one breath at a time

One breath at a time is an acceptable plan

This is not a new year’s post.

And everything seems to have gone terribly wrong that can
But one breath at a time is an acceptable plan
She tells herself
And the air is still there
This morning it’s even breathable
And for a second the relief is unbelievable

–Ani diFranco, “Tamboritza Lingua”

Over the winter break, in addition to reading all the things, we took a break from social media.

We stepped back and walked away. We went outside. And we cried for the people and energy and love 2020 stole from us all, and then we sat down in the snow for a while and just looked up at the sky.

Maybe this is sounding familiar. Maybe this is sounding cliché. Happy new year.

But as the days passed, one by one, with no notifications ringing our phones and disrupting our long walks, we began to see the bigger picture.

And that’s this: this new year can only be managed in tiny chunks.

There’s no way we can make resolutions for the full year ahead because who even knows what that’s going to look like. Just asking the question feels like inviting disaster.

But we also know that we need a plan. We need to support educators and students, school communities and families.

Once we stopped wandering around in the snow and came back inside, one of the first things to greet us on twitter was this:

That footage, shot by photographer Angela Kelly, stopped us cold (ha!).

A bubble in an inhospitable environment survives by accumulating ice crystals. Crystals appear, one by one, as the bubble struggles against this hostile environment. They grow, as much as they are able, and most likely in ways and environments they hadn’t anticipated.

(There’s a joke in there somewhere about “snowflakes” and current politics that we’re not even going to touch.)

Known as “the snowglobe effect”, the process is actually kind of violent: as a bubble continues to grow, in freezing temperatures it also freezes, with the still-liquid parts ripping ice crystals off the frozen parts and tossing them around. Which… may feel kind of familiar to educators.

It shouldn’t, no, but after the past year, it probably does.

And that’s the energy we’re moving forward with right now: one crystal at a time, one bubble, one breath. Growth that depends on adapting to an inhospitable environment. Growth that depends on coming together as best we can, even when we’re prickly and icy and fraught.

And that takes slowing down. It takes being in the moment. It takes prioritizing today, this morning, the next hour, the next sip of coffee. The very next breath.

It also means letting go.

Small, intense focus necessarily means letting go of the longer term stuff *for now*. What with Everything Going On Right Now, trying to hold onto everything that was and that could be — both good and bad — feels overwhelming.

To-do lists that cover a day first, rather than a week. And when that feels like too much, to-do lists that cover a morning, or the next hour. Whatever makes right now feel manageable. Because the past year was so extraordinary, it’s time to regroup, and slow down. Reconnect with our purpose as an organization, and as citizens in our own extraordinary communities. Revisit why we do what we do.

Even when that means saying no to extra activities. Even when that means not becoming an astronaut this year, or the next. That letting go of things makes more room for people. That one breath can be used to say hello, how are you, to our colleagues, and to students and their families.

No, the next breath says, “How are you *really*?” Because we’re thinking of you and holding you in the frozen bubble of our right now.

One breath at a time.

We’re seeing a lot of focus in this particular new year on choosing a word for the year. Vermont superintendent Brian Ricca has written a powerful piece on choosing “Connection” as his word for the year. We also love Lucie delaBruere’s “Regroup”, and are enjoying the powerful energy of everyone jumping into the #OneWord2021 stream.

But we’ll just sit over here and think for a bit on what one word could, for us, encompass so much unknown and so much that needs to be done, fixed, broken, fixed better, gathered, mourned, celebrated and boggled at?

This morning it might be “flexibility”, but looking at the day’s to-do list, we’ll get back to you tomorrow morning with any changes.

(You might say we want unlimited re-takes on choosing a word for the year. That’s true; that’s one of the things we’ll become proficient at this year.)

One breath at a time.




For your convenience, an audio version of this post is also available below.


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