We must cultivate mental stillness to succeed in life and to successfully navigate the many crisis it throws our way.”

– Ryan Holiday

Summertime is my time to relax, spend time with family and catch up on my reading. I love to read and learn new strategies or get lost in a good story. A friend gave me a book for Christmas and I finally had time to sit down to read it this summer. Ironically, the title is “Stillness is the Key” by Ryan Holiday.

In the book, stillness is defined as, “to be steady while the world spins around you” (Holiday, 2019, p. XV).  Since March, there has not been much time to be still and my work life has grown incredibly noisy.  I travel for work and, though I have been home since March 13th, I feel like I have been busier than ever.  I know this feeling is mutual as I have spoken to many colleagues and moving work to the virtual world has taken a toll.  Finding time to be still sometimes feels out of reach. 

As I read the first chapter, the following questions resonated with me.  

…If the leader can’t take the time to develop a clear sense of the picture, who will? If the leader isn’t thinking through all the way to the end, who is?

As mathematics leaders think about the 2020-2021 school year, what is the big picture and what do we want mathematics learning to look like at the end?  Unfortunately, we are answering this question while dealing with two different pandemics, COVID-19 and systematic racism.  We may want to return to normal as a sign COVID-19 and its atrocities are behind us. But, the truth is, systematic racism shows our old normal was not working for all students.  Now is our opportunity to create and embrace a new normal.

Since March, we all have had to respond to the same storm, however, we are all not in the same boat.  We serve peers, teachers and students who are dealing with loss.  These losses differ based on each individual’s experience and, as we plan for the upcoming school year, we need to be cautious about any assumptions we make regarding those we serve.  Instead, let’s find stillness. And in that stillness we can stop to reflect, learn, focus, and re-energize for the 2020-2021 school year with an outcome of mathematics learning for every student.

Consider taking time to cultivate mental stillness this month and ponder questions like those below. 

  1. How will we embrace a strength-based view of learning?  Rather than use deficit language to describe a student’s learning, how can we focus on the evidence of what is being learned versus what is not?
  2. How will we focus on essential content and maximize instructional time? Instead of trying to “get through” the standards and constantly assess, how can we focus on using formative assessment processes to provide quality feedback that empowers learners?
  3. How will we repair students’ relationships with mathematics?  Instead of employing strategies that isolate mathematics concepts, how will we develop strategies that highlight student thinking in a blended learning experience? How will we foster student agency and a positive mathematical identity?

Life has definitely thrown one crisis after another our way.  Yet, as leaders, in the stillness we can reflect, clarify our vision, and begin anew.  The students in 2020-2021 deserve a high-quality mathematics education. The teachers in 2020-2021 need to know there is a plan. Break through the noise with stillness and consider how to empower those you serve in the upcoming school year.