Part IV of “Our Unpleasant Truths” — The New 3Rs | Will Richardson | 3 Min Read

School leaders might want to rethink the next three- or five-year “strategic plan” process that will at some point land on their to-do lists.

I mean, we can scarcely plan for next week let alone next year, right?

What the chaos of the last 14 months or so is trying hard to teach us is that we’re entering a long period, maybe a permanent period of “no-normal.” As the author and philosopher Meg Wheatly writes in her brilliant essay “Willing to be Disturbed”:

But the world now is quite perplexing. We no longer live in those sweet, slow days when life felt predictable, when we actually knew what to do next. We live in a complex world, we often don’t know what’s going on, and we won’t be able to understand its complexity unless we spend more time in not knowing.

Meg Wheatly

Trying to make concrete plans for this type of environment is exceedingly difficult. Yet, we don’t want to be in the mode of constantly reacting to events either. 

Somewhere in the middle is an annual convening of what might be called a strategic design team that’s built on the new 3Rs for maintaining our relevance in the face of uncertainty, namely to reflect, reset, and reinvent. 

Reflect, as in “What’s changed?” The last year has been fraught with challenges and changes. As individuals and as institutions, we are not the same as we were pre-pandemic, before the killing of George Floyd, and before Jan. 6, 2021. Those types of events and disruptions will continue. We need to be thinking deeply on a regular basis about how the fundamentals of the world continue to change inexorably and what impact those changes have on us both as individuals and institutions. To not do so guarantees our long-term irrelevance. 

Reset, as in given what’s happened and what is happening, we need to ask “Who are we now?” It must become a habit to interrogate and audit our mission and our practice for their relevance to this new place we find ourselves in. What matters most to our students now? What do they need to know and be able to do? Which systems and practices are still viable and healthy and worth keeping, and which do we need to shed? 

And finally, reinvent, as in looking forward to the next 12 months and asking, “Who do we need and want to become?” If we believe (and I hope we do) that we don’t want to go “back to normal,” then we’re going to have to write new norms, new stories, and develop new models and new lenses for the way we understand and operate in the world. Our mission can’t be the same today as it was 10 or five or even one year ago. 

As they say, “what got us here won’t get us there”; only an ongoing, regular process of reflection, reset, and reinvention will allow us to be agile enough to embrace the constant renewal that this moment demands.

So, if you really want to be strategic right now, convene a diverse group of students, teachers, parents, leaders, and community members to work through these 3Rs at the end of each school year or fiscal year. And use the results of those conversations to guide your budgeting and building and hiring and vision for learning, making sure you’re aspiring to both relevance and coherence in the experience you create for kids in your classrooms. Doing so may give you the best chance to evolve and keep moving forward instead of getting stuck or falling back to the ways things used to be. 

That’s our urgent work right now. If you want more to think about or a guide for that path forward, maybe this will help.

Will Richardson

A former public school educator of 22 years, Will Richardson has spent the past 15 years developing an international reputation as a leading thinker and writer about the intersection of social online learning networks, education, and systemic change. Most recently, Will is a co-founder of The Big Questions Institute which was created to help educators use “fearless inquiry” to make sense of this complex moment and an uncertain future. In 2017, Will was named one of 100 global “Changemakers in Education” by the Finnish site HundrED, and was named one of the Top 5 “Edupreneurs to Follow” by Forbes. He has given keynote speeches, lead breakout sessions, and provided coaching services in over 30 countries on 6 continents. He has also authored six books, and given TEDx Talks in New York, Melbourne, and Vancouver.

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