Picture Perfect

Picture Perfect

The future of public education is coming into focus. It is an inclusive space that acknowledges and values all children, identifies their strengths, and celebrates their individuality. It is a space that understands learning can, and should, occur in various spaces and mediums – sometimes within the constructs of a school building but often floating and flowing through online and other boundless spaces. It is where curiosity, creativity, and flexibility are abound, appreciated, and cultivated. It is where possibility becomes reality.

If this is a future we envision for education, we can’t simply stumble upon it; it has to be carefully crafted and curated; purposeful in design and structure; amenable to adjustments and improvements that simultaneously enhance its structure while bolstering its purpose. It is a future we must claim now.

A year and a half ago, this reimagining didn’t seem possible. The school system was functioning as it always had – within the constructs and confines of the unspoken agreement between schools and society, adhering to rules and structures (physical and otherwise) that have been intentionally and unintentionally negotiated. Inherent within this system was a simultaneous tension between reproducing the society that already existed and changing that same society from within. Proposed changes of significance often met with a “this-is-the-way-it-is” mindset that left many to relent to the established system, endure it for a period of time, or make incremental changes that were often fought and mired in resistance.

Then, the pandemic hit.

The unprepared, unstructured, and often frenzied response of educational systems, big and small, challenged everything we, as educators and as a society, knew to be true. A centuries-old public education system formed and formidably solidified crumbled within a matter of days. And with that erosion, we were thrown into an unprecedented level of exigency, forced to prioritize priorities, parse the most urgent of urgencies, and thrust into the emergencies of the immediate future – next month, next week, next day. As we delved deeper into smaller increments of time, paradoxically, each challenge required greater effort and focus, a level of magnification that significantly restricted our ability to see beyond the current circumstance, limiting our depth of field.

It’s hard to see the bigger picture when you’re zoomed into the moment – when one pixel of an image seems larger than the image itself; when you’re not only “in the weeds” but mired in the enormity of those weeds – like a Lilliputian staring up at a giant-sized forest of weeds that not only obfuscates a clear exit path but also blocks out the sunlight.

This was where we were, but this is not where we are now.

One of the few benefits of only being able to see a few pixels of a larger image is that, instead of harboring anxiety because the entire image is not in view, we can begin to create our own – using each pixel as the building block for a reimagined image, a vision imbued with imagination, creativity, and possibility.

This is where we are right now. We’re finally able to zoom out a little to see more of the larger image as more pixels come into view. However, this is not the time for us to wait for the image to be revealed because, undoubtedly, it will be the same image as before. Rather, it’s time to create our own image, from the vision we see for the future of education; enriched by lessons learned from the creativity, ingenuity, and resourcefulness realized during the onset of the pandemic. It’s time to take the best of us individually and collectively to design our own image of education, an image that reflects our vision for the true purpose of education.

This is the moment, the moment in history, the moment in time when our vision for the future of public education must be realized to impact generations to come.

(To collaborate with other teacher leaders to design the future of education, click here to join NNSTOY’s National Teacher Leadership Conference! It will be held virtually from July 14th through July 16th.)

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

Dr. Natasha T.K. Murray is an educator, teacher educator, administrator, adjunct professor, researcher, professional developer, and consultant, who has served within the field of education in myriad capacities including Phi Delta Kappa (PDK) International’s Board of Directors; President-Elect of the New York State Association of Mathematics Supervisors (NYSAMS); Penn Literacy Network (PLN) faculty; a Professional Learning Team Facilitator for the New York State Master Teacher Program; State Leader for the National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics (NCSM); on the Advisory Board of the State University of New York at Old Westbury’s School of Education; and 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 is a proud member of the National Network of State Teachers of the Year (NNSTOY) and serves on its Board of Directors. (All views expressed are her own.) She can be contacted via her website www.tkmurray.com and found on Twitter @poly_math_.

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