In this episode of AWSP News, we discuss:
Prefer to read the news? Check out the script.
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.
In this edition of AWSP News, we discuss:
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
Here is another great activity called a Self-Care Wheel. Use it individually or with your whole staff. It’s brought to us by our fantastic wellness partners from Kaiser Permanente.
In the self-care wheel, there are six categories: physical, social, mental health & well-being, community, financial, and purpose.
Read the brief description in each category.
Physical self-care: preventative care, exercise, nutrition, sleep
Social self-care: spending time with family and friends, connecting with a friend at work
Mental health & well-being self-care: dealing with feelings in a healthy way through journaling, friends, counseling
Community self-care: contributing to the community you live in, volunteering, loving where you live
Financial self-care: feeling financially secure, setting a budget, saving for retirement
Purpose self-care: take time for lunch, set boundaries, leave work at work, take vacation, find value in what you do each day
Next, color each area RED, YELLOW, or GREEN to indicate where you are succeeding in taking care of yourself and where you could do some work.
Then, if you’d like to do this with a partner or small group, share one thing that you learned or noticed about yourself. Only share what you are comfortable sharing.
Finally, identify one or two areas you would like to work on and create an action plan to improve.
These are not normal times. This is not our new normal. We hear that expression used frequently these days about these days. However, rather than thinking of the current situation as ‘normal’, I prefer to see it as a challenge to the comfortable normal of not too long ago. Within that context, we need to remember that we did not plan for this. We should have, but we didn’t. However, we have been flexible and agile. We have been creative and adaptable. We cannot forget that this did really happen. (Just give it 6 months or so after schools reopen!) Because of COVID-19, we have experienced and learned much. So, as we approach the end of the current academic year, and as we look forward to what a new normal will hold, let’s begin reflecting on this experience and planning for the future.
As we begin to look to a transition back into schools at some point, Adelman and Taylor at UCLA begin with the welfare of students and staff as a priority. They have provided some resources to consider. They can be found here: Addressing Barriers to Learning.
In the meantime, we continue to meet, teach and learn virtually. The Atlantic published a timely article to help teachers plan to teach in the coming days and weeks: What Teachers Need to Make Remote Schooling Work.
We are all well-aware of the personal stress these social, educational, and technological adaptations can have. The CDC has great suggestions for dealing with the new stresses here: Stress and Coping. In addition, as we Zoom with greater regularity, EdWeek provides guidance for Zooming safely: How To Keep Students and Staff Safe on Videoconferencing. On an additional, practical level, the FTC also provides good resources for avoiding new scams online: Federal Trade Commission Scam Prevention Resource. The advice may also apply to some vendors contacting schools with ‘the answer’ to all your safety needs.
Now, let’s look ahead. Earlier, I suggested that we did not plan for this pandemic although we should have. Interestingly, School Safety and Security Alert has summarized What U.S. schools learned from the 2009 H1N1 pandemic. Although useful, the article does not begin to address other potential new learnings around safety planning. Lest we forget, here are some things to consider:
Let’s not forget. Rather than waiting for these days to pass, let’s look proactively at our all our new learnings, build on them, and plan for an even better new normal for years to come.
As someone who walks on the beach a lot (they reopened ours the other day) I notice that it never looks the same.Sometimes the change is gradual and other times a Nor'easter or hurricane hits and it completely changes the landscape. Each time I approach the ocean I am reminded that there are forces beyond my control that shape the world I experience. Whether I like it or not, the wind, waves and tides create a different beach than I walked on the day before. The beach is always changing... just like life. Over the last ten years we've experienced a gradual change in the way we work, shop for groceries, buy online, travel, watch television and movies, date, educate and more. But this spring a tsunami in the form of a virus has changed our world and lives dramatically. Through all the uncertainty people have used phrases like "new normal" and "return to normal" to describe what life will be like when we are no longer locked down and able to go back to our offices, restaurants, stores, etc. But I'm not a fan of phrases such as "new normal" or "returning to normal" because what we consider normal is always changing. Whether it's a gradual or sudden change, we will always experience a changing world. Change is normal and while it's normal to question and wonder how the world will change, I believe the bigger and more important question to ask is, "How will I improve and grow from the change?" After all, it doesn't matter how the world changes if you don't change to thrive in it. The world is changing but are you changing? Change is inevitable but whether you change is a choice. Will you change for the better? Don't think of it as returning to normal or a new normal. Return as someone who is changed for the better and ready to thrive in an ever-changing world.~ Jon
As someone who walks on the beach a lot (they reopened ours the other day) I notice that it never looks the same.
