I have to admit this is the third post I have attempted to write in the past few weeks since we have been home due to COVID-19.
Wanting to write something meaningful, but going through the same struggles as many in adjusting to a new normal has given me pause. I’ve had some wonderful moments having extra time with my family and connecting with others in new ways, but there have also been moments of feeling overwhelmed, frustrated, and unsure of what my role is as a school leader. Having never been through something like this I’m just trying to figure it all out as much as the next person.
In the spirit of newness and we’re all in this together, here are my greatest takeaways so far:
Start with simplicity and then build from there.
This is new for everyone. Kids, parents, and educators need to learn and adjust to the new routine. There will also be a learning curve for the tech piece for some. Create a simple template that follows a pattern and uses some foundational technology that you plan on using throughout the time kids are learning at home. Spend the first few days making sure that everyone can use the technology and provide assistance when needed. Creating or linking tutorial videos can also be helpful for avoiding some of the technology confusion. Many educators I have spoken with have said that this is where most of the questions came in the first few days.
Once the routine is established, you can start to add in more new to what you have created. If you are concerned that some students need more of a challenge at this time, add in some optional activities so that all kids can have their needs met.
Relationships are more important than ever.
One of the greatest losses that students are experiencing at this time is the sense of community. Whether it’s a virtual meeting, a phone call, an email, or a handwritten note, reach out to students regularly to see how they are doing beyond academics. At Jefferson, my teachers have used Zoom or Google Hangouts to get everyone together as a class. Although not a live form of connection, they have also used Seesaw for communication and inviting students to share what they have been working on. We want students to continue to learn during this time, but placing an emphasis on the relationship first will lead to a stronger ability for students to do that.
You can never communicate too much.
During times of uncertainty, people need communication more than ever. Last week I started virtual daily announcements on our social media platforms for the purpose of keeping a routine and helping families to continue to feel connected to Jefferson. Just like our in-school announcements, I recognized birthdays and shared important information about virtual activities for the day. This will continue throughout our time at home as a vehicle for both daily connection and communication. Our teachers will be sending out a communication to families at the beginning of each day letting them know important information for the day. Additionally, families will continue to receive my weekly communication with both school and district information.
Beyond communicating about “all the things,” it’s also important to remember to let people know that we are all a team in this process. Many of our families have two parents now working from home and maybe feeling overwhelmed at the thought of also now being a full-time teacher. Reassure families that if they don’t know how to help their students in something they are working on that is okay. Letting families know that we are here to help and providing communication channels for when they need help is also incredibly important.
Regular reflection to move forward.
Reflection is an important skill at any time, but during this unprecedented time in the world, taking time to reflect is more important than ever. In the beginning, I spent a lot of time thinking about my role as a school leader at this time and what I could do to make my greatest contribution to our Jefferson community. As a result, I have spent most of my days focusing on connection and communication. Each day I reflect on the day’s process, what went well, and what I could have improved upon.
Additionally, I’ve thought a lot about this experience and what might we learn that we can bring back when we return to our regular school schedule. (whenever that may be) What has really stood out to me so far is the home school connection and how much this has brought us all together. I actually feel so much more in touch with our families as a result of this experience because I’m seeing or hearing about home life so much more. I see possibilities for more creation of a shared vision and a greater partnership with the home when we return as a result.
I think about teaching practices as well. Learning at this time has caused us to focus on what is essential, instead of trying to do it all. We’ve focused more on relationships and connecting with one another. We’re building on what we know works well with our students, but we’re also taking more risks. We’ve incorporated more technology than ever. How might that impact our planning and instruction when we return?
One Last Thought
We’re all trying to make meaning out of our new existence. Do the best that you can. When you are stuck, reach out to a friend or a colleague (hopefully both). If you’re a parent, no teacher is out there judging you if you don’t get all of the math or Seesaw post 2 done. If you are an educator, it’s okay to reach out to your principal and say, I’m overwhelmed, I need help. If you need to spend a day just connecting with your own children that’s okay. If you need to spend some time just doing something you love all by yourself, that’s okay too. (I mean, if you have kids, you might want to talk your partner about your plan to retreat to the basement to binge-watch Tiger King and eat a box of chocolate first so you don’t reappear with a live re-enactment of Lord of the Flies occurring in your living room.) This is a time to give yourself grace, and also extend that courtesy to others.