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.
In this edition of AWSP News, we discuss:
Prefer to read the news? Check out the script.
In this episode of AWSP News, we discuss:
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.
In the spirit of learning at home, here’s a little art lesson for today. In the art and graphic design world, there is a concept known as negative space. Negative space is the area around an image or design – the edges, the background,
the “white” of the paper.
Contrary to what its name sounds like, negative space is not “bad” or “wasted” space. Negative space on a page or in a composition is just as important as the subject itself. It helps identify the focal point, directs our attention
to important details, and gives the viewer’s eyes a place to relax.
Too little negative space makes a design feel crammed, cluttered, and difficult to understand. Too much negative space limits the amount of information an artist can communicate. It’s all about finding the right balance.
Sometimes, negative space can form a beautiful or clever image of its own, simply by existing on its artistic plane. You’ve probably seen those “is it a vase, or a face?” optical illusions. Here are a few more creative examples:
So how do negative space and graphic design relate to the principalship? As we navigate through the pandemic, where our lives have essentially been turned inside out, we have an opportunity to see the “negative space” in our home lives, in our careers, and in our leadership. Suddenly, we see negative where we used to see normal, as our usual routines, thought processes, and expectations fall by the wayside.
Taking inventory of the past several weeks, it’s easy to look at the negative space with resentment and longing, wishing it was fuller or more colorful. Or, we can choose to embrace it for its inherent beauty, allowing it to guide our eyes toward what should be the focus of our work. We've watched school leaders across the state turn challenges into new, creative ways to reach students and community groups.
Negative space is not the absence of what’s important; rather, it is an arrow pointing towards it. What is the negative space of the past several weeks helping you to see more clearly? The pandemic forces us to change our perspective and see things differently – in the absence of what was, we have the opportunity to see what could be.
Dear AWSP and WASA Members,
We know Summer Conference is an annual highlight to all of our members. It has always been the perfect time to celebrate a successful school year with your team, learn with colleagues from around the state, and soak up the beautiful Spokane sunshine.
AWSP and WASA can’t wait to gather together in person, but this year we need to prioritize the health and safety of our members and their loved ones. Therefore, both of our Associations, along with the 2020 Summer Conference Planning Committee,
have made the difficult decision to convert to a virtual conference.
While we are all saddened we will not be together in Spokane, we are even more excited to BRING OUR SUMMER CONFERENCE 2020 TO YOU! This virtual conference will still offer amazing learning opportunities, quality keynote speakers, and a chance for
you to connect with leaders from our state. We will also provide some informal social time and great prizes.
With a virtual conference being our new reality, we are confident this online conference platform will be beneficial to school leadership teams in districts across the state. With the unexpected closure of our buildings, each one of us have been thrust
into becoming digital learners AND digital leaders. We are working with our Summer Conference Planning Committee and our breakout session presenters to bring the same exciting content we had programmed for Spokane including our incredible
keynote presenters Hamish Brewer, Sean Goode, Kristin Soers, Pete Hall and Joe Sanfelippo. Now, our digital conference attendees will not be limited to only attending five concurrent sessions, but will have access to over 60 engaging sessions
presented by colleagues from across the state.
We are hard at work refreshing the conference details including registration. We promise to bring this new information to you as quickly as possible. If you have already registered for the 2020 Summer Conference, you do not need to do anything,
your registration will transfer to the digital conference platform,
We want to thank you for your ongoing understanding and dedication as AWSP and WASA pivots to support your professional learning in this new digital reality. We are looking forward to providing this online experience to all of you! Thank you
for all you are doing for your school communities during this unique time. We appreciate you!
We can only know our own experiences and must be open to learning the stories of others. But learning from others as we are socially distant is difficult. We are always on a journey of learning and discovery. To better support our students and families, we need to hear (and hopefully understand) how this current reality is impacting them.
Equity Matters is a Seattle, Washington based consulting firm. They specialize in providing training, assessments, and consultation around racial equity and systemic change using research-based and tools developed through an extensive history of work. They focus our work on supporting non-profits, government, educators, and philanthropy. And they believe to make change we must use a Head, Heart, and Hands approach.
Equity Matters has collected a vast collection of articles to help inform us as we move through COVID-19, all from various perspectives. It is an amazing place to start to learn. COVID-19: Journalists of Color* Racial Equity Focused Articles
The article groupings include:
They use the broad term 'Journalists of Color' in the title, but have broken the articles by topic area into more specific groups, currently focused on Native/Indigenous, Black, Asian, and Latino/a/x communities. And as they have pointed out on their page, they have done their best to verify that authors are people of color, via the very imperfect system of searching for online verification of the author self-identifying their race OR visual identification in some cases. It a great clearinghouse of information as we attempt to gain a better understanding of the impacts on our students and families.
