reflection, resolution, writing

One Word 2021

Wow.

What a crazy year.

Each time I sit down to reflect on this past year, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. I think back to that first day in January when the shining brilliance of opportunity glimmered like diamonds on a sandy beach. The future was beautiful. Pristine. Limitless.

Never in a million years did I, nor anyone else for that matter, see the train wreck of COVID-19 barreling down the tracks when 2020 began.

My calendar was filled with speaking engagements to share my passion for kindness with others. My flights were booked to Miami Beach, FL, Los Angeles, CA, and San Diego, CA and rentals reserved for Charlottesville, VA and Chestertown, MD. I had just finished keynoting as the Spotlight Speaker for the Virginia Society for Technology in Education (VSTE) Conference in Roanoke and was excited to see all the ways my One Word 2020 – RADIATE – would shine in the year to come.

I was blessed to travel to the Future of Education Technology Conference (FETC) in Miami as part of my R.E.B. Award for Teaching Excellence and connect with many of my Twitter friends as we shared our ideas and inspirations for educational technology. What a surprise to sit beside another educator and realize we had worked at the same school nearly 20 years ago in Memphis, TN! Such a small world indeed!

Emily Warne (now Emily Russell) and I reconnect at FETC! She taught fifth grade when I was a third grade teacher at Southwind Elementary in Memphis, TN.
It was such fun to join in with other authors at FETC!
I loved being able to connect with my Twitter PLN in person!

I keynoted the Women Education Leaders in Virginia (WELV) Conference and met a multitude of inspirational women who embody the word “radiate” each and every day, serving their districts as superintendents, district leaders, administrators, and teachers. I spoke at several local events and book clubs in my community as well.

Presenting my Keynote for WELV attendees
WELV Conference 2020
Photo courtesy of WELV

Then on March 13, 2020, everything came crashing down with one word heard around the globe:

Pandemic.

Additional words rose to the surface as the days and weeks continued. Shock. Disbelief. Confusion. Frustration. Anger.

Quarantine.

Mitigate.

Chaos.

Grief.

It felt like everything turned upside down. Restaurants closed. Flights cancelled. Masks mandated. Curfews imposed.

George Floyd. Breonna Taylor. Ahmaud Arbery.

Say their names.

My local community became the battleground of conflicting views and volatile actions. City streets I previously walked, holding hands with my children, were now marked with vulgar epitaphs demanding restitution and change.

Storefronts were damaged. Merchandise stolen. Buildings burned. Monuments removed.

The roar of a nation filled with angry unrest reverberated through the hills of my hometown. The paradox of change was everywhere, a swirl of discontent that ripped even the closest of relationships, while everyone hunkered down trying to find a “new normal” in a culture that was anything but new.

Schools closed, then reopened with a completely different structure and syntax. New schools. Old schools. Renamed schools. The work came crashing in so fast, from so many directions, I felt like I was drowning on a daily basis while my feet were buried deep in the sand on the shoreline.

Overwhelmed.

My social media feeds overflowed with heated debates and virtual daggers. It didn’t matter what your views were on any particular topic, there was always someone online ready to twist your words into knots that were never meant to be tied.

Feeling optimistic? Toxic positivity.

Want to change the world for good? Weaponizing kindness.

Trying to converse with others about injustices? Racist.

Did I mention that it was also the year of a presidential election? Don’t even get me started on that one.

2020 was a year of excruciating loss. Loss of loved ones. Loss of freedom. Loss of traditions.

Stability.

Security.

Sustainability.

Multiple losses counted by many.

Can you mourn the loss of hugs?

I do.

When I think back to the word I chose for 2020 – RADIATE – my immediate reaction is to shake my head and add it to the list of losses. How does one “radiate” in a year bound by the weight of such atrocities?

2020 was a really tough year to shine.

But then, when I look back through my writing, I’m surprised to see the stories I captured throughout this tumultuous time. My writing was consistent each week, even if only preserved in drafts. I processed the highs and lows, sharing my vulnerability with the world through words and images. I tackled tough conversations with my children and those around me, forcing me to reflect on my upbringing and beliefs.

I wrote about kindness given and kindness received. I showcased stories about my family and how I met my neighbors for the first time through a random act of kindness at a turquoise table in their yard. I even captured the complexities of having shingles AND a kidney stone at the start of this school year (because nothing says “radiate” like the horror of excruciating pain, right?)

It’s been one heck of a crazy year, my friends.

But despite all the challenges, there were moments of joy. I saw dear friends get married. Babies were born. Celebrations continued, even if on a smaller scale.

I spent more time with my immediate family since everyone remained at home. I discovered the joys of wearing exercise pants to (virtual) meetings and daily walks with my children. I realized you could visit a tropical island right in your own backyard. I tackled Class 5 rapids with my family of five and hiked 2360 feet to gaze at the valley below.

I loosened my grasp on the glorification of busy and enjoyed the perks of cancelled events. I shifted my mindset to focus on gains instead of loss.

I was able to keynote a few events and connected with several districts virtually through faculty meetings, coffee hours, and school-wide presentations. I was blessed to record a few podcasts, too, which provided a safe place to share my passions with others.

I expanded my professional learning network (PLN) and reconnected with several long-lost friends. I rediscovered my desire to be a part of the narrative in the story that I write to the world. (Yes, we can thank hours of watching Hamilton on Disney + for that insight!)

As we swap out calendars from one year to the next, I’m a little cautious about setting lofty goals to achieve. Perhaps I’ll start again with just one word for the new year:

Appreciate.

I want to carve out time to appreciate the little moments as they arise. I want to reflect on my past experiences to weave them through the tapestry of tomorrow. I want to find simple joys in a sunset, to hold the laughter of a well-timed joke for a few seconds more. I want to capture sweet moments in stories that will encourage others to do the same.

I want to listen longer. Love deeper. Learn with passion and purpose.

No matter what the seasons of change may bring, I want to live intentionally with gratitude. There are no guarantees for what the future may hold, so my guiding vision is to simply appreciate whatever comes my way.

As always, I appreciate you, my faithful readers, who continue to support my reflections, dreams, and aspirations. If you have a One Word for 2021, I would love for you to share it in the comments section below! Let’s embrace the new year with all it has to offer!

One Word Goals

2021 – Appreciate

2020 – Radiate

2019 – Uplift

2018 – Inspire

2017 – Resilience

2016 – Joy


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