This weekend I attended an online workshop put on by some wonderfully thoughtful folks with whom I serve on the New York State English Council (NYSEC) board. NYSEC is our state affiliate of NCTE.

Our – I am the current president – professional learning theme for the year is “Understanding Diversity: Building Trust, Culture, & Reflective Practice.” We’re quite proud of the fact that we’ve been offering virtual workshop opportunities to our members for almost a year now, and this year are set with a monthly schedule of opportunities. It was not easy to get here.

I have been on the board for over ten years now, serving once already in this role, and we’ve often talked about the idea of offering roving workshops around the state because, while our conference attendance is robust and was rising steadily for years after being crushed by the economic crisis of 2008-9, we had many members who simply could not get release time, funding, or both to attend. What this says about the value school districts place on professional learning is varied; some simply don’t have the budgets to support it, others simply won’t, and still others spend their monies on district-sponsored events only. Regardless, we could not get that idea out of our think tank.

The pandemic forced us to examine what we offered our members, and how we operated as a board. You’re most likely an educator if you’re reading this, and you are no stranger to the need for on-the-spot evolution. I can’t even bring myself to use the “p” word*. We had no option but to shift and change and flex and evolve and react and send lots of hopes and prayers to any / all the gods in our work these last two years.

For an organization that is hosted, run, facilitated, and managed nearly totally by an all-volunteer board, this is no small lift. Serving is a labor of love in the easiest of times.

When you love something, when you value it and work hard for it and nurture it and shepherd it and develop pride and satisfaction from it, you work to find a way.

This is what every organization / business / school / teacher / clinic / hospital / parent / person has had to do these last few years. And while it is not easy for anyone, it is particularly noble when it is done by volunteers who are doing it in their “day jobs,” and who yet persist to do it in the realms of their lives where they labor in love for great causes.

When mid-March of 2020 sent us all home, we began to meet virtually and decided by early April we simply could not have our annual in-person conference in October of 2020; and, we realized we had been given a gift: the gift of time. Time to reimagine our organization, what it meant to work on the board, how to find satisfaction and sustainability in this labor of love. Several folks realized their priorities lay elsewhere and left. Many people had similar realizations during shutdowns. We wished them well and soldiered on.

We dug deeply to figure out how to use our time. We circled the wagons and made much work of reflection, of introspection, of dreams and possibility and held these against our capacity. And miraculously, by August of 2020 we were online, offering virtual workshops in a pilot program to see what this work could be, would entail, and whether there was interest in it.

We paused for the summer, got back at it in October of 2021, and are now looking to add to our monthly offerings which are set through the current school year. It’s working. Well.

What started – and still is, in many ways – as a slammed door of frustration, shock, horror, and awe, has also opened a window into a new way of learning, a new way of gathering in community to keep doing what we do: learn how to keep evolving as the best teachers we can be.

In 2013-2014 I served as president of this organization, and I took up that mantle again in October of 2021. Prior to the pandemic and throughout the early stages of it, I could not have imagined possible what we have been able to accomplish, even welcoming new members to leadership roles while doing it.

They say necessity is the mother of invention. We now know this pandemic as the new and evolving architect of necessity.

I would bet you have felt the same in some way in some aspect of your life.

We deserve to celebrate these wins, to relish in the resiliency and resolve we find when we share values, share dreams, and look for ways through obstacles. It doesn’t always work out this way, but when it does, we deserve to celebrate.

Today, I’m celebrating all the volunteer-based organizations out there who are working to keep dreaming, and to the state affiliates of NCTE in particular, I see you. Congratulations on the work you do, and the dreaming you do to keep it alive.