After a crazy sprint to wrap up the school year amidst all the change due to COVID-19, including putting on our first-ever virtual conference, we're going to shut our doors for a few days to relax, recharge, and rest up. Some of us will still be checking email periodically, but we'll be officially closed until Wednesday, July 8th. In the meantime, you can email each of us or our webmaster account and we'll get back to you as quickly as we can.
We hope you take our advice and take some time for yourself now too. You've earned it.
How about a fun, rewarding safety activity for students this summer?
Washington Operation Lifesaver (WAOL) is a non-profit organization consisting of public and private entities whose purpose is to educate the public about safe practices at highway-rail grade crossings and other locations along railroad tracks.
With the official beginning of summer and increased outdoor activities, WAOL wants to raise awareness about rail safety with students and their families.
WAOL is hosting a poster drawing contest for students entering Kindergarten to 5th grade this Fall. Students are invited to create a poster sharing their ideas for being safe around railroad crossings and railroad tracks. Entries will be sorted into divisions by grade level, and Amazon gift cards will be awarded for the top artists in each division. Students can check out the www.OLI.org website for ideas.
To submit an entry, take a photo of your poster and entry form and submit both to firstname.lastname@example.org. If your poster is awarded a prize, WAOL will provide a mailing tube for you to mail your poster to us at Washington Operation Lifesaver, PO Box 47250 Olympia, WA 98504-7250
Again, for all the details, click on this link
Finally, for teachers, Pre-K-12, there are lots of additional safety materials linked here.
In this episode of AWSP News, we discuss:
Prefer to read the news? Check out the script.
In this episode of episode of AWSP News, we discuss:
As we shelter in place during the COVID-19 pandemic, educators, students and families are turning to internet platforms to educate, stay entertained, informed and connected. Social media apps are seeing usage explode, especially among teens, as people post educational, creative and engaging videos they are producing from their homes.There are concerns for the privacy and protection of younger users on social media apps. There are too many bad actors trying to take advantage of children through digital interactions.One popular app, TikTok, recently launched a number of enhancements to safety policies, controls, and educational resources that will help keep kids safe. The National PTA -- along with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Family Online Safety Institute and ConnectSafely -- are partnering with TikTok to help inform parents of the new parental controls, like its Family Pairing feature, which gives parents the ability to guide their child's online experience while also educating them about online safety and digital citizenship.In addition to Family Pairing, TikTok also offers educational safety videos and parental guides, like its Top Ten Tips for Parents. The app also features a code of conduct outlined in its Community Guidelines to help educators, parents and kids understand what responsible community behavior looks like, how to identify and report content that may be in violation, and what it means to be positive digital community members.We wanted to share this information to help protect the welfare of children and youth in the home, school and community. Taking advantage of this opportunity to help keep kids safe at home, especially now when they are spending so much time on social media apps.Guides to TikTokNational PTA has partnered with TikTok itself to create TikTok Tips for Parents, and Common Sense Media has created the Parents’ Ultimate Guide to TikTok (also available in Spanish).TikTok Tips for ParentsNational PTA partnered with TikTok to create this guide for parents. At its most simple level, TikTok is a platform for creating short videos, much like the now-defunct Vine. The guide covers:
The TikTok terms section provides a useful guide for parents about the unique language of TikTok (e.g., Duets) and the how-to sections clearly walk parents through how to protect their child’s account, who they can connect with, and what they can see on the platform.Parents’ Ultimate Guide to TikTokMuch like the National PTA guide, the Common Sense Media guide covers the basics of the platform and answers questions parents might have about TikTok. There is a little overlap with the National PTA guide, but it also covers questions not included in the other guide. Questions addressed in the Common Sense Media guide are:
Both guides can help educators and parents understand TikTok and how to keep their child safe on the platform. Educators and parents may also want to include National PTA’s The Smart Talk as part of their conversation about TikTok as a way of developing family rules for online behavior and technology use tailored to their family’s values and their child’s needs.For more resources about online safety, check out all of the Ultimate Guides at Common Sense Media.
In this edition of AWSP News, we discuss:
The use of “Incomplete” (INC) is a complicated aspect of grading during the COVID–19 shutdown. It should be used only with caution, compassion, and tight parameters to avoid doing harm to students, families, and the system.
If your district authorized the use of INCs (some did not), the following four questions are important to consider:
Are we using them as a measure of compliance or content?
Using grades or INCs as a mechanism of compliance (carrot/stick) or a barometer of “engagement” is a misuse of an instructional tool.
Research shows grades [when used for compliance] are associated with decreased motivation and lower achievement (Butler & Nisan). Not convinced yet? Read this EdSurge article recently shared by NAESP exploring intrinsic motivation versus traditional grading.
Are we using INCs - during a pandemic - because the missed content is interesting and relevant to students and absolutely critical to their future?
So here's my challenge to you as you think about grading: are you using them for compliance or for content?
Physical isolation complicates communication. Gaining a deep understanding of the unique and severe hardships students and families are experiencing is more difficult than ever. Thousands of students are facing very real challenges (anxiety, fear, food
insecurity, and housing instability), many for the first time in their lives. And they are doing it without the safety net of school, teachers, or friends. As Sim Kern stated, “grading during the pandemic is grading privilege”. So, getting
proximal to the pain of students and families is critical in order to wisely and compassionately answer the who question.
A middle school teacher and parent of a sophomore asked her daughter:
“If we did A/INC for grades, don’t you think you and your friends wouldn’t try as hard?”
Her daughter, the sophomore, responded:
“Mom, I woke up for the last three nights, in the middle of the night, literally panicking about grades, school assignments and all of the confusing things the teachers are having us do online right now. If I didn’t have to worry about
grades and could just focus on learning, that would be soooo amazing! You know I want to be a medical doctor when I’m older…so I would still study and work hard to learn. My friends would too. But, without the stress of grades, especially
right now, I would be able to learn so much better because I would be getting a lot more sleep.”
Another parent shared their thoughts with one of their daughter's high school teachers:
As with many students, particularly those situated much farther from the opportunities we are able to provide our daughter, learning online has been a struggle for her. Despite having access to two parents working from home and, more recently, a tutor,
it has been quite difficult for her to keep up with several different platforms, changing standards and evolving expectations for engagement and homework. The lack of direct instruction, remediation, 504 accommodations, in-person support, and
peer-to-peer interaction have layered on many challenges. Most concerning to us is that it has impacted her love of learning. So, while we will maintain high expectations and will continue to support, encourage, and motivate her to remain engaged
in distance learning, we must create a balance for her and for our household. With this in mind, we will be modifying her workload.
Currently, there are poverty-line, single, high school teen-moms with no childcare or wifi. Despite a safety-net (school) being shut-down, these students are learning important life-lessons as full-time parents; keeping their babies safe and healthy.
They are showing tremendous resilience and grit.
Thousands of middle-class families cannot make ends meet. Rather than “doing school”, many of their children are working, full-time, risking their health, at minimum wage jobs.
I know of undocumented parents who keep their home-electricity off to avoid I.C.E. Their high-school children, who are citizens, cannot engage in distance learning while the family focuses on avoiding being separated by deportation.
There are families who own restaurants. With all employees laid off, their high school students are risking their health; providing take-out and delivery-service to put food on the table. They have no time or energy for distance learning.
“My mom’s a medical doctor. My dad’s home on quarantine. During the day, I’m responsible for my brother. He’s seven and on the spectrum. I was getting all As, but online learning is confusing, and teachers aren’t
allowed to call students on the phone. My math and science classes are now the Khan Academy and teachers are giving grades based on “engagement”. I want to learn, but it is difficult because I have serious anxiety about my parents
and my little brother. A family member passed away, I miss my friends and I just can’t do school right now."
Getting proximal to the pain of students and families helps us pause before deciding to give Incompletes. If you decide that Incompletes are not an effective learning tool during a pandemic shut-down, answering the following “which”
questions is the next step:
…letter-grade would be equitable and fair to each and every child facing difficulty “doing school”? The grade of “D”?
…letter-grade presumes all students are capable of excellence? The grade of “C”?
…letter-grade shows we believe each and every child has the capacity to achieve at the highest levels? The grade of “B”?
…letter-grade Does No Harm to GPAs and self-esteem? The grade of “A”.
These are critical questions to answer as we determine the use of INCs and in order to move towards student-centered assessment.
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of student-centered assessment is that it is motivating. Many people associate being evaluated with mild-to-moderate anxiety, not motivation. Student-centered assessment promotes learning and growth by providing
useful feedback to the students, their teachers, and others about what the students need in order to progress toward the learning target. (Andrade, 2013)
When thinking about your why for giving Incompletes or who, if anyone, will benefit from an Incomplete, please also consider how the process will unfold:
As we proceed, let’s take a collective deep breath and ensure we do no harm in the present. Let’s avoid getting bogged down in the grading-during-a-pandemic question in order to create the bandwidth needed for everyone to focus on the future
of school. Let’s ensure our decisions move past the problematic nature of pre-COVID grading. We have an opportunity to push the system towards evidence-based, student-centered, assessment practices, and creative ideas for returning to school
in the fall.
Lastly - after another deep breath - let’s remember we’re in a global pandemic. Give grace to our students and their families. Let’s stay compassionate and presume they are doing their best during a very difficult time. Give yourself
and your colleagues time to think carefully about the why, who, and which questions. It will save you time and resources trying to figure out the how. It will also allow us to look
back on this time with confidence knowing we will be remembered for doing no harm.
“I hope every educator who was hesitant before can acknowledge now that grades are weapons of mass inequity. -Xian Frazinger Barrett, Award-winning Chicago Public Schools teacher.
If you are from the world of education, then you’ll understand what I’m saying about the feeling of going to the grocery store. It’s not just a grocery trip, it’s a school event. You don’t just waltz in, grab some things,
and pop out. You also don’t go in wearing your favorite beer shirt and worst pair of pants.
No, going to the grocery store as an educator means a 100% guarantee you will see and have conversations with students and parents. It’s guaranteed...even if you try to drive to another town. They’ll be there too. And, the longer you teach
or principal, then the likelihood of interfacing only grows exponentially over time.
This isn’t a complaint, but rather one of the many realities you face in the amazing profession we call public education. But here’s the wrinkle. As you turn down the chip aisle and inevitably make eye contact with a student, group of students,
and/or a family, there is one single factor that determines the type of interaction that is about to occur in front of the Juanitas – relationships. You either did or didn’t have a relationship with the student or students. They
are either excited to see you or the entire interaction is awkward because you don’t know their name(s) and there wasn’t a relationship. Either way, they are always surprised you have a life outside of school and actually buy groceries.
This begs the question, how do these grocery store relationships begin and develop? What makes them sustain throughout the year? What makes them last over the course of time and distance? And most importantly, what did the adult do to engage the student
in relationship building in the very beginning?
I recently caught up with a long time teacher friend. He’s a 30 year veteran US History teacher with a reputation of incredible relationships with kids. He blends humor, goofiness, and authentic relationships with high expectations and critical
thinking. He can open the eyes of students to the complexity of the Civil War while at the same time challenge their knowledge of Sponge Bob. Kids love him. And his grocery store trips are more like a walk down the red carpet.
During our conversation, I asked him his feelings about some of the scenarios being discussed regarding the opening of schools in the fall. As much as we joke and laugh in our normal conversations, his mood completely turned serious. He said, “We
can’t continue this distance learning stuff. It’s not working.”
For how complex his thinking is when pushing kids to dive deeper into content, his rationale for this statement was very simple. To teach kids, you must have relationships. Period. Relationships take time, daily interactions, and most importantly,
being in the same physical space. He went on to say, “Distance learning makes maintaining relationships extremely difficult. But, I can’t even imagine starting the school year next year with a new group of students and trying to connect
with them virtually.” His final comment is what I have burned into my memory banks, “Scott, you know me. Distance learning makes it hard for me to do the two things that I do best, 1) I know my stuff (he used a different word), and
2) I know how to build relationships with kids.”
It’s pretty simple and not a secret. Great educators know this. You can’t get into their minds unless you win their hearts first. Hearts first, minds second. Relationships first, content second. Trust first, risk-taking second.
As we look to the fall and the various statewide workgroups and district committees examining our potential structures for opening school, can we please remember to create space for face to face? Can we rethink our system and find a way to safely
have adults establish some “face-to-face” relationships with students before banishing everyone behind a computer screen?
Teachers, building leaders, and the rest of the school staffulty do so much more than “educate” our students. We are big brothers and sisters, surrogate parents, counselors, coaches, therapists, advocates, first-responders, and beacons
of hope. Most of this happens in the brick and mortar space of the school. We must fight to make sure our students can safely come back to these spaces in the fall. The social, emotional, and mental health of our students depends on it.
I’ve been “out of the building” now as a recovering high school principal for about seven years. My trips to the grocery store are still filled with high fives and hellos from kids and families. As a principal, I always prioritized relationships
above all else, and the evidence of that can be found in any aisle of the grocery store to this day. There is no way those relationships would have happened with sixteen little video squares on a computer screen. No way.
*Disclaimer, I know we have strong virtual-school systems out there that work great for both kids and adults. This blog is about what the rest of the students need.
The COVID–19 shutdown unexpectedly sent thousands of university students home and left them disappointed and uncertain about their future. However, many of them knew they could rely on support networks to help them continue their coursework online. They also knew many K–12 students across the nation would struggle to maintain academic support networks and succeed with the limited supports being provided by their school district, so a group of Ivy Leaguers decided to create a free, online tutoring service. This is how CovEd was founded.
With an understanding that many students face financial and logistical challenges, in addition to potential academic setbacks caused by school closures, several students from Harvard and MIT came together to create a matching platform to connect undergraduate, graduate, and postgraduate mentors with K–12 students across the nation affected by school closures.
Inspired by community-based initiatives to support first-generation, low-income college students, the platform blossomed into what is now CovEducation (CovEd).
An initiative responding to the COVID–19 crisis, CovEd’s mission is to promote greater access to educational materials and support networks for K–12 students. Their vision is to encourage and empower students who are currently struggling with classes during the COVID–19 crisis by connecting them with mentors for virtual tutoring as well as career-oriented mentorship. A secondary goal is to minimize the extra work placed on teachers because of the transition to online classes.
How does CovEd work? Here are answers to some of the most common questions.
Is this service free?Yes. This service is completely free. All of the 2,000+ CovEd mentors are volunteers.
How is CovEd addressing student safety?Student safety is a priority and is based on parents’ expectations and standards. CovEd guidelines during mentoring sessions include (but are not limited to):
NOTE: Parents should understand that CovEd is a volunteer service and not a business. CovEd is not an employer and, other than a mechanism to verify mentors are university students, they are unable to conduct safety-background checks or monitor tutoring sessions in real-time. Parents are responsible for their child’s safety and must ultimately decide if they are comfortable with having their child interact with a CovEd mentor.
Who is eligible to be mentored?All K–12 students in the US who are currently struggling with classes are eligible to be matched with an undergraduate or postgraduate mentor for personalized mentorship and academic support. CovEd is especially committed to supporting underprivileged students. For students under the age of 18, they require a parent or guardian be present during all mentoring sessions.
What services are available?Mentors provide tutoring services for K–12 school subjects, including many Honors and AP classes. Additionally, some mentors are willing to help with college preparation, such as standardized testing (SAT, ACT, AP, etc.).
How does mentoring work?Mentoring sessions will be conducted online via video chat. They suggest using Skype, Google Hangouts, or Zoom, although the decision is up to the parent or guardian, student, and mentor.
What if students do not have access to Wi-Fi?According to CovEd, “Spectrum” is providing free Wi-Fi services for students during the school shutdown. Their number is 1–844–488–8398. Mentoring lessons can also be held via phone call.
How does the matching process work?After filling out the registration form and verifying emails, parents/guardians will be able to access their ‘Find a Mentor’ page to find a mentor for their child.
What if a family has multiple students and wants to request more than one mentor?Parents/guardians are able to request a maximum of one mentor per student.
How many hours a week do mentors and mentees meet?CovEd suggests students and mentors meet 1–2 hours a week depending on the student’s needs and mentors’ availability.
Can CovEd help English language learning students?CovEd has mentors that are fluent in various languages. They are working on translating all flyers and publicity materials into different languages to reach students regardless of their first language.
Is there any way for educators to get involved?One of CovEd’s goals is to ensure all students have access to various resources that help stimulate educational growth. Crowd-sourced resources can be submitted on their homepage. They are hoping to curate the best resources for all students.
While not an affiliate, partner, or sponsor of CovEd, AWSP is always interested in sharing information about educational supports with an equity-centered and innovative mission to serve each and every student. To that end, we encourage you to look into CovEd, vet it for yourself, and consider how it might benefit your students and community.
There are inequalities present in the education system that the COVID–19 crisis has shed light on. The innovative and passionate founders of CovEd are being the change they want to see in the world. They envision an even larger movement to address inequalities while providing immediate support to students.
Ultimately, AWSP loves to see passionate, thoughtful volunteers coming together to dedicate time and energy towards helping students continue their education during the pandemic…especially those students who are situated furthest from opportunity.
Email me or CovED if you have questions.
With a little creativity and the right tools, there are ways to celebrate graduations safely this year and make positive memories for all. You're invited to join Microsoft live this Friday at 11 a.m. where they will share how you can create an engaging and rewarding virtual graduation experience for students, families, and educators alike. Use this link to access the conversation live via Microsoft Teams.
To our leaders of color, we see you and we hear you. We march right alongside you.
To our white leaders, we need you now more than ever. There is a lot of work to do.
We have all witnessed the demonstrations and protests happening across our nation due to the killing of George Floyd. It didn’t start with George. Sean Bell. Eric Garner. Alton Sterling. Michael Brown. Breonna Taylor. Ahmaud Arbery. These names represent just a small number of the of black men and women who lost their lives through unjust acts of violence. Their deaths represent a larger system of deep structural racism people of color face in our country.
Some might say we’ve come a long way as educational organizations, stakeholder groups, schools, districts, and higher education spent the last few years talking about and addressing systems of inequity. That progress is only the tip of the iceberg. We will never be able to rest on this pursuit until access, opportunities, expectations, and outcomes can no longer be predicted by the color of one’s skin. We can’t rest until we’ve equipped new generations and addressed the biases of older generations so there is never another horrific example like George Floyd.
His death was tragic and uncalled for. There is no other description. If you try to rationalize it, you are part of the problem. Mr. Floyd’s death, unfortunately, serves as yet another example of the deeply rooted and perpetuated racist systems in our society. This is where reading becomes uncomfortable, not because we are blaming anyone, but rather because we are acknowledging the fact racist and historically inequitable systems are still alive and well in our society. His final and forever words, “I can’t breathe” are really symbolic of an entire life of fighting to breathe in a system designed to make breathing a constant and often impossible battle.
We must recognize we can’t truly understand what it is like to live, work, and lead as a person of color in our society. We must recognize we cannot make excuses for not entering into tough, uncomfortable conversations about race and privilege. We must recognize the entire P-16 educational system was built on a foundation of inequity and that we, not you, must take the lead in its reconstruction. We must recognize to simply sit in silence as a show of support is no support at all.
