Apollo 13 This Thing!

By Jeff Radel, principal at Glen Lake Elementary and MESPA president-elect of the West Suburban Division

As of this writing, our district closed our doors 59 days ago in response to COVID-19. We’ve all heard … it happened so fast. I remember standing in front of our teachers at a staff meeting on March 12, telling them that we need to prepare for the possibility of “remote learning” due to COVID-19. I’ll never forget the look on their faces. A mix of surprise, fear, curiosity, and shock. We weren’t yet sure if and when it would actually happen. Personally, I thought it was a month away, maybe two weeks at the earliest…it happened four days later!

“We’re Apollo 13’ing this thing!” I never thought that Apollo 13 would become a verb, but it did during a conversation I had with another principal as we were talking about the ongoing work of distance learning. His analogy was to the engineers on the ground in the control room, trying to find a solution to repair the space ship while in mid-flight to our current adjustments during distance learning. Prior to the launch, there were countless hours put in for planning and preparation that helped build “the ship” of distance learning. Individuals across the system were going 100 mph, creating parameter documents, aligning communication, learning new apps and platforms to deliver instruction, and so much more. I was thinking to myself that this pace wasn’t sustainable. I feared that we were going to burn out, before the ship was even built. But the work continued and we were able to get to the launch of distance learning. 

Now that we are in flight, there are ongoing adjustments, tweaks, collaboration, and fixes that occur. When innovating, it is suggested to FAIL FAST. In Hopkins, we decided to get family feedback very early in the process, after the first complete week of distance learning. In my opinion, there was risk in going out for feedback this early, as I didn’t know how our teachers, after pouring their hearts and souls into this shift in reality, would respond if our families provided negative or critical feedback. As expected, the feedback was mixed, and our teachers rose to the occasion, yet again. They displayed vulnerability, open-minds, and creative problem-solving to pivot mid-flight. We know that the answers are within us. We can’t look up the answer in a book or in “the google.” We will continue to do the best we can to constantly meet the needs of our students and families. 

Our safe landing will come, and we will have a lot to be proud of, to celebrate, and to appreciate. I also believe we will eventually begin a new flight on a new path yet again next school year. We aren’t sure what the Fall will bring, but we most likely know it won’t be “normal.” Whatever it looks like, I know that we have the professionals with the skills and mindset to continue to deliver high quality learning experiences for our students. Let’s keep Apollo 13’ing this thing!

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