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Opinion: Whitmer listened to educators for school reopening plans

Greg Talberg

I have the privilege of serving on the Return to Learn Advisory Council that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer created to help her determine how to safely reopen schools in the fall. As Michigan residents begin to process what that plan will mean for them, and as school leaders use the guidance to promote both safety and learning in our classrooms and buildings, there is one overarching message I want to share about our governor and this plan.

Whitmer listened.

She issued a roadmap that is clearly and directly a response to what she heard.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued a roadmap that is clearly and directly a response to what she heard, Talberg writes.

I am proud to share that the work of the Return to Learn Advisory Council was driven by expertise, honesty and listening. Our council chairwoman, Tonya Allen, is a master listener.

She sought clarity and expertise, but made sure every person on the council had a voice in that (Zoom) room. The staff from the office of the governor listened. They heard what we had to say. They asked for more detail when needed, and they made sure we had multiple opportunities and avenues to be heard.

I think it’s important to understand how much the return to learning roadmap was shaped by listening. Each of us has our own perspective and priorities. The simple truth is that when looking at how to safely return to learning, there are no easy answers. There are no decisions that may be made without significant consequences. 

The publication of the roadmap means that our school leaders now have guidance for how to make very difficult decisions to which there are no easy answers. As members of school communities, Michigan residents must demand that school leaders listen to us. Responsible leaders will encourage various stakeholders to share their concerns and their ideas.

While we must demand that we are heard, we must accept that we won’t always get what we want. School leaders will have to make decisions that result in undesirable consequences. They must prioritize health and safety, but they also must determine the best ways to enable our students to access a high-quality education.

It is in this context that we must practice grace as leaders in education work to guide us through the COVID-19 pandemic. If we are going to get through this, we’ll have to do it together.

Michigan schools can take the losing hand dealt to us by COVID-19 and somehow win.

Greg Talberg is a teacher for Howell Public Schools and serves on the Return to Learn Advisory Council.