That’s where we come in. Let’s not let yet another death be in vain. Let’s not have it just be added to an already long list of black lives lost. Let’s turn pain and anger into action. It will take the collective and collaborative efforts of leaders across all sectors to continue to identify and dismantle these inequitable systems, while simultaneously coming together to rebuild our preferred, united, and equitable future. It requires the educators within these systems to examine our own biases and understand there is no destination in this journey, no point in which learning should stop.
That learning starts right here with us at AWSP. We are learning right alongside you as society tackles these tough questions and issues. And frankly, our learning curve was much needed and long overdue. Several years ago, the Association of Washington School Principals went through a transformation thanks to an extensive strategic planning and reflective process. In addition to the discovery of our complicit nature in perpetuating historically inequitable systems, both internally and externally, we were awakened to a clear purpose of our existence. We moved away from disjointed and unaligned goals to two very succinct goal statements, 100% focused on leading equity in our state.
Goal 1: Identify and dismantle historically inequitable and deeply entrenched systems in our state by equipping school leaders with the knowledge, skills, and confidence to lead equity in their respective contexts.
Goal 2: Support the sustainability and effectiveness of school leaders in order to reduce the negative consequences related to constant turnover, specifically in the schools where leadership is needed most.
The goals, although simply stated, serve as the foundation of all of our work at AWSP. That means, as a primarily white organization, serving a population of school leaders who still don’t match the color of their students, we must stop at nothing in the pursuit of our mission, vision, and goals. We must start with ourselves. We must see ourselves as part of the problem and part of the solution. We must learn how to have tough ongoing conversations about our own backgrounds and experiences that define those of us who work at AWSP. We must examine, dismantle, and rebuild our own internal systems and structures in order to better match our actions to our goals. And, we must recognize and acknowledge it is messy, ongoing, and urgent work without end.
As we continue to learn and grow internally as your principal’s association, we will also be relentless in our push on external systems and structures. We will continue to lead and engage our partners in reimagining our P-16 educational system. This isn’t up to our leaders of color because they understand. This is up to white leaders sitting in positions of power. AWSP is an organization with power, privilege, and access. It’s our paramount duty to use this power to make a difference, not only in the education space, but in society as a whole. We must take a stand, fight for justice, fight for our future, and truly build a system where hope exists for all kids, not just for those who come from a system designed by and for them.
Once more to our leaders of color, we thank you for your leadership. We thank you for your example. We thank you for your sacrifice, persistence, and perseverance. We see you and your leadership. We are with you in this all-important call to action.
During this “Stay Home, Stay Safe” period of time, we can all benefit from a little structure. At our recent spring AWSP board meeting, we discussed providing additional resources for families. Here is a resource the principals at the
Washington Virtual Academy (WAVA) shared with us to help students in grades K-12 and their families create schedules to manage their time.
This document includes examples of different schedules. The introduction to this document says, “Scheduling is something that helps us to establish a sense of comfort and order through a routine. Families can plan together with a daily schedule
that represents household needs, learning time, and personal needs, allowing student voice and choice in the process. Follow the steps below to create a schedule that has the flexibility to meet individual and household needs.”
The last page of the document has even more resources for parents to help support learning at home. Thank you to WAVA and to the Nebraska Department of Education for this valuable and timely information.
Thanks to a great relationship between the National Association of Secondary School Principals and the Learning Policy Institute (LPI), we are the benefactors of frontline research about what it is like to be a principal or assistant principal. LPI just released its latest wave of research highlighting what we've been saying for years...school leadership matters, but it is one of the most demanding jobs in the professional world. So demanding that, according to their research findings, 42% of school leaders surveyed indicated a desire to leave the profession.
I know I'm a broken record, but I should probably say it again. Every time a principal or assistant principal leaves a building it is bad for the entire school community. It's bad for kids. Bad for the staffulty. Bad for relationships. Bad for consistency. Bad for progress. Bad for dismantling historically entrenched inequitable systems. Just plain bad. There, I said it. Now, I know there are times when a leadership change is necessary, but that's the small percentage of the big picture.
Prior to COVID19, the pressure building in the system landing on the shoulders of school leaders was growing exponentially and near a breaking point. Thanks to our own research at AWSP through member surveys and focus groups, we were seeing alarming rates of stress, job dissatisfaction, negative health impacts, work-family imbalance, and a decrease in both interested and qualified candidates for open positions. That was all before the world shut down.
What does it look and feel like to be a school leader now? Thanks to our constant connection to principals via various platforms, I can personally report I'm very worried about our school leaders. Besides the dark circles under their eyes, the looks of stress, fatigue, and anxiety, I also see a constant state of mourning. Mourning the loss of daily in-person interactions with students and staffulty. Mourning the loss of events, activities, and simple things like counting smiles in the hallways. Mourning the loss of knowing it is even harder to dig deep into the hearts of kids who are hurting. Mourning that relationships take time and trust and are best built by many, many daily interactions in a brick and mortar setting.
Principals spend most of their days now zooming (literally) from one virtual meeting or classroom to another. From morning to night, principals are doing their best to be everywhere for everyone even though they recognize it is not enough. It's not enough because there are only so many hours in the day one can be scheduled virtually for meetings. So how does the day end for principals? 200+ emails and/or voicemails waiting for their immediate attention.
Got a question about what's happening in your child's class? Email the principal. Have a question about your grade? Email the principal. Wondering about the schedule next week? Email the principal. Will there be a kindergarten graduation ceremony? Email the principal. Can the soccer team use the fields tonight? Email the principal. How will we get student belongings out of the school and back to families? Email the principal. Do you have any idea what school will look like in the fall? Email the principal. The teachers are assigning too much work. Email the principal. The teachers aren't assigning enough work. Email the principal. Why haven't you responded to my other emails? Email the principal.
To quote a high school principal this week, "I have never worked harder in my life than what I'm doing every day right now." For those of you in education, you understand the power and context of that statement. His comment can be concurred by K-12 principals across the state and country. The job was beyond demanding before and even more exhausting now. So why do you do it?
You do it because it's also the best job in the world. Seeing the impact of leadership on an entire school system is invaluable. Changing the course of a student's life through unconditional love and sacrifice is priceless. Creating a positive hope-filled school culture and systems to support to culture is what drives school leaders. You can't put a price on that kind of impact. However, I fear principals are paying the price (physically, emotionally, and physiologically) and potentially losing that loving feeling.
Which brings me right back to the research. If we kill the will of our principals by not addressing the workload, stress, and increasing demands, then our kids and schools will suffer the consequences through a constant turnover of school leaders. LPI's research highlights the obvious, principals are fighting to survive. But their research also recommends some action we can all take to breathe hope into the system for one of our most precious resources - principals and assistant principals.
At AWSP, you can count on us to keep fighting for you. Our mission has long been to support principals and the principalship in the education of all kids. We won't rest unless you are supported fully to be your best. Keep fighting, because you matter.
We are coming to the close of what will go down as perhaps the most challenging school year in history. Part of the ongoing challenge, as well, is uncertainty about the coming school year. Where we will be, and how and when we will move forward all remain to be seen. We have guidance. We can predict measures we will have to take. We can anticipate that, as we proceed, the future will look and feel different. Let’s take a look at some safety-related actions we can take now to carry us into that future. These suggestions are made with district, school, classroom and home activities in mind.
Planning with students in a virtual classroom, teachers might ask students where they feel most comfortable and safe at home. They might ask who they would call in case of an emergency. They could discuss who they can talk to if they feel threatened, bullied, or sick. As an assignment, they might suggest developing a family emergency contact list and posting it on the refrigerator, or discussing everyday safety precautions such as wearing a bike helmet, not sharing passwords or talking to strangers, or wearing a mask and social distancing when going out.
Assessments are a key component in safety planning. Assessing physical surroundings (sites), the climate and culture, and the capacity to respond will help determine current and future needs. As we approach the hot dry months of summer, a CPTED-walk around now might identify overgrown brush and help deter fires in July. It might uncover previously unknown broken windows or other danger warning signs. Surveying staff to assess their specific skill sets, and identifying those useful resources which remain inside buildings will be useful in assessing needs for the future.
