Three Key Known Unknowns Heading into 2021

Last week I wrote about three known knowns. This week, I want to throw out three key known unknowns to keep in mind as public education leaders heading into 2021 in order to plan for the 2021-2022 school year.

  1. We know we don’t know if the significant number of Pre-K and Kindergarten students who did not enroll at the start of 2020 will enroll in 2021. We also know we don’t know what their homeschool experience has entailed. In Round Rock ISD we recently interviewed a sample of these parents and we expect the vast majority of these students to return in 2021. However, we don’t know that for sure, and we don’t know how different the learning experience has been for these students compared to our pre-k and kinder students who have been enrolled with RRISD. These students will be reintegrated in 2021 having had very different educational experiences in 2020.
  2. We know we don’t know when or if students will no longer have the option to learn from home. Will we start the 2021-2022 school year with campuses still instructing two sets of learners? I hope not, but we don’t know. As public education leaders, we don’t know when our state governing entities will require all students to return to campus in order to receive funding. This known unknown creates ambiguity in managing our current reality and planning for the future. We also know we don’t yet know the best way to support and train staff to teach in this environment. Simultaneously being responsible for teaching a group of students in person and at home at the same time is entirely new. We are learning more and more every day as teachers discover what works and what doesn’t, but we know that we are still very much in the learning phase.
  3. Finally, we know we don’t know the lasting impact the pandemic will have on our campus and district-wide organizational culture. Just like our students and their families, we as employees are in the midst of the most challenging professional year most of us have ever experienced. And with these challenges come disagreement, resentment, and regret. But there is also heroism, growth, and joy. We don’t yet know the long-term impact on our culture because we are currently immersed in the experience, but we know we will never be the same. When the pandemic is over we must spend time processing together and recognize that we are all going through something stressful. And people like me need others to hold us accountable to create that space and not just move on to the next thing.

So those are just some thoughts on known unknowns heading into 2021 and specifically looking around the corner to fall 2021. If you are interested in learning more about using known knowns and known unknowns in your planning, check out this resource from Ed Elements. I’ve been impressed with just about everything they create.

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Next week to wrap up this three-part series I’ll share a few ideas on navigating a world over the next year where the reality of unknown unknowns are always present. Sign up for my mailing list above to make sure you get it, pass this along to a friend, and leave your thoughts in the comments below.

2 thoughts on “Three Key Known Unknowns Heading into 2021

  • Ryan, Thank you for posting your insight, processing, and reflection! As we navigate educational leadership in this new paradigm of innovation, it is essential (perhaps now more so than ever before) that we pause to observe and listen, engage in active collaboration, and reflect continuously as we prioritize our practices. By embracing the journey as learners, we will undoubtedly improve our systems in the long run. In the short run, sure helps the spirit to read posts like yours!


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