Let’s Not Go Back, Let’s Go Forward!

Last week, I was in a conversation with other educators during a video conference organized by Fielding International, From Gathering to Transformation.

Heidi Hayes Jacobs was the guest speaker to inspire the conversation. As always, she did not disappoint and left me with this gem: “We have to start thinking about how we don’t go back to school, but how we go forward to school.”

Go Forward

This spoke directly to me on so many different levels. While I know that we are just at the beginning of the educational disruption that is unraveling in our schools, at home, and in the educational stratosphere, I can’t help but look already ahead. I am looking ahead when schools will re-open their campuses, when teachers will go back to their classrooms and students will go back to their classes. We can’t go back to “business as usual”!

I have to admit, that I am somewhat frustrated. At this point, I know that this feeling does not help our schools, administrators, teachers, students and parents’ current situation of feeling overwhelmed, caught by surprise with having to remotely teach and learn (almost to the point of panic for some). But the frustration comes from knowing that so many of us have been talking about these new forms of teaching and learning for so long. We have been “preaching” for years about the urgency of skills and literacies to amplify teaching and learning beyond synchronous, face-to-face, in brick and mortar schools and traditional school calendars.

So many of us have heard: “Not now, we are doing all we can, baby steps are good enough…”.

baby steps

So many of us have seen when the going got tough, when new forms pushed one or the other out of their comfort zones, when leadership changed at a school, when someone pushed to get “back to basics”, when it was just easier to not deal with the unknown (when… when… when…), the easiest thing to do was to revert to what felt familiar and go back to traditional teaching practices.

So many of us have hit their heads against the wall, as we continued to talk (the linked blog posts publication year in parenthesis is to illustrate that these topics have been talked about, discussed, reflected upon, and shared) about:

The question Heidi Hayes Jacobs in the TEDxNYED video (2011) below is also very timely to revisit and ask ourselves again in retrospect:

What year are we [were we] preparing our students for?

Be honest with yourself! Looking back? Did we prepare students with the skills to tackle #remotelearning? Did we prepare our graduates for #remoteworking? Did we take the time to prepare as educators with skills and literacies for #remoteteaching?

Would we be struggling as much? Would we be scrambling as much? Would we be as overwhelmed?

I shared the Ted Talk on Twitter and Jennifer Casa-Todd responded what was going through her mind as she listened in 2020 to Heidi (from 2011)

Casa-Todd Tweet

What are your thoughts, when you listen to Heidi’s TED talk?

In 2017, I published a Letter to my Granddaughter’s Kindergarten Teacher. [I never sent the letter to her actual teacher]. See an excerpt below. My granddaughter is in second grade now. I can’t help to think though how her experience of distance remote emergency learning that the teacher/school/district have set up during the COVID-19 pandemic would be different now, if the skills and mindset for teaching and learning would already have been in place for 3 years.

My granddaughter will arrive at your door very excited. Please, don’t squish her sense of wonder, her excitement of and for learning (I know it is there, I have watched and observed her closely from the moment she was born).  Continue to lay the stepping stones for life long learning her parents and family have started. Help her get started with her formal school years and support her by nurturing and teaching her how to:

  • learn how to learn
  • become a self directed and self motivated learner
  • own her learning
  • become literate beyond reading and writing in text format
  • communicate beyond an audience of one
  • be aware of her own learning process
  • make her thinking and learning visible
  • actively look for learning opportunities
  • recognize learning when she sees it
  • capture learning to be able to share in a variety of forms
  • reflect on her learning to deepen her experience
  • share her learning to connect and contribute to the learning of others
  • amplify learning in new ways, inconceivable just a few years back in scope, reach and impact
  • be aware of and practice leadership skills that allow her to make a difference in the world
  • look beyond her own zip code and look for and respect a global perspective
  • ask lots of questions and practice the skills to look for answers beyond traditional media
  • be information literate by being able to find, analyze, evaluate, tag, categorize, organize, curate, archive, access, remix and create information
  • build herself a network FOR her own learning
  • understand and observe digital citizenship and move to digital leadership
  • be a producer and contributor, not just a consumer, who takes advantage of media tools and platforms to create, communicate, collaborate, connect and think critically


Although most educators are overwhelmed and struggling with the current reality, we need to start asking ourselves questions to advance education. What will we take away from this disruption in education? What will we take with us when we return to our classrooms and schools? Heidi Hayes Jacobs asked in her book Curriculum21 in 2010:

What will we keep? What will we throw out? What will we upgrade?

How can we prepare to not “bungee chord” back to the way teaching and learning “was done” or was accepted as the norm before the COVID-19 crisis? What skills and literacies are suddenly relevant? What will we learn from the disruption? How will we adapt, evolve and improve education?

I believe these questions are relevant now and cannot wait to be answered whenever we get to it!

I will leave you with a graphic, I created in 2009 (!!) I felt like I was in a teaching bubble. The world around me at school looked like and valued everything outside my bubble.

I wonder if the pandemic finally burst the bubble and will make the ideas, skills and literacies inside the bubble relevant to others and priorities in education.