This week is Teacher & Staff Appreciation Week! And while it is always important to recognize how much staff matter, this year is especially significant. Many staff worked around the clock to move online and to support their students while schools are closed.
Social distancing can make it tough to show staff how much you care, but there are still plenty of options. From e-cards or thank-you videos to classroom goodies or decorations, we’ve compiled a list of many ways you can celebrate Staff Appreciation Week at a distance, plus some other links to help in the process.
Writing notes and snail mail to the staff
Mailing thank you cards
Students send in pictures, poems, and decorations to create yard signs for staff
Notes for teachers (virtual postcards)
Support your local HS FFA/Horticulture Program if they holding a plant sale. Purchase a flat or two and drop off to staff members
E-cards with gift card
Virtual gift cards
Shout outs in the Weekly Bulletin to families
Virtual 1:1 check-in meetings
Online meets with staff and students
You’ve Been Mugged with the coffee cups
Each morning sending a staff greeting, no weekly email
Virtual spirit weeks
Videos of staff
Virtual lunches and breakfast for Staff Appreciation Week (invite them to share a meal)
Miss you pictures
Having students send in pictures showing signs to staff showing appreciation
Videos of signs holding up pictures
Flipgrid for messages and shout outs
Parents to send in emails or letters to staff
Text your team uplifting messages
Video and Picture
Prizes and challenges
Calling staff to check on them with 2-3 phone calls a day to staff for shoutout
Check-in buddies for all staff
Staff happy hour (virtual)
Drop photos into online photo service with a nice thank you
Here are some other links for ideas too:
NEA Teacher Appreciation Week | NEA
31 Ways to Celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week While Social Distancing | Waterford.org
Celebrating Teachers at a Distance | NASSP
And check out AWSL's 2020 resource page for other resources for schools.
I’ll never forget the day I found him sitting in my office with his head buried into his arms resting on my table. Even with his hood over his head, I knew exactly who the student who landed in my office was... again
Over the years, my office was frequently his sanctuary as angry outbursts would land him in conflict with both students and adults. He slowly learned violent outbursts, both verbally and physically, never really resulted in anything positive for him. So on this day, he proactively brought himself to the place where he knew he could vent, be transparent, cry without shame, and share the inner workings of the emotions racing through his mind.
“Hey man, what’s up?” I broke the silence to see if I could get his face to rise from the cradle of his arms, but he didn’t budge. Under the hood of his sweatshirt was long, unkempt hair that often covered his face. The hooded sweatshirt was another layer of protection from the world. It wasn’t days or months, but rather years of me slowly chipping away at the walls he’d placed around him to not let anyone near emotionally. Daily interactions over the course of months and years to get us to this point where he would actually open up with me.
“I did it again. I could hear them making fun of me. So instead of losing my sh*t, I just came here,” he finally offered up.
“Good work. You know you are always welcome in here whether I’m here or not,” was my only solace.
“I’m just f***ing sick and tired of dealing with their crap. Why are people so stupid? Why can’t they just leave me alone?” he continued. “I’m really trying to learn how to ignore them, but it is so hard.”
I pushed back into his thoughts, “Don’t you think by removing yourself and coming to my office is progress? It actually shows you are rising above their effort to bait you. You are winning the game by proving you won’t let them push your emotions like they’ve done before.”
At this point in our conversation, his head was still buried into his arms and I’ve yet to see the whites of his eyes. This was how most of our relationship-building sessions progressed. And, his next comments were not out of the norm either.
“I just don’t know why I should even keep trying. I’ve got nothing to live for. I hate my life,” he finally offered.
“Dude, you know I don’t like that kind of talk because you know it’s not true. You’ve got incredible talents, are super smart, and have a huge life ahead of you,” I quickly tossed back into the top of his hood. “In fact, I can see you heading off to college, studying computer science, and becoming one of those tech geniuses the world depends on.”
As principals, we can all recall moments you’ll remember forever, which is probably why I’m writing about this now. This was one of those moments. His head popped straight up from the sanctuary of his ams and he looked right at me and asked, “What did you just say?”
I quickly responded, “I said you will go off to college, study computer stuff, and be super important one day.”
“Why would you say I can go off to college? No one has ever said that to me before.” His heartbreaking words were forever etched into my memory banks.
What most of the students and adults didn’t know about this young man, beyond their perceptions of an angry, wayward, and volatile person, was the context of his life. He was born into poverty, dysfunction, addiction, and hopelessness. His view of the world was unlike most of his peers and certainly the adults. But yet, here he was, dropped into our K-12 system and the daily rat race of a six-period day. And adding more stress to his already fragile state, surrounded by other students where family dinner was normal and college wasn’t about if, but where.
We spent the rest of the conversation that day talking about what is possible in his life. From his interests in working on computers to getting a job at Best Buy, to continuing education options and how to find scholarships, we hit it all. This wasn’t a short conversation by any means, but was worth every minute of my time as principal of a large comprehensive high school.