With all of the trauma and tragedy caused by the pandemic, it's easy to ignore some of the silver linings and opportunities it brings as well. There are many unintended consequences, both positive and negative, of shutting down an entire school system
as we are all pushed into completely uncharted territory. I don't need to list all of the negatives, because we are reminded daily of those, but what about the positives?
Well for starters, I've had more conversations with stakeholders from preschool to higher education than I've ever had before in my role here at AWSP. We have collectively hit the brakes to step back and closely examine many of the systems that have just
been "running" for decades. It is no secret that being in education is like running non-stop on a treadmill, but our current reality gives us a chance to step off of the treadmill and start asking some deep reflective questions.
I'm having weekly meetings with leaders from the entire education spectrum. That never happened before. I used to wonder why various stakeholder groups and organizations were never at the same table to talk about what is best for kids. It's scary to ponder
the notion we were never in the same room together, yet "students" and "learning" were our common purposes.
In the last few weeks, we've engaged in powerful conversations about historically entrenched systems that seem to just perpetuate in the P-16 world. Now, we are talking about them. I've witnessed new relationships between the K-12 world and higher education.
I've seen districts and regions come together to talk about best practices moving forward. I've seen the private sector and community partners jump into the fray to talk about how we can tackle education now, and improve it in the future. I've seen
swords, shields, and armor put away as long-standing silos are torn down in the name of reframing what is possible for kids moving forward. This is all happening because a pandemic forced us to hit the pause button on what we've accepted as normal.
AWSP has been just as guilty of continuing to run on the treadmill. For years, we've relied on various systems to connect with our members. From typical communication channels to board and committee meetings, we've operated under the same give and take
systems for years, until now. Guess what we started doing that we could and should have done years ago? Office hours. That's right. We hold weekly office hours for any and all of our members to jump in and meet with the AWSP Executive Team and K-12
principals from all over the state. This is a wide-open session of give and take, but more importantly, to hear our members (principals, assistant principals, and other school leaders) share challenges, successes, and barriers they face as newly assigned
digital leaders. It is so incredible to watch these natural and organic conversations take off each week that I find myself thinking, "Why didn't we do this sooner?"
Well, pandemic or no pandemic, we will continue this new practice of bringing principals together in a virtual setting from here on out. The conversations are too rich and too rewarding for everyone involved. So just like I've found new relationships
and connections happening for me at a state-level leadership role, I strongly encourage all of you to do the same. Miles, travel budgets, and time out of your building can no longer be an excuse not to engage with your colleagues. These new virtual
networked improvement communities are just what you need for balance, self-care, and ongoing professional support.
It's not a matter of why, but rather why wouldn't you?
Join us for AWSP Office Hours or our Grade-Level Office Hours and tell us, "what's your silver lining?"
AWSP introduced me to mentoring about five years ago after AWSP teamed up with OSPI in an effort to boost principal mentoring. I was a principal in a mid-size school district in Eastern Washington at the time. The opportunity to participate in a 2-day
mentor training was a great professional opportunity.
I had always been appreciative of the love and support of other caring teaching mentors and leaders in my system. They looked out for me, mentored my blossoming teacher leadership skills, and encouraged me to pursue school leadership and my passion for
supporting students and families in my community. This support and encouragement put me on a path to school leadership and eventually, an AWSP-trained principal mentor in my district.
Flash forward to a few months beyond my training and the opportunity presented itself to mentor an elementary principal in a smaller, more rural school district 45 minutes from town. I wasn’t completely sure what I was getting myself into, but in
retrospect, the assignment was one of the most rewarding and fun leadership experiences I have had in my leadership career.
The chance to practice deep listening, with a new leader hearing about “other” systems and their unique opportunities and challenges was revitalizing…I could be a help and support to another new leader. Through mentoring, I could support,
influence, and encourage a new school leader, breaking the cycle of “Principal Churn” we know exists.
As an existing school leader, the training honed my listening skills through the use of Lipton & Wellman’s Learning Focused Supervision tools. It allowed me valuable time to collaborate
and practice with colleagues in the training. Providing time to “pause” and “practice” skills to grow as a leader and mentor allowed me to hit the ground running supporting my new mentee.
The mentor training framed my view of what it could look like to walk alongside a new leader and to be an active listener, colleague, collaborator, and collegial problem solver. I appreciated time to think about connecting with the cycle of inquiry, the
intensity of a leadership school year, and how to anticipate and support the mentee throughout their first years.
