Year-In-Review: 2020-2021

Its that time of year again! Another year done and dusted!! I also won’t be the first one to say this, but the 2020-2021 school year may have been the most challenging year for EVERYONE! If you are reading this, then it is clear that you have made it to the finish line! It may not have been your personal best, but you finished with your head high and completely exhausted from giving it your all.

That is not me, but I am sure we are all feeling this way right now.

Expectations for the 2020-2021 School Year

Before I do my reflection, let’s revisit the expectations that were set for the school year. Some might say that it was the year of “no expectations to avoid disappointment”, but that is just avoiding taking ownership.

We were VERY lucky this year and how he had to approach handling the ongoing pandemic. The entire school year we were in-person teaching with no interuptions! We had a handful of distance learners, but everyday I had the chance to do what I love and work with people! We also had limited restrictions (wear a mask in classroom situations and you can take a mask off in any movement based class) so it was as normal as it was going to get. However, this came at a cost…

Macau has done an amazing job managing the pandemic. There have been less than 60 cases in one of the most densely populated cities on the planet. This came at a cost however. Since March 2020 the borders have essentially been closed to international travel and foreign workers. If you are not a citizen of Macau, you cannot come in and if you do get in there is a easy 21 day quarantine waiting for you. They have also handed out full vaccinations to those who wish to have it (at this point in writing it is less that 20%) and life is pretty much “normal”. You can do all the things you would like to do, but limited to 40 square kilometers of the country. This had some pretty interesting implications for the school that would shape the year.

After the 2019-2020 school year, we had to rehire around 30 teachers and find a new Head of School. For many, it was time to move on to new adventures but this left the school in a difficult position. This year we were short a Head of School and around 20 teachers which is a huge number! This is because of the border restrictions. Simply put, teachers were not allowed to come into the country. For the 2020-2021 school year this put a strain on the teaching staff who were expected to take on more (increase class sizes, extra roles) with the same amount of resources and it is looking like the same situation for the 2021-2022 school year. The immigration situation changes daily but it has been made clear that they are not looking to completely open the borders until 2022.

Without a Head of School also presented its own unique challenges. We did have a board appointed interim Head of School (who was a the previous Head of School in 2018) which was limited to a react and respond role. Many of the duties of a Head of School were passed onto our principals at the school but it was clear the message for the school year was to simply “survive and adapt”. We were short staffed, short leadership and moral is low because expats in the country are not treated as well as other countries in the region. It was the year of survival and adapting to an ever changing situation.

For those who know me, I am a pretty positive person (my wife says its annoying how positive I am) but I was not delusional for what the school year held. In September I set two goals for my growth this year, take care of wellness and grow my passion.

2020-2021 Goals and Experiences

I am going to use a cliche here, and say that the success of the school year is very much like an iceberg. What people saw was engaging, loud and vibrant environments driven by student voice, student data and best practice but there was a lot going on in the background. Considering the challenges the school year presented, I had to focus on some key areas so that a quality and challenging experience could be given to every student.

Have you ever thought “man that looks so easy to do”. Success is an illusion…

For me, I had to focus on THREE goals that could tie into everything I was doing as a professional. This was the part of my professional growth that many didn’t see (or understand but more on that later).

  • Purposeful Balance
  • Developing Quality Programming and Resources
  • Following Arnie’s Six Rules of Success

Purposeful Balance

In the past few years I have had a major shift in my thinking as an educator. I remember saying “teaching is a lifestyle” when I was a young educator and I really wish that someone sat me down and tell me that is the dumbest thing you can say for justifying a unbalanced lifestyle. This year was more important than ever to find balance to maintain wellness. Being isolated in Macau away from family, friends and sports has taken a major toll on my wellness. I knew that this year I had to really support my philosophy of keeping work at work and putting my family first.

There has never been a more accurate picture of a teacher finding balance in their profession.

This resulted in me saying something I would never thought I would say when I was a young educator, “Sorry, I cannot/will not do that.” I will say that it was not only liberating but also caused a some interesting conversations which made it clear that the idea that teachers should be self-sacrificing and live their jobs. Try saying “no” to a few things and you will find out really quick who holds that point of view.

This did not mean I simply became a “classroom teacher” and only focus on what is going on in my classroom. I still was coaching teams, serving on an adhoc pandemic wellness committee developing staff wellness supports and offering active events where staff could get together and simply play. I did say yes to programs and initiatives that aligned with my values and goal of balance and wellness this year.

So, what was the result? Aside from a few awkward conversations around professionalism and school politics, I felt that this has been one of my most balanced school years ever! I had the mental and emotional capacity to give back to my students/athletes and my family and friends as well! Teaching is a lot like a healthy diet, if you put the right things on your plate you will feel great and healthy! If you put on too much of the wrong things, you will definately be feeling it over time. My advice is to start picking the extra things that you do that align to your values and you will see a increase in performance and outlook! Your wellness will thank you for it!

Developing Quality Programming and Resources

Back in 2020, I came across this idea of creating the Quality Physical Education Matrix which programs could use to guide the creation of meaningful experiences in Physical Education. This concept supports the movement that PE is more than just sports and games but it is the gateway to a lifetime of health and wellness and it should be approached that way. A fairly simple concept that challenges a lot of traditional thoughts out there (I know what you are thinking, I would never challenge traditional thoughts…).

