Let’s be honest, a principal’s life is difficult in a typical year, but it’s kind of insane when most of your staff and students are schooling from home. Trying to help teachers learn how to teach online at rapid speeds, as we make sure parents feel okay, all while keeping students learning is exhausting. Add in staying accountable by figuring out how to observe our teachers and keep track of the work they’re doing and it’s hard to figure out how to get anything else done. Lots of principals are out there supporting school families in new ways and, believe it or not, principal support during COVID-19 makes a world of difference … here are concrete ideas principals are using to support their school communities right now:
Having grace instead of making assumptions
The little things that provided order and accountability are more difficult to keep track of—and are they really worth it now? Debbie Baca, principal at Val Vista Academy in Gilbert, AZ says, “It’s the simple things that support teachers best right now. Grace matters more than ever. I know they’re doing their jobs, so I’m not “checking the parking lot” in the afternoons. I’m making sure there are little grab-and-go snacks or candy available. I’m covering a recess to give a teacher 15 minutes to prep or relax or call a parent, as every extra minute helps. We recognize students daily during morning announcements, and now we also reserve Fridays for staff recognition. Those are the things that are making a difference these days.”
Helping students who aren’t or can’t show up online
There are so many reasons kids aren’t showing up online. It’s hard to figure out what the barrier is for each and every student. Guidelines and rules need to be enforced, but how can it be done without hurting students? To manage this challenge give kids alternative ways to check in and accomplish classwork. Principals are encouraging Google Form check-ins and asynchronous video learning (flipped classroom), so their teachers can feel safe to look for and use alternatives.
Besides slower school laptops and Zoom bombers, principals see teachers struggling to find the right app that works for their teaching. There are so many tools out there, but not all of them will work for every teacher, student, or particular learning area. How about hosting device meetings for teachers? This might be one of the most useful staff meetings you’ll ever hold. Organize it like an unconference or EdCamp. Encourage teachers to choose one platform and stick with it to reduce stress and improve learning.
Touching base and encouraging connection
Usually, principals step out of their offices and roam the halls to connect with teachers and students. There’s no easy way to do that when everyone is working from home or when classrooms are already at CDC guideline capacity. Many principals have created a touch base schedule. This is where you’ll schedule a variety of ways to check in with teachers. Ask them for one challenge and one celebration moment. This will give you some great data around what challenges you might be able to problem solve. It will also help you see what teachers feel is working. Email students, when you can, to tell them you’re thinking of them.
Opening days to figure things out
Middle School Principal, Lindsay J. explains they’ve, “added five workdays to our calendar this year and they’re completely open days for them to work (a mixture of on-site and choose to work from home).” Just knowing you’re going to have time specifically for working out kinks in lesson plans or structure can make a huge difference.
Parent conversations have always been challenging, but now we need them more than ever to support home-school connections. Getting parents on sites like Google Classroom and SeeSaw takes a lot of work and understanding. Make it easy for parents to ask questions and share their workarounds that might help other parents by sending an email that explains the process. Consider adding a Google Form for questions right on your school webpage. Ask parents to share things they’re doing that work and highlight them in a newsletter or on social media (make it anonymous or ask for permission!) Use Facebook to shout out to the hard work parents are doing at home right now.
Committing to plans as best as possible
Every day brings new state and county recommendations and regulations affecting education and families. Knowing when to stick to a plan and when to pivot can be overwhelming. Work to develop a plan for several possibilities and send a message to all stakeholders that explains how things will be managed. Try to follow that plan as closely as possible. Err on the side of worst-case scenarios so you don’t have to pivot too many times. Even if things don’t change too quickly, send regular messages reiterating the plan. Knowledge is power. One important thing to remember is to let your teaching staff know what’s happening before you let the community know. All too often teachers find out when or after parents do and they don’t feel good or a part of a team when that happens.
Remembering what matters
It’s happening to all of us. Knowing that we are all going through a tough time together does help. Ask others how they’re managing their stress. Join online groups and connect to other principals in your area. Stay connected so you don’t feel alone.
If you’re the principal, how are you supporting your school community during COVID? Share in the comments below. Plus, be sure to sign up for our newsletter for more tips and advice for school leaders.