I’m not writing this blog to say I saved his life that day, because that’s not the case. I’m writing this blog to highlight the important role relationships play in the system. Kids need caring adults who take the time to invest in their lives. Brick and mortar schools have always provided that space and countless opportunities. Relationships mattered then, and they matter even more now. What keeps me awake right now, is knowing that our kids, like the one in this story, are hurting because of the loss of face-to-face connections and relationships with the adults in the physical safety of their schools.
As I look to the future of our education system, I challenge all the thought leaders, policymakers, and educational leaders to think differently as we redesign our new approach to serving kids. Whether we are still operating under a distance learning model, blended model, or back to some version of brick and mortar, can we prioritize relationships above all else? Can we build everything around creating time for students and adults to find, build, and sustain meaningful relationships that create hope for everyone involved?
Until then, teachers, assistant principals, principals, counselors, and the army of other adults in the system are doing their best to connect virtually with kids. It’s not ideal, and certainly not good for everyone involved, but it is our reality. Relationships above all else should be the driving force in our efforts right now.
What happened to my student? A few years later, he happened to help me at Best Buy when I was shopping for a new printer. He was proudly wearing the standard blue “Best Buy” shirt, had a fresh haircut that unveiled hope-filled and prideful eyes, and couldn’t wait to tell me all about the classes he was taking at the local community college.
I wonder now, could I have had the same connection and relationship with him in this new virtual world?
In our massive shift to remote learning, and in the spirit of being a continuous learner, I’ve been trying to learn more about online learning. What are effective ways to teach students online? How do we structure communication (including instruction and feedback) to students via computers or phones? And what are some strategies that AWSP can share with principals as they shift to becoming digital principals who are responsible for managing their culture, systems, and learning in their (now) remote buildings.
Here are some initial thoughts from the principals at the Washington Virtual Academies (WAVA) about teaching in an online setting. And, guess what the very first thing they all say about teaching online is? You got it. It’s the same as teaching in an actual building or classroom. Building relationships with kids is the key to success.
The Washington Virtual Academies (WAVA) uses the K12 online curriculum for Washington students in grades K-12. This program reaches thousands of Washington students and there are three principals (elementary, middle school, and high school) and one head of school. These leaders have all had experience leading brick and mortar buildings and last week they shared with us some of their advice about taking initial steps to leading in a digital environment.
Support teachers and make sure they are doing okay.
Empower teachers to do the same things they did in buildings.
Focus on staff meetings and PLC meetings.
Lean on building leadership.
Develop a communication plan with their staff--When and how will you communicate? Develop a schedule together with your building leadership.
Categorize the emails and questions you receive and try to answer them at one time each day.
Develop a plan for parent communication--Choose one or two platforms, don’t try to do them all.
Jayme Evans, Principal at WAVA High School, also shared these additional resources:
WAVA Student Enrollment Video
WAVA Parent-Student Handbook
WAVA High School Student Handbook
WAVA Master Schedule for Second Semester
WAVA List of Administrative Duties (includes information about assistant principals)
These four WAVA principals have a lot more information to share with all of us and we will be looking to them for more guidance in the months ahead. They know that online learning is not ideal for all students. And, unfortunately, we know that not all students have the ability to engage in learning online. Working to establish access to the internet and getting devices into kids’ hands is becoming an essential service and will be an important part of our work in the months ahead.
For even more information about teaching online, check out these Q and A’s with Jayme Evans:
What are some key learnings that building leaders should know related to leading online learning in schools? Different people require different levels of monitoring. If I do not hear from a teacher regularly, I reach out to them. There is a pyramid of responses--email, phone call with a follow-up email, then a meeting with me in Zoom.
How do you lead culture, systems, and learning in an online environment? All schools have a building leadership team. We meet with the union representation monthly, we host weekly staff meetings (best practices & other trainings), student award assemblies, and teacher recognition by ASB and PLC groups.
If we begin the school year next fall in an online environment, what are some strategies for building a strong culture and getting to know students? Spend time getting to know your students, play games, gather interest surveys, have kids introduce themselves to their homeroom classmates, create connections between the teacher and students as well as student to student connections. Try to get every student to enroll in a club or commit to an activity. Have a new student & freshman orientation day (meet staff and review general tips and tricks to being a successful online student), make connection calls to homeroom students, provide immediate follow-up when a student misses a live session (this takes about a month of training), and provide immediate follow-up to a lack of response to an email.
How do you navigate pressure to getting a student caught up in their learning vs. meeting their social and emotional needs?We are a Kids at Hope school. All communications are focused on a strength-based model where teachers talk about student success and work towards an increase in each student’s success. We also have a team of student support professionals who focus on the non-academic needs of our students. They will connect with students to support them in organization, navigation of the online platform, time management, and other needs.
We are hearing that students are having a hard time taking on assignments with multiple components on their own. How do you break down learning and individualize it for students? Well planned assignments are critical to student success as well as student interest. Choice in assignment has always been a key to student success. To get an A on an assignment you can complete 4 pieces, for a B complete 3 pieces, to get a C complete 2 etc … I have also seen web based projects where all the links are embedded on the website for ease of navigation but the student gets to choose the topic or subject matter.
Do you provide instruction/learning that doesn’t require technology? If so, what does this look like? Students may do some experiments or art at home. The student still needs to report their findings or take photos of their project for submission to be graded.
What does teacher evaluation look like in an online environment? Very similar to in-person observations and walk-throughs. We follow a master schedule just like a building and can enter any teacher’s classroom at any time. We look for learning targets, impactful instruction where all students participate, and exit tickets to evaluate that learning occurred on behalf of the student.
Do you have any resources you can share with us? I will send out an introductory video for WAVA students and our WAVA handbooks. The Zoom tutorial page is a great resource. Having teachers build relationships with kids is the key to success in teaching in a building or online.
In this edition of AWSP News, we discuss:
We are working to collect ideas from across the nation of what schools and districts are considering and/or planning to celebrate our seniors. From AWSP collaboration with Jostens on a virtual graduation (AWSP/Jostens: The Show Will Go On!) to little things to make the senior's year a bit better, we are updating our 2020 Resources page daily.
Here are some of the ideas from our member schools, advisers, principals, and students:
Recognizing student involvement in activities, arts, academics, and athletics via social media and yard signs.
Many communities have found a way for local sign makers to make signs of encouragement and congratulations to put in their yards. There are many folks in neighborhoods that are putting these up, even without a senior in the house.
Have students submit their “Senior Stories” and thank yous to the school.
Buffalo State College (SUNY) is working on social media projects called “Senior stories” where students can send in a 30 second to 1-minute video of themselves reflecting on their time on campus or thanking individuals who helped them on their journey to graduation. The plan is for the communications and marketing team to put the clips together in an end of the year video to send to the whole class.
Using snail mail to send handwritten notes from staff to seniors (or all students).
Sometimes the power of a handwritten note is amazing. Schools have been doing this as part of the graduation event, but why not write/mail these notes to their students. Create an online list of graduates, have staff select a number of students (if the entire staff participates, this is usually 5-8 cards per staff member), develop (use) a school postcard, have staff write personal notes to their selected students, mail home (either by staff or bring back to school for addressing/mailing).
Gown up and Drop In!
Have students wear graduation regalia and join a virtual meeting (Google Meet, Zoom) where they can be recognized by school leaders and have their graduation conferred virtually.
Enlist student leaders to help with getting the word out to help make sure every senior and family is included in the celebration and has access to a video or computer to participate.
Have each graduate and their family participate in a graduation caravan from their home neighborhood to the school and back. Graduates can pick up their diploma and be greeted by school leaders at the school’s campus before returning home. Provide guidance for signs and decorations that can be used to celebrate the class of 2020. Work with activity advisers and student leaders—particularly underclassmen who want to celebrate their class of 2020 peers—to help plan for solutions to make the day go seamlessly.
Virtual Prom Live
Students are invited to participate in Virtual Prom Live—a series of nationwide virtual proms based on time zones. Students can dress up and listen to top regional DJs play the best school-appropriate music. Encourage your students to register today. You can also coordinate with your school or district to create your own virtual prom event.
Signing Day Celebrations
While this was originally designated for college signing, help celebrate the class of 2020 by creating a virtual signing day for post high school plans. Celebrate their next step of military, career, college or wherever their next steps in life. Really it doesn’t matter what school, pathway, job, or major students will choose. Signing Day is about the commitment to ongoing education and success!
Of course you can also join schools across the country on June 1 with a virtual College Signing Day party! Check out the College Signing Day toolkit for more information about the celebration and ideas on how you can participate.
We also have resources from our affiliates:
NatStuCo (NASSP) Resource page
Circleville City Schools Commencement and Senior Activity Guide
Grown and Flown: Favorite High School Graduation Idea
Saturday, May 2 (11am-Noon PST): Show Me Your Walk: Live Celebration for the Class of 2020 (online event)
Check out the NAWD Zoom Meeting - April 28th: Senior Activities & Student Council Elections
Video of 4.28.2020 Zoom Conference
View the Chat from the 4.28.2020 Zoom Conference
Terry D’Imperio (NY) - SLIDES about Celebrating Seniors from the 4.28.2020 Zoom Conference
Robert Bittel’s (NY) - NOTES from the 4.28.2020 Zoom Conference
Kathy Coll (PA) - ADDITIONAL IDEAS from the 4.28.2020 Zoom Conference