Finding a professional bestie was the most special and unintended result of all! I certainly didn’t have an expectation this mentor/mentee pairing would be so mutually beneficial. When we talk about the challenges of school leadership, we support
one another. Our formal mentoring relationship ends this spring, but I know we will be connected for years to come. The relationship is the beautiful benefit of walking alongside someone.
We should ensure every new school leader has a mentor. It should be a given. Are you hiring a new leader? Are YOU the new leader? As the African proverb states:
“If you want to go fast, go alone…want to go far? GO TOGETHER!”
Let’s work together to ensure our leaders are supported with mentoring. Let’s give them the kind of professional supports that will keep them in their school beyond the statistics. Only then can we truly move the needle and make the impact
on student achievement principals train for.
AWSP is here to support ALL of you. Email me for more information.
AWSP supports OSPI and the collective workgroup’s guidance for grading. The guidelines are the right thing at the right time. They give districts a clear framework while maintaining the flexibility for districts to find the right solution for their students and community. The guidance was developed with input from a huge array of stakeholders, including our own Associate Directors Kurt Hatch, Gina Yonts, and Scott Friedman. The key message from OSPI and the guiding workgroup: DO NO HARM.
Our own membership is all over the board on this topic. Many people are seeing their thinking evolve each passing day. Despite the disparity in thinking, we can confidently say our membership is 100% committed to doing right for kids, and in this case,
that means ensuring whatever comes from guidance and/or policy, we should all err on not harming kids with grades. Period. Adults need to let go of their conventional thinking and experience and truly recognize the unprecedented times we (that
means all of us) now find ourselves in as we make decisions impacting kids.
Grading has always been the last frontier of change in the education reform movement. We could probably argue it might be one of the toughest systems to change, especially at the secondary level, which is deeply entangled with higher education. We know
we need to move to K-12 to standards and competency-based systems. Many districts have made great strides in this direction for K-8, with grades 9-12 persisting as the main challenge. We know what we need to do, but we have never been forced uniformly
into addressing this issue.
We also know there’s never going to be universal agreement on any grading guidance or much of anything during this time for that matter. However, one of the silver linings in this pandemic is the opportunity to reexamine everything, from whether
any single test should carry so much weight (read my “I’m more than a test score” blog post),
to what grading could and should look like now and into the future.
Inequities in our grading systems have existed for over a century; deeply rooted from inception, complex, and massively inequitable. Our students have always had different advantages and disadvantages throughout the P-16 system in access, opportunities,
expectations, and privilege. While these inequities didn’t just crop up suddenly with the shutdown, they have finally been magnified and amplified. From the guidance report:
“But grading systems also shine a spotlight on the inequities of an education system that despite real progress, still functions in high correlation to family income and access to enrichment activities."
As we already alluded to, we have very smart, caring, compassionate leaders all across the state with differing views. The one thing we can all agree on is students should not be harmed as a result of the pandemic. Nobody is getting an F, and pass/fail
is eliminated. We even argue that you should do everything in your power to avoid giving “Incomplete” grades as well. Although an “I” is a better option than an “F” or “NC”, and it can keep some accountability
of the teaching and learning relationship alive, it should be a last resort. Again from the report:
“For these reasons and after much thoughtful counsel from education stakeholders, I have made the decision to eliminate the pass/fail grading option as a matter of state policy. It is neither equitable, informative of student learning, nor is
there a guarantee that it won’t harm students in future educational pursuits.”
The pandemic has shaken our economy, our health care system, our way of life, and the education system we all care so deeply about. COVID-19 is shining a bright spotlight on all the inequities in our system, and when we’re back inside our schools
(whatever that might look like in the future) and life starts resuming to “normal”, it’s important we remember the lessons we learned and keep fighting to eliminate inequitable systems across the state and country. Whether they exist
from inertia, deeply rooted historical practices, macroeconomic factors, implicit bias, racism, or geography, we must keep working to remove inequities and barriers for each and every child across our state.
In the meantime, let’s keep talking about what we need to do to give every student the education they deserve. Let’s change our talk from what’s not possible to what is possible. Let’s keep doors open and hope alive for kids. Let’s
engage our students, parents, and community partners to reimagine what education should look like now and in the future. Let’s continue to reach out to higher ed and make a truly cohesive P-16 system that makes continuing education possible
for all. And finally, let’s show some grace and understanding for our students, our families, our educators, our leaders, and our policymakers; we’re all walking this journey together with no map to guide us. This is an opportunity for
us to be courageous for our kids.
We can’t imagine you’ve read this far and haven’t actually read the guidance, but you’ll find the link below and great video overview from Superintendent Reykdal. And remember, #WeGotThis.
