What Do We Want to Keep When We Return to School-at-School Next Year?

The New Normal. Have you heard about it? Of course you have. We all speak about it but we really don’t have enough information to know what will be a blip on the screen and what will truly be lasting.

After the terrorist acts on 9/11, we found some of the immediate changes to be a new normal. Security on flights? That was normalized. It’s hard to even remember the innocent world in which we freely roamed through the airport and paper ticketing was the biggest part of the security system.

In our schools, we have found many new normals in regards to student safety, most recently on a large scale following the shootings in Parkland, FL. During the Summer of 2018, school leaders talked more about safety from intruders than any other topic. We changed our protocols, and a majority of schools moved to a “ring-in” system that we have since accepted as normal.

There’s always a new normal, because there’s always change, and we adapt and continue moving forward. The pandemic and subsequent quarantine have been deeply impactful, but it remains to be seen what parts of our current behaