The late Rear Adm. Grace Brewster Murray Hopper once said, “The most dangerous phrase in the language is ‘We’ve always done it this way.’” I’m always reminded of this quote when changes need to be implemented, no matter how large or small. It’s human nature to abhor change; resistance is usually rooted more in fear of the unknown than in any real fundamental disagreement.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced all of us to abandon the crutch of “we’ve always done it this way.” As educators, we were tasked with finding a new system of learning. As a private school, this system meant adapting to the needs of families who wished to return to in-school learning and those who chose the virtual option. We were entering unchartered territory, and we had no old way of doing things to fall back on. Entirely new policies and procedures to govern everything from health and safety to homework and testing had to be implemented.
It was a huge—and not just a little stressful—undertaking. Despite our collective uncertainty and fear of how this new landscape for learning would look, I can see now that we were blessed with more opportunities than challenges. The opportunity to try new methods of instruction. The opportunity to reach families who, in other years, might not have considered a Mother Seton School education. The opportunity to think about unconventional ways to reshape our learning environment.
The opportunity to practice patience, grace, humility and charity.
There were some adaptations we were required to make that proved unpopular and cumbersome. Restricting lunch to the classroom, conducting enrichment classes via virtual means to the classroom, wearing masks and following a morning protocol that included a health questionnaire and temperature check took getting used to. Because of these measures, we were afforded the opportunity to offer in-school instruction all year long. I am grateful we could keep our school community safe and healthy and look forward to returning to school this fall with less burdensome procedures.
Other adjustments we made in reaction to the pandemic proved to be so successful that we will continue with them this upcoming school year. For example, we instituted half-day Fridays last year to give the students, staff and faculty a break from the challenges of learning during a public health crisis. These hours allowed both our virtual and in-person students to seek additional help with their studies and to catch up or get a head start on any of their work. Teachers used the additional time for professional development, lesson planning or tutoring. Our custodial staff could begin their weekly deep cleaning and disinfecting process earlier. By offering after-school care at no cost, the burden on our families proved minimal. In consultation with our families, we are continuing these half days for this upcoming school year.
In a normal year, this idea is not one we would have thought to entertain. Professional development has always required school closure on various days throughout the year. Seeking academic help meant missing part of a class or staying after school. Lesson planning had to be done during teacher breaks during the day or after hours. I can hear the cry “we’ve always done it this way.” Thankfully, we have been given this blessed opportunity to do it another way.
I no longer hope for a return to normality this school year. Instead, I am optimistic about experiencing a school year that is better than normal. Let’s make it extraordinary by turning the challenges we face into opportunities to grow and strengthen.
Dr. Kathleen J. Kilty is the principal of Mother Seton School in historic Emmitsburg, Maryland. She has served as a teacher and administrator in Catholic schools for over 20 years. Kilty earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in elementary education through The Catholic University of America (CUA), Washington, D.C.; her Master of Science degree in administration and supervision from Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland, and her Doctor of Philosophy degree in Catholic educational leadership and policy studies, also from The CUA. She began her tenure as Mother Seton School’s first lay principal in 2019.