Seniors across the state of Washington have been left without the opportunity to participate in many traditional celebrations including graduation. During this webinar, we focused on how we can collectively create celebrations that students and families will remember.
Missed the webinar? Watch the replay:
Now that a virtual graduation is most likely our reality, what should be your next steps?
COVID19 has thrown society a massive curveball in more ways than we can count. If you want to see real examples of adaptability, flexibility, and transformation, just look at all the consequences of an international shutdown via Stay Home, Stay Healthy.
Could any of us imagined back in September that we'd close brick and mortar schools for the remainder of the year and attempt distance learning for the P-16 system? No, we could not. As much as we are still coming to terms with all the negative consequences
of shutting down our traditional approach to education, we are simultaneously cracking open the door to some positive, unintended consequences that should have been addressed decades ago.
The K-12 system was just starting to scratch the surface in identifying and beginning to dismantle historic inequities for kids and families. Tough conversations and changes in practice were beginning to evolve throughout the state and country. In
fact, some people were starting to think that we'd made some significant strides in the world of "equity" in education. And then we shut the schools down.
So, here we are now. Providing "distance learning" for students ranging from kindergarten to college. If we were uncertain about inequality before we closed the school doors, try looking at it now with kids and families accessing education through
technology and connectivity. Of course, this is operating with the assumption that all kids have access to technology and connectivity. We are not even talking about health, safety, and support within the home environment. That's a whole separate
blog. I'm talking about compounding inequities facing kids who were already in an uphill battle.
We can see the gaps even more clearly now in access, opportunities, and support for kids as we learn to operate in a virtual space. We can't do anything about our current reality, but we can push ourselves to think beyond today's challenges as we
look to rebuild an educational system for tomorrow's kids. This is the part where people say, "Uh oh, here he goes again."
Let's take a small example and blow it up a little. Some institutions in the higher education space made a big decision during this pandemic to relax some of their college admission requirements by no longer requiring the SAT for admissions for the
current seniors. Some see this as a huge concession and olive branch to aspiring college-bound kids. I see this as a few decades too late.
While I certainly appreciate the efforts made by the higher education sector to move toward a holistic approach to assessing potential college students, why does the SAT still have such a strong foothold in the system? As a long-time and still recovering
high school principal, I saw countless students navigate their hopes and dreams on, around, through, or away from the SAT. Should one college admission test have so much power in directing the futures of our kids?
My daughter was a 4.0 high school student with an impressive resume of accomplishments during her high school career. She went on to the University of Washington where she graduated with a 3.9 and two degrees in three years. While in high school,
she tore herself apart studying and preparing for the SAT. As the testing date approached and her anxiety grew exponentially, I had to continually remind her that it's just one test, one indicator, one factor that colleges use for admissions,
but certainly not the only indicator. That didn't matter. To her, because of such strong social pressures among her peers, the test was either the beginning of or the end of the world. "I'm forever labeled because of that score," she once said.
Her scores were not good and were below many of the college and university "cut" score lines for admission. In fact, many doors were closed for her simply because of not meeting the minimum SAT requirements. Those scores took a swipe at her self-confidence,
self-worth, and hopes. And unfortunately, she allowed those scores to temporarily define her. Those scores caused anxiety, stress, and depression before, during, and after the test.
I started this blog by describing systems that have existed for decades and cause harm for kids long before a pandemic. My purpose isn't to pound on the SAT, the K-12 system, or higher education. My point is simple. My daughter came from a privileged
home with access to technology, SAT support classes, college visits, and two loving parents who reassured her she was more than a test score. I can't even imagine what this process is like for kids without anything close to the same support.
As we move forward in redefining the P-16 system, can we think big? Can we think differently? Can we think
about what is possible, not impossible? Can we redefine time and delivery? What if we moved away from traditional grading to pure standards-based grading K-12? What if all colleges used a holistic approach to admissions with little to no influence
from standardized testing? Or even better, what if more K-12 kids were dual-enrolled in college so the "admissions" barrier is removed completely? What if we no longer used standardized tests to define the hopes and dreams of all kids? What
I'm not sure how to thank the person at the University of Washington who read my daughter 's admission's essay so many years ago and felt compelled to put her folder in the "accepted" pile. So, I 'll say it here. Thank you for looking at her beyond
the score. She's done some incredible things in her young life because you all believed in her and said, "what if?"
Oh, and guess what she’s doing now? Stressing about taking the GRE as she looks at and considers grad programs. She’s going to select which university to attend based on whether the GRE is required or not. Seriously?