Educators in Ontario are starting 2021 by pivoting. Again. 2020 saw us pivot from what we quaintly referred to as “school” to “emergency remote learning” from April to the end of June. Then, in my school board, high school teachers started September in “quadmesters” organized into what is possibly the weirdest teaching I can imagine (and one which I still cannot describe succinctly): we teach one course for approximately four hours a day every other week. During that week, half of the class is in person one day and the other half is at home; the next day, they switch. Teaching is hybrid because the at-home cohort requires “some” synchronous connection with the in-class cohort during the day. Once both cohorts are home and have had a lunch break, they are supposed to do asynchronous learning for another hour. I’m pretty sure we used to call that homework, but whatever. The next week, we switch to a different course. Apparently, this is a mere pivot from our previous practice.

Now, as 2021 starts, we are “pivoting” again because Ontario is back in lockdown – or at least partial lockdown. First, we’re teaching fully online for three weeks. Because that doesn’t feel quite challenging enough, we are going to teach two classes a day for 112 minutes each (the two classes which we previously taught on alternating weeks for 225 minutes). The instruction must be synchronous for some amount of time that I can no longer remember, and there will still be an asynchronous component at the end of the day for those whose heads aren’t already spinning.

Also, while no one knows exactly what will happen, we’ll probably pivot back (re-pivot? un-pivot?) for the last week of January when we may or may not return to the original 2020 quadmester plan, except that this would give one course a full week of instruction and the other course none – so I may or may not be seeing the students who may or may not need something to learn. I mean, it’s not a problem because when we get there, we’ll just pivot.

But the current pivot means that all I need to do during winter break is cut my pre-planned two weeks of hybrid daily instruction plans in half, spread them over three weeks and – maybe? – two days, download and practice using a few apps (hello, colleagues who have time to practice with me) so that fully virtual learning can go smoothly, convert any planned in-person instruction to a different delivery mode, and get ready to handle any residual upset the students might be experiencing from the last time this happened – when we told them we were extending March Break & then separated them from all their friends & didn’t allow them back in the school for 5 months.

You know, pivot.

As 2020 ends and people suggest various phrases that define the year – “You’re on mute” is a fave – I vote for “pivot.” Oh, how I have come to loathe that word. To me, it implies an easy twist to a new position. Just turn a little and keep doing what you were doing. No biggie. No need to reconsider your pedagogy to take into consideration the trauma adolescents might be experiencing as the world around them goes haywire. No need to think about how that affects their ability to learn. No need to recognize that in-person, hybrid, and online education are, in many ways, entirely different beasts. No need to examine which educational practices are foundational and which are, perhaps, merely habitual. Just pivot.

So I looked it up. Because I’m a word nerd like that. And, while I regularly tell my students NOT to start essays with definitions (Dear Heaven, but they don’t need another way to avoid saying actual things), I’m going to share two of the definitions I found at dictionary.com.

– to modify (a policy, opinion, product, etc.) while retaining some continuity with its previous version
– Basketball. to keep one foot in place while holding the ball and moving the other foot one step in any direction.

Suddenly I am back in high school, playing basketball with my athletic younger sister at the top of our driveway. She is on the Varsity basketball team. I am terrible at basketball, and my inexpert play is not helping her improve her game. Frustrated by my inability to block effectively, she sighs, “Just… set a pick,” and she places me between her and the basket. “Spread your feet, bend your knees a little, and stand still.”

I do, and she dribbles around me again and again, her brown hair flying as she finds different ways to create space for her shots. Sometimes – often – she pivots, confusing the imaginary defense before she spins around me and shoots.

Pivot, huh? Keep one foot in place and move the other foot in any direction. Retain some continuity. It sounds easy when the government or our school board assures people that we will simply pivot to online teaching, but I know better. Pivoting isn’t an effortless turn, a round peg gliding smoothly in a round hole. I think of my sister, relentlessly seeking improvement, earning her starting position one afternoon at a time, bouncing and bouncing, turning and turning, intentionally putting obstacles between herself and the basket. She was working.

Thanks to twowritingteachers.org for hosting this weekly space where teachers can hone their writing skills – and have fun doing it!

Still, even if we had to work at it, we had fun on those afternoons, and we got better – or she did, anyway. I didn’t, but I was mostly just standing still. It wasn’t easy, but, well… I think I need to go try out a couple of new apps. I’ll try to remember to keep one foot in place, but I’m constantly stepping with the other because on Monday, we pivot.

