I remember thinking last December that if we could just get to 2021, if we could just get through the insanity and exhaustion that was 2020, that we would feel a light at the end of this tunnel. I wanted to buy all of the 2020 dumpster fire gag gifts, as if saying that these challenges were a product of the year 2020 could seal them up tight so they couldn’t possibly follow us into another year. I also know myself to be a relentless optimist, which for the most part has served me well…so I leaned into that optimism hard.
As we all know, 2021 continued to be a challenging year for most. But I have found great comfort in this community of educators who work in service of others. Over the past year, we have seen so many schools and districts double down on their commitment to MTSS, doing their best for both their students and staff.
A few weeks ago, nearly 2000 educators came together for a day of learning at the MTSS Summit we hosted, Branching Forward: Setting Intentions for the New Year. Over twenty speakers presented on ways to make the work easier and more sustainable, they shared bright spot success stories, and rewalked the roads they took to achieve equitable student success for the next generation.
I learned a tremendous amount from our speakers, but I was even more inspired by the engagement from the attendees. We received scores of emails from teachers and administrators alike who couldn’t wait to get their hands on slides and videos to share their learnings with their broader teams. Folks wrote to us asking for us to schedule a lunch break next time because they were so wrapped in their learnings that they couldn't step away from their computers. And dozens shared how they left the day with over 15 pages of notes of learnings they were eager to apply in the new year. So yes, 2020 was hard, 2021 was hard still, but our community is still brimming with hope and energy to do right by our students, and that is the light at the end of the tunnel I hold on to for 2022.
I have always turned to poetry during times of transition. This year I am moored by the idea that as long as we continue to be of use, stay rooted in our purpose, and follow our bliss, 2022 will be prosperous for us all. So here are two of my favorites for today: Joseph Campbell and Marge Piercy.
BILL MOYERS: Do you ever have the sense of...being helped by hidden hands?
JOSEPH CAMPBELL: All the time. It is miraculous. I even have a superstition that has grown on me as a result of invisible hands coming all the time - namely, that if you do follow your bliss you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. When you can see that, you begin to meet people who are in your field of bliss, and they open doors to you. I say, follow your bliss and don't be afraid, and doors will open where you didn't know they were going to be.
To be of use
BY MARGE PIERCY
The people I love the best jump into work head first without dallying in the shallows and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight. They seem to become natives of that element, the black sleek heads of seals bouncing like half-submerged balls.
I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart, who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience, who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward, who do what has to be done, again and again.
I want to be with people who submerge in the task, who go into the fields to harvest and work in a row and pass the bags along, who are not parlor generals and field deserters but move in a common rhythm when the food must come in or the fire be put out.
The work of the world is common as mud. Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust. But the thing worth doing well done has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident. Greek amphoras for wine or oil, Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums but you know they were made to be used. The pitcher cries for water to carry and a person for work that is real.
After feeling the swell of community around us at the MTSS Summit earlier this month—all the educators passionate to strengthen their practice in service of their students—I feel buoyed, confident that 2022 is going to be a year of promise! So rest up my lovelies, we will need our energy for the work reigns large, but we can achieve great things together.
Maya is the Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Branching Minds, where she focuses on building partnerships with districts and product design. She has spent 17 years working with children, youth, and adults as an educator in various capacities both inside and outside of the school system. She has previously taught young children ages 2-3, and students in grades 2-4 in New York City. Maya has also taught English and Mathematics internationally to children, teenagers, and adults in Istanbul, Turkey, and has written math curriculum in Jerusalem, Israel. She led youth advocacy groups in Pennsylvania and directed after-school programs in California, Florida, and New York. She has also tutored students with a broad range of learning needs, from kindergarteners to college students. Ms. Gat received her M.S. in Childhood and Early Childhood Education from Sarah Lawrence College. She also holds a B.A. in Urban Studies and Fine Arts from the University of Pennsylvania.