Don’t Stay in the Doom Loop

OK, coronavirus happened.  I don’t like it either.  As my colleague, Jane Stevenson once asked me, “how long are you going to be mad?”  I was pouting, pissing, moaning, and wanted to strike out at something. I don’t remember what the issue was but I remember what Jane asked me.

There is an article I read years ago in Fast Company called Lessons from the Doom Loop (2004). I recommend reading it.  In times of crisis, we can get stuck in anger and fear.  Yes, that is where I am now too and searching for ways to move forward.  Maybe you are too.

I don’t feel like an educator when I am not working with kids, colleagues, and the community.  I am angry that this pandemic is happening to people who don’t deserve it.  I fear for the future and for our learning.  I know that scarcity causes conflict and can put people against each other scrambling for resources rather than focusing on external threats.

I am mad and fearful of funding being cut at the state and federal level. Every time education becomes a high priority we get side-tracked.  Think about the savings and loan disaster in the 70s.  The oil embargo in the 80s.  The banks crashing in the early 2000s.  Now, coronavirus.  It seems to me there is always a reason we can’t make education a priority.  I believe it is one area that can lead us out of crises and possibly prevent future crises.

Another concern I have is the plethora of suggestions that are going to be offered to fix this problem.  Specifically, the consultants who will have THE answer will do marketing.  People from business and government will have ready-made solutions that are simple and cost less.  Most of these experts have never faced thirty moving targets with sweaty palms in a classroom.

We can all second guess, blame, and “Monday Morning Quarterback” this situation. One of my favorite quotes is from Nick Saban, who at the time was the Head Football Coach at Michigan State University. He was on a Sunday morning talk show after a loss.  He was getting all kinds of suggestions about what he should have done during the game the day before.  He said, I paraphrase, ‘telling me what I should have done now isn’t helpful.  I know what I should have done now.  If you want to help me, tell me what to do within fifteen seconds on the sidelines.’  As a former principal, I have remembered being criticized after the fact but having to respond in the moment. That is why, as principal, I needed really smart people around me. I wanted them to tell me if they thought I was wrong before I made a fool of myself.

Mr. Saban was honest, was reflecting on the previous game, and didn’t duck the question.  So, what will we, as educators, do once we pass this latest crisis stage?  How will we respond when people are not happy with online learning for the rest of the school year?  How will we respond to the parents who now know what it is like most days in school?

Here are some possible suggestions.  I know you will have more ideas and probably better ones. I strongly suggest stay close to those you love and care about.  Most of us need physical proximity and emotional support when dealing with major events. Don’t forget to show love and give gratitude.  This will help both you and the receiver.

In your quiet times, reflect on what’s most important.  Determine what you have control over and what you have no control over. Spend time and energy fixing what you can and work on acceptance of the things you don’t control.  Bill O’Hanlon (1999) wrote Do One Thing Different.  Taking one positive step can be energizing.  One may lead to another.  Take on one thing that you can do rather than ruminating over all the things you can’t do.

Take a ruthless inventory of reality.  We will never have enough time or money in education.  Get Over It. (Eagles song title)  We have become experts in doing everything with nothing.  The creativity educators show always amazes me.  To those who say it can’t be done, move over because it is being done somewhere.  See Chenoweth (2007) It’s Being Done.  Then look at her sequel How It’s Being Done (2009) for additional ideas.  I also recommend Ted Dintersmith’s (2018) What School Could Be as a guide to successful schools in each state.

We need smart, cool-headed leaders who can tell the truth, build trust with colleagues, and behave in a trustworthy manner.  These leaders with strong values will stand up for all students – not just those with political power.  We need leaders who are peaches, not coconuts.  See

I believe education can close the economic gap, the learning gap, and the diversity gap.  It takes work, strong values, and a willingness to speak truth to power.

When we have this kind of leadership, people focus more on trying new ways to solve problems, can fail without being blamed and shamed, learn from our trials, get feedback from students, work collaboratively with colleagues and try again. Mary Pickford said, “Failure is not falling down, it is not getting up again”  See my book summary on Amy Edmondson’s Fearless Organization for information on creating psychological safety in organizations.

One of my favorite African Proverbs is:  “Not learning is bad, not wanting to learn is worse.” So, get up.  There will be life after this crisis.  No, it won’t be the same.  We won’t be going back to normal, whatever that was.  Join me in the learning journey.  Be a “learning omnivore.” We will need everyone and their talents for the challenge ahead.


Chenoweth, K. (2007). It’s being done.  Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.

Dintersmith, Ted. (2018). What School Could Be.  Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Edmondson, Amy. (2019). The Fearless Organization. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons

O’Hanlon, B.  (1999).  Do one thing different.  New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc.


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