5 Things I Learned in 2021

learned in 2021

I don’t know if it went inordinately slow or exceptionally fast. I don’t know whether to feel thankful or disappointed. I do remember watching CNN aghast on January 6th then talking to my students about it the next day. And then talking to my students––from my couch––about whether or not we would return to the insides of our actual classroom after the weekend, at the end of the month, before the spring started. I do recall pivoting again after returning for a bit and then, a few months ago, coming back to start a new school year with a renewed sense of what this all was. And now we’re at the end of it all, feeling like we don’t even know again. One thing I do know is that this year taught me a lot. Here are 5 things I learned in 2021.


1. Don’t Try To Do Too Much

The other day I heard that virgos are obsessed with lists so maybe it’s just my type, but this year taught me to become a little more lax when it comes to checking things off or crossing things out complete. Working in education, it always seems like there is one more thing to do. But doing one thing at a time lowered my already high sense of anxiety that this year brought on and preserved some energy in me as we went back and forth over and over again. 


2. Stay Consistent

With all the uncertainty that 2021 brought on, one thing I found helpful was sticking with small habits. I started writing “morning pages” (2-3 handwritten pages of unfiltered thoughts as soon as I would wake up) several times a week, tried to read 50 pages of a book per day, got in some light form of exercise, and took deep breaths whenever my Apple watch reminded me. Reflecting on the past 52 weeks, I wasn’t ever close to perfect but the intentional consistency I aimed for made lockdowns, limiting restrictions, and looking at my blank black screen during remote learning a little lighter.   


3. The Kids Are Resilient

I learned this learned this this year. Educators abound reflected on how difficult it was to prepare, teach, and assess learning in 2021. We, rightly so, worried about the students––how they would cope with the technological gaps, the lack of one-on-one support, the loss of the social dynamic that in-person schools provide. I myself thought about the long term effects that the year would have on children going through the middle years of their public school career. But, damn, these kids are resilient. Will there be gaps in curricular content? Sure. But these last 12 months have not only taught, but showed me that youth are capable of mastering almost all obstacles. And the lesson in that is tenfold.     


4. Your Mental Health Over Everything 

For all the folks who promoted this gem throughout the year and before, thank you. Our little world had been sliding away from this sentiment over the last few years and the unfortunate circumstances of the pandemic brought prioritizing our mental wellness back into focus. Thankfully, this idea has trickled down into aspects of schooling. The “whole child” takes precedence over the “student”. And as my last point discusses, the same goes for teachers and staff too.   


5. Teachers and Students Are People Too

A few years ago, in Ontario, teachers were no longer able to “bank” sick days until retirement and, resultantly, there was a massive boom in sick day usage over the course of that school year. Teachers were lambasted in the media for manipulating the system. How times have changed. As the Covid-19 pandemic and the pandemic of Black lives bubbled on, I drank more water and made sure to wash my hands and looked through my rearview mirrors more often. In the meantime, I talked about myself more. How I felt and asked how others, 12 year old children, felt. What I realized is that real learning only happens when everyone puts their personhood on the line. We’ve neglected that. No longer. In education, finally, people, have entered the space. And a realization that students, teachers, family, and staff are all fundamental people first, is a lesson that I hope remains way beyond 2021. 


For many reasons, 2021 will not be a year most of us will easily forget. Hopefully we can take the lessons we’ve learned from this year to make 2022 and beyond a better, happier, and healthier experience.  


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Matthew R. Morris

Educator, Speaker, Writer

Matthew R. Morris is a writer, speaker, and elementary educator in Toronto. He has an M.A. in Social Justice Education from OISE at the University of Toronto and is the author of the forthcoming book, Black Boys Like Me. 

Matthew R. Morris

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