Quite some time ago, I came upon a fifty-six-second video entitled, “Building A Plane While Flying.
” (I include the link here because it really is worth a view.) The video imagines that familiar saying as playing out quite literally. It depicts a dedicated crew constructing a half-completed roofless jet plane full of wind-blown passengers in mid-air. Between short action shots and against the backdrop of a swelling score, members of the crew proudly share comments like, “Up here, we’re not just building a plane; we’re building a dream,” and “I don’t get a lot of thanks up here, but I look over there and I see that little kid— the look in his eye—that’s all the thanks I need.”
I’ve recently had cause to reconsider that video as my team and I begin to turn our attention to next year, even as we are elbow-deep in the important and sometimes exhausting work of pandemic-era schooling this year. A former colleague of mine, a math teacher, once said of my proclivity for gathering data, “Beware English teachers bearing statistics.” While I suppose my relationship with numbers is, shall we say, romantic, it still feels worth sharing that, by my calculations, Falmouth Academy students have attended some 85,000 classes this year, the vast majority of which have been here at school. It has not been easy; on most days I am sure I am not alone in missing our various school functions, be they one-time events like Gala, Hugs and Kisses, the Winter Concert, or the Middle School Play or everyday happenings like in-person all-school meeting, mid-morning electives, or lunch in the locker area or Morse Hall. Our community traditions have always lent texture to what otherwise can feel like a long winter.
But at the same time, I continue to marvel at the resilience and resolve of our human community. In a piece called, “Make Schools More Human,”
New York Times columnist Jah Mehta writes “ the classrooms that are thriving during the pandemic are the ones where teachers have built strong relationships and warm communities...we are realizing what we should have known all along: that you can’t widget your way to powerful learning, that relationships are critical for learning, that students’ interests need to be stimulated and their selves need to be recognized.” He suggests that the same things that have allowed some students to thrive in current conditions are true for teachers as well: “They need to feel physically safe, they need support, they need their work to be recognized and honored, and they need working conditions that make it possible for them to succeed.”
So we’re flying this airplane we built on very short notice to fly into what we expected would be rather stiff headwinds. And we are planning important upgrades and renovations in mid-flight so that we are prepared to soar even higher next year. This includes a truncated review and design process that will result in an academic schedule which will likely bring back many of the best features of our previous schedule, for example, returning arts and electives to the academic day or having our daily all-school meeting in Morse Hall, without wasting the opportunity to absorb some of the features of this year’s schedule. It means considering, again in mid-flight, our physical space so that were physical distancing and mask measures still in place when we open, we are prepared to deliver more of the program you have come to expect from us. And it means looking for opportunities to enhance that program along the way.
When you are building an airplane in the air, you don’t get to land the plane and dock it in the hangar for maintenance or repair. You’ve got passengers and they’ve got places to go (and, “Oh, the places they’ll go,” to paraphrase Dr. Seuss.) So while the business of actually flying this plane amidst continuing turbulence may not afford us the time to engage in lengthier inclusive processes that result in wholesale change, we are committing to pressing forward and ascending to loftier heights.