from many vantage points and purviews since its onset in March. Through my various roles and functions, I supported classroom teachers as they immediately expanded their knowledge of instructional technology, devised methods to adjust pedagogical strategies to align with the new technological medium, and partnered with parents to maximize student understanding through remote learning. I worked with other education leaders to collaborate locally, regionally, and through various networks, to quickly identify and effectively prioritize critical needs and provide resources for educators to address these areas for students and their families, while supporting and joining teachers as they concomitantly regained and reclaimed their essential function, not only to the direct benefit to their school communities, but to society as a whole.

Like my colleagues, the culmination of the three-month-long, adrenaline-imbued schedule brought about a sense of relief and accomplishment. We were able to take a momentary pause to reflect upon everything that had occurred, survey the current status of the superlatively complex situation, and begin to plan for the exceptional challenge of our current situation. In this moment of reflection, it became clear that formal education and instruction would have come to a complete halt were it not for the information gathered by teachers, the feedback and recommendations given to administrators, and the resulting decisions made by all educators that allows learning to persist and prevail.

Although we’re not still at the height of the crisis, the decisions we make this school year, as educators, are more significant than we may think. Similar to how the time period immediately following a traumatic health event can influence the long-term functions of one’s body for life, the decisions made during this school year are critical – probably more critical than others – to ensure the long-term educational health of our society. These decisions should not only address current exigencies, but also long-term health and well-being.

This requires that decisions on every level – within the classroom, school, district, and system – are made and enacted with the understanding that they can have long-term effects for many students, including students within educationally marginalized and vulnerable populations.

In an effort to make the best decisions within every aspect of the educational system, there are a few things that every educator and administrator should keep in mind:

  • One teacher’s influence can have long-term effects on a student’s life, especially during times of crisis and recovery. An individual teacher’s impact can affect a student’s future engagement in school, high school participation, post-secondary academic and professional decisions, and even life-long salary.
  • Lack of educational consistency and efficacy can critically and irreparably impact the lives of students, especially during times of crisis and recovery. Interrupted, inconsistent, and punctuated education has been shown to have significant and long-term consequences for students, their families, and their communities.
  • Access, equity, and opportunity should always be considered when making decisions on every level, especially during times of crisis and recovery. Quality of instruction, particularly with the use of technology through full or partial online learning, varies significantly for English Language Learners and students with special needs, especially in under-resourced schools and programs.

The decisions we make as educators and educational leaders can have long-term and enduring effects for our students. As such, we should remain keenly aware of many circumstances that are beyond our control, but remain very cognizant of the ones that are within our control. Making the best decisions, within the existing constraints, will allow our students to survive this crisis and thrive in the future. This is the moment in time when our decisions, big and small, will make a powerful difference in our students, schools, and communities.

(For a list of referenced sources, click here.)

Dr. Murray is a proud member of the National Network of State Teachers of the Year (NNSTOY) as a 2017 New York State Teacher of the Year finalist. As an educator, teacher educator, administrator, adjunct professor, researcher, professional developer, and consultant, she has served within the field of education in myriad capacities including Phi Delta Kappa (PDK) International’s Board of Directors; Professional Learning Team Facilitator for the New York State Master Teacher Program; Advisory Board for the State University of New York (SUNY) at Old Westbury’s School of Education; Executive Board of the New York State Association of Mathematics Supervisors (NYSAMS); Penn Literacy Network (PLN) faculty; Editorial Panel Chair of Mathematics Teaching in the Middle School, a teacher journal published by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM); and as a Fulbright Specialist. She can be contacted via her website www.tkmurray.com and found on Twitter here.


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