12 thoughts on “Pivot

  1. I think pivot is more when you are moving due to circumstances that make sense. One thing I have learned from the pandemic is I do not like following rules that make no sense. Luckily, my students are required to be online for 2 hours total – synchronous and asynchronous. I am lucky in that aspect. There is going to be an in-person add on in Feb (so I hear) but we will see.

    I feel for you my friend! We just keep showing up for kids because they need us.


  2. This had me laughing from the picture you saved to my hearing your voice in my head – and I was nodding and joining you in the brilliance of this storytelling, flashbacks to your past, and setting the whole idea in the context of our teaching needs now – “no need” and the repetition of this made me realize how difficult this will be. I’m often slow to respond feeling that I can endure any change, but you are right. Fortunately, we have each other and if we can make this like basketball and play as a team, then I think we might even have some fun 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Your “pivot” teaching experience made my head spin. I so hope you will return to face-to-face teaching sooner than you expect.


  4. I hate this word too. And “quadmester” is really bothering me. Why not just call it a quarter? *Sigh* I wish our Minister of Ed was a word nerd. 🙂

    I love the frantic pace of your writing. I found myself reading it rapidly like I was in a race, which is what this whole mess has been – confusing and frantic! It’s difficult not to know what to expect. One of my colleagues keeps saying, “Just tell me what I need to do on Monday. I can only think about one thing at a time.” It continues to amaze me that the people who aren’t being asked to pivot all the time continue to insist that it’s no big deal. They aren’t, however, willing to pivot away from all the traditional IEP, assessment, and report card deadlines and requirements. Did you know they still haven’t publicly shared or in-serviced elementary teachers on the new math reporting requirements? (At least they haven’t in my board.)

    How are your children handling all of it? It’s been mostly business-as-usual for us here, but I was working with an elementary teacher from Ottawa on a writing project for the Ministry and she’s had to stop because all of the pivoting at school has left her dizzy and needing to cut back on all but the essentials.


  5. This may be very funny in a few years, but right bow it just makes me sad. It’s sad what you’re being asked to do and what your kids are having to adjust to. I’m sure you’re making the most of it, but pivoting and spinning are not the same thing. I feel like simplicity is what we all need for a little bit, not this kind of manic complexity in our solutions. Good luck with your next contortion.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. This may be very funny in a few years, but right bow it just makes me sad. It’s sad what you’re being asked to do and what your kids are having to adjust to. I’m sure you’re making the most of it, but pivoting and spinning are not the same thing. I feel like simplicity is what we all need for a little bit, not this kind of manic complexity in our solutions. Good luck with your next contortion.


  7. Oh my goodness. At some point, don’t you just want to laugh…or cry?!? So many crazy changes. I look forward to the day when “settled” is the new “it” word. Good luck! ❤️


  8. You have the great quality of being able to entertain and say something meaningful at the same time. I’m sure I’d be crying daily. Next will they have you pirouette?


  9. I don’t know which is crazier, your pivot or our stay-in-school-at-all-costs (including the health of the employees). Nevertheless I enjoyed your meander through the changes and comparing them to playing a sport. A sport that you admit to not being very good at. The important thing here is perseverance. That’s the name of the game. We will all make it through this, and I feel somewhere along the way will learn new ways of doing the best that we can.


  10. This really has been the year of the pivot, hasn’t it. Sounds like you’re fully aware of the fact that 2021 will be the “immediately released sequel no one asked for.” (Heard that one from a friend. Can’t take credit for it so I put it in quotes.) More pivoting to come. Eventually, life will go back to normal again… I cannot wait!


  11. Amanda, how well you capture the absolute WEIRDNESS of the year for educators. I have found it hard to get a foothold at all, with so many constant shifts. Magnificent illustrations and metaphors for that loathsome word, “pivot”! As always, your characteristic wit shines through – it brightens the experience of this year like the little bulbs on a monstrously tangled string of Christmas tree lights. The basketball imagery, especially. So help me, I thought of a move that fashion models make, the “pivot,” – and as I see it in my mind, I think about it all being for show and I cannot help linking it to some of the costly decisions being made for what feels like the same reason (for how can so much back and forth be best for anyone, most of all the kids?). Here’s to endurance…. I am so glad to see you back and to immerse myself in your words, which always manage to make me smile.


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