For “assessing” at home, scavenger hunts can be both fun and educational. They can also help families find both those things they may want to do to keep their homes safer; they might even uncover hidden treasures families want to keep and use! Students and families can also build their own home “Go Kits”.
Schools are required to do drills every month that students are in the building. Although students are not in school now, this is a good time to plan drills for the coming year. It is also a good opportunity to virtually discuss those drills with staff. Take some time during virtual staff meetings to talk about why drills are required, how they are carried out, and what changes may be needed. Use scenarios and tabletop exercises (TTX) to simulate actual situations to prepare for.
This can also be done at home. Teachers can share discussion ideas and age appropriate scenarios with families and with their students. Simple starters like, “What would you do if….?” Or “Who would you call if….?” will help. Students might enjoy mapping their house, their yard and even their neighborhood.
Specifically with educators, parents and students in mind, the Cyberbullying Research Center and StaySafeOnline provide a wide array of resources to help keep kids safe.
For home, links and pages from these sites can be shared with student and families. It is important to keep in mind that most young people are safe and productive online most of the time. However, given the amount of time and number of activities students are online, it is also important for all the adults to be well aware of students’ time and activities, and to be prepared to step in to keep them safe.
For more on safety planning and the topics discussed here, email me or visit the School Safety Center web site.
I vividly remember my first year as an elementary school administrator. It was comparable to my first year as a teacher. No it wasn’t. It was worse. My first formal meeting with the Superintendent began with a “welcome aboard” handshake and smile, immediately followed by a long list of tasks I was required to accomplish. Overwhelming? Just a little. This list included implementing systems for student safety, closing achievement gaps, aligning curriculum and instruction, and strengthening student behavior support systems, to name a few. I was expected to do this work while still finding time to actually get to know my staff, and you know, build relationships.
Self-doubt immediately kicked in, and I began questioning my ability to lead a school.
After a week of allowing sleep deprivation and a diet of unhealthy food to get the best of me, I was desperate for help and I knew I needed it fast. I turned to the AWSP for guidance; because, after all, they’re the experts. I learned about their mentor program, a program designed specifically to support principals in their initial years of leadership. I was connected with Gary Culbertson, a former elementary school principal, who agreed to serve as my mentor. I’m not sure Gary knew what he was getting into at the time, but three years later, he continues to answer my phone calls, even when he knows there’s a 50/50 chance I’ll be crying.
Principal certification programs don’t offer courses on how to respond to a hostile parent who corners you in a tiny office space or how to tell employees that they no longer have a job due to a levy loss. Nor do they offer a course about the power of mentorship. But they should. Gary provided me tools for, what had felt like, a pretty empty toolbox. He talked me through some tough situations; situations that left me wanting to throw in the towel. While I still have much to learn, I’m confident I’m a successful principal because of the mentors in my life. Mentors. Plural. I have four. Why? Because you can only learn what you don’t know by connecting with people who do know; people who experienced things you haven’t and can lead you in the right direction. I have the deepest gratitude for the expertise, guidance, and friendships my mentors have offered me.
I’ve experienced more rewards as a principal than I ever did during my years as a classroom teacher, and I know for a fact my passion for being a lead learner is because of the ongoing support of my mentors. I’ve learned skills that have allowed me to leave work at a decent hour every day, increase my time with family, and fit in time at the gym. My most recent accomplishment – ready for your mind to be blown – I gave up my office so I can spend my school days with kids and staff. Thank you, mentors, for being game-changers in the life of an elementary school principal.
I highly encourage you to have a mentor by your side. If you don’t have one, get in touch with Gina Yonts. She is ready to partner you with someone amazing to help guide you through your leadership adventure.
Want to chat? Let’s make it happen! Email me.
AWSP thanks Kelli for sharing her mentor story with us, and sharing some of her practice with all of you. Check out her Morning Mindfulness video below.