Calling Out and Calling On Myself in the Face of a Bad Year

This post is part of a series of articles, blog posts, and short briefs produced by EXPLO Elevate focused on supporting schools’ virtual learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.

by Ross Peters | Vice President of School Strategy (Incoming)

To read more of Ross’ writing, visit his blog.

[An earlier version of this piece appeared on on March 20. Since that time it is obviously an understatement to say a few things have happened; however, the central views I expressed here have not. Now facing a national reckoning with systemic racism, a contentious presidential election cycle untempered by any sense of civility, and the continuation of Covid19, people of good faith must stand up and give voice to virtuous leadership. It is with that in mind that we re-post now and repost it here.]

Schools, school leaders, faculty and staff emphasize topics related to character education because they know strength of character is of vital importance and that it is too often in short supply.

I really hope all that talk has worked. It really needs to have worked. Now more than ever, we need the adults that great teachers dreamed their students would become. After years in the classroom, I am confident they are out there. In education, we should always have in mind who our students should become. That vision of who students should become as family members, citizens, colleagues, should drive education far more than test scores and college lists. A moment of crisis, like the one we now face, should solidify this understanding for us.

Recently, I have been thinking about: who are we going to be at the end of this? Who will we be by the time we vote in November, by the time the protests ebb, and by the time we get our coronavirus vaccinations? When the most immediate issues pass, will we strive to be part of the answer to overcome the devastating weight of systemic racism? Will we carry the courage of our convictions not only into the ballot box, but also into our civic engagement? Will we traverse our personal discomfort to reach the critical dialogues of our time?

Now more than ever, we need the adults that great teachers dreamed their students would become.

There are myriad signals about the future that taken together create a confusing stew and taken apart either create naive optimism or equally naive cynicism. I have a sinking feeling that if we think that trying to predict the future from our seats today is virtually impossible, understanding what happened when it is over will be no less difficult. If clarity was ever achievable, we may have just seen it pass away with 100,000 plus Covid19 fatalities, with flaming small businesses from New York to Miami to LA to Seattle, with the falsehoods that drip easily from those we need trust most, and with tear gas drifting across churchyards like a phalanx of late afternoon ghosts of injustices past.

North Carolina Mountains, Near Jones Knob – photograph by J. Ross Peters

So…rather than pull out a crystal ball of specific predictions and hyper-generalize a to-do list for everyone, it makes more sense to me to simply create a list for myself regarding who I want to be during the pandemic.

First, some general assumptions:

  • What we have considered inconveniences in the recent past will be dwarfed by current realities.
  • Few, if any of us, will escape finding ourselves close to tragic loss.
  • Our neighbors (think of the world and the people in it) will both inspire us and disappoint us.
  • Misinformation will slow our exit from struggles related to the pandemic and from the divisions whose scars seem to become deeper each day.
  • Some things we assumed were stable will not be.
  • Acting out of the strength of our convictions will be impossible without discomfort and vulnerability.

While facing these factors, I will strive to:

  • Be a good husband, father, son, and brother.
  • Never let my disappointment in some people and institutions blind me to the inspiration I should find in others.
  • Choose the hard right over the easy wrong.
  • Hold myself accountable when I fall short, while at the same time forgiving myself.
  • Do all I can to make other people safe.
  • Recognize that I am fortunate beyond measure, and I should not complain about being without things others have been without all along.
  • Take a deep breath (or two) before sharing my opinion.
  • Be a discerning consumer of information.
  • Stay busy and prioritize diet and exercise.
  • Seek out the good in both people and in the world around us.
  • Seek reasons to laugh with others.
  • Look forward to better days ahead at least as often as I look back to better days in the past.

I think I wanted to write this today as a means of holding myself accountable, as a means of focusing on what is important as all of us steer into a time when we will likely be tempted and prodded to become more and more reactive or to drift from the ideals that should govern our actions.

I am certain that we will be transformed by what is to come. This is not an overly dramatic statement, for we are always transformed by the events of our lives. We are not simply passive victors or victims in our lives. We bring much more to the table than that. Thus, who we become will not only be a result of what happens to us during this cultural crucible, but it will also be a result of who we choose to be and how we choose to react as individuals. In short, we need to be the adults we want our children to become. It will not be easy.