COVID, Football and Extension

COVID, Football, and Extension sounds like I’m starting to tell some bad joke…but not really. I wanted to talk about a football analogy that would relate to our work in Extension.

My work in Extension has a clearly defined mission. Years ago, a young Extension educator asked me how he should define his role in Extension. I told him that he should take time to think specifically about his role in fulfilling Nebraska Extension’s mission…sort of carve out his own personal professional mission, one that could transcend Nebraska Extension and really be his lifelong professional mission. To take the time to do the work to have great clarity around that role so that no matter what came along that he could make rapid adjustments to his actions to accommodate the whatever, but for that whatever not to derail him from working toward his mission.

Through a football lens, I would say it’s like having a team whose ultimate mission is to get a football across the goal line. It’s important to have more than one play in the playbook, and it’s important to know what the A game is, but to also have an instant B game or even C game plan. Because, well, you can plan for, but you really never know for certain that a specific play will work until the play is over. Nor do you ever really know definitively who might get hurt during a play, or be sick that day, or have a personal emergency that precludes a specific player from being on the field. Great quarterbacks check off on their receivers very quickly without losing sight of the ultimate goal of scoring points by moving the ball down the field. They literally make millions of little course corrections throughout the course of a game. BTW…this is what stands us apart from robots. Robots just do the one thing they are programmed to do…people are able to quickly assess and adjust the game plan!

We have to be a little more like a good quarterback. When was the last time you were planning on doing a program and well, everything went perfectly, every supply was available, every registrant ready and excited to learn, every objective of the workshop fulfilled with ease? …Well…if I’m answering that question…truthfully, I don’t think that has ever happened. That’s exactly why I always have a plan B, plan C etc. I can not guarantee that I won’t have a flat tire driving to the workshop (& this has happened), I can not guarantee that it won’t start raining during a solar reactive dye workshop (and this has happened too), so have to plan for an alternate pedagogy of how to teach the same content in a different way.

This is exactly how I approached COVID. Would I have preferred to have done all my teaching online this spring and summer….NO. …But, prior to COVID, had I planned a Plan B….NO…because I had several years of implementing Plan A until I felt like it was pretty darn good. But, did I have the skills and resources to put together a Plan B quickly…YES, absolutely. I knew my target audience well…knew their skills and abilities and where I would be sailing along, and where there might be tidal waves. I also knew who in our organization could help me resolve any anticipated rough waters…and I did not hesitate to contact them.

No, it wasn’t easy, but I was on a mission. Nor was I that astute about how to go about it, but because I was laser focused on my ultimate mission…to teach…I jumped into action and implemented Plan B! And, I wasn’t married to the Plan B either, in fact, I probably ended the summer on Plan L or so….the point is that I was laser focused on my mission of teaching STEM to youth, had selected a subject that I believed would be a marketable STEM subject to youth, and ultimately made a plan on the best pedagogy and marketing plan to deliver that educational opportunity….and I implemented. After each implementation I would take the time to reevaluate and redesign either the pedagogy or marketing as needed. Throughout the course of the spring/summer, I changed my workshops from face-to-face to online. At the same time, I was shifting my marketing to move from a teacher oriented marketing to a parent/youth oriented marketing. I also started signing up individuals rather than whole classrooms as teachers no longer necessarily had access to all of the students in their classrooms. I started mailing materials directly to the students at the same time as my marketing and registration shifted. I didn’t make just one pivot after every implementation…I was open to completely redesigning from the ground up….because it was important work and I wanted to get it right for my clientele….I wanted to fulfill the need.

What I’m saying is that we have to know our professional missions, and not let “things” divert us off course. We only have a limited amount of time… to stay laser focused on your professional goals, and call those around you that can help you figure out the gaps in what you know about marketing, implementation, evaluation etc. Just start going down the path toward your mission, and keep watching the compass to make sure you aren’t diverting too far off of the path. And don’t just follow your intuition, or you will not get anywhere, as you will be traveling in circles.

And, will I ever return to Plan A….NO! Why would I? I have learned so much from implementing all of those other plans…now I can implement all sorts of Rube Goldberg style plans that draws upon the best of each part of the implementation plans, and I also have a quick alternative plan if some facet of my program/audience/environment warrants a pivot. And, I also have a repertoire of offerings that are sure to have the right fit for each of my clientele…based upon their needs and preferences.

And, while this will probably be a very unpopular thing to say…sometimes you have to let the voice of your clientele drive your decisions and speak to yourself in quieter tones because we aren’t always the best voice to listen to. AKA Meet the clientele where they are at! …Just stay true to your mission, really take ownership of the why in your profession (know the research that supports your why, and why that specific topic is important to your clientele now), and let the hows (marketing, logistics, and technology) wash over you like water. Your why will help you brace and engage in learning the hows when you need them and at a level sufficient enough not to drown in them.

It’s your mission…choose to implement it!

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