Physical Education is more than just sport and games. Much more…

This concept has actually driven me to re-evaluate how I have been creating resources for my students and others so that they can use them in their classrooms. Yes, it is great to have the kids moving but are they learning to be active and healthy for life?

This had me focus on creating lessons and learning opportunities that focused on the students demonstrating and challenging their understanding and not just hearing from me about the benefits of learning how to play volleyball so you can stay active outside of the school environment. At first, the students were not buying it. “Why don’t we just do drills and skills?” and “How is this suppose to get me moving?” were common statements from my high school students and it took some time and effort to clearly communicate the benefits of this approach. One piece of advice I could give to someone looking to take a new approach with students, put the students in the center of the journey and clearly establish the obstacles they need to overcome while offering guidance. Place the students as the “hero” of this journey and you are the mentor who is there to help them when they fall and give them the tools to become stronger and better in the future.

I was introduced to the concept of the “hero’s journey” in a business book (Building a Story Brand by Donald Miller) and the implications have been huge in the way I communicate the importance and value in my classes. If you are looking for a new way to get your students part of the process, I would highly recommend taking a look at this amazing resource!

This concept also pushed me to offer more services as an educational consultant. One service I have always been on the fence about is online coaching. I will be honest, I have made fun of my wife for paying absurd amounts to join an 8 week fitness challenge where a “coach” will “adjust” your macros and “plan’ for you to make a fitness transformation. I am a bit skeptical and often saw it as that salesperson who is pushing snake oil to buyers, but they do have a point!

With the current state of the world it has been made perfectly clear that face-to-face supports are not always needed and people are feeling isolated in their profession. This pushed the creation of a new service where we can connect and create goals and supports that fit the needs of the professional and the response has been excellent! I have had the opportunities to connect with teachers across the world and watch them take steps towards growing as a professional. One of the reasons why I created Tin Can Physical Education is to help others grow and experience success and this program has definitely accomplished this founding value! I would like to thank all those who participated in the experience, shared their vulnerability and allowed me to be part of their growth and success!

Arnold’s Six Rules of Success

Now this is something that is not new to me this year. This has been something I have been using to support my professional growth for some time now, however I felt that it needed to have more focus this year given the type of year that was laid out in front of me. When someone who is as accomplished as Arnold Schwarzenegger gives you six rules for success, you know that they could have a drastic impact on anyone. For the full speech that he gave to outline these rules, you need to take a look at this link. For me, I actually have this put up above my workspace to remind me every day what I need to do.

I will say that this was the year to give something back and to ignore the naysayers. In a time where everyone is feeling the effects of isolation and stress we needed to give something back. Offering support to others was one of the ways that reminded me why I love this profession during a very difficult year. Some may see this as “leading from the middle” but we also need to remember that we are all in this together and we should offer the support that we wish we had for us. This could be helping create lessons for a teacher who was thrown into a subject they were not familiar with, supporting leaders who were gasping for air in a time of uncertainty or being there for students who are also feeling the effects of being restricted to the Macao borders. Giving back to your community is one way to remind yourself of your purpose and values as a professional.

Unfortunately this was also the year of ignore the naysayers. When you look at education and sport in a innovative and progressive way, it will not be shared with others. There will be some who will take a look at your work and go “what are you thinking” and hold a different point of view. I am not out there to change people’s perspective and beliefs, but I am willing to work with others and help them grow in their own capacity in the interest of progress and learning. I have always taken a look at this as a positive where others see the worth in the work but may not understand how it is done. Human nature is to be afraid of what they don’t understand (look at human history before the scientific revolution) and it is something that may never change. Some of you who are reading this may know exactly what I mean and are nodding your heads. From this I have learned a few tricks that may help you in navigating these waters filled with naysayers.

  • Trust Yourself: If you are doing something, it should be for the best interest of growth and success. Use data driven practices and your expertise/instincts to create processes and resources that will help you experience success.
  • Have a Purpose: You need to have a clear reason WHY you are doing something. If your reason is aligned to strategic goals and plans, others can easily see the value behind it and offer their support.
  • Worry about What You Can Control: There will be things that are outside of your control, and you need to acknowledge that. It can range from policies to the professional environment of your work place and everywhere in between. Be strategic with what you can change and what “just is”. The old saying “somethings never change” is more accurate than you can know.

The Next Steps

Oh yes, 2020-2021 school year has been one for the history books (literally), but we need to keep moving forward. So what is on the horizon in the near future? Here is a sneak peak at some of the projects that are coming down the pipes for 2021-2022

  • Instructional Coaching Program and Consultations: with the success of the Coaching Program, I will be looking at expanding and refining the scope and services that are offered and the types of resources made available for others.
  • Passion Project: Quality Physical Education and sport has always been a passion, but there are many roadblocks in education. So why not create a system that does not have the same roadblocks…
  • Leaving a Legacy: It has almost been 10 years since my wife and I have started our international education experience, so it is time to look at going home and having a “normal life”. Now, what legacy will be left?

I hope that everyone has a great break and recharges from one of the most difficult years for an educator. Have a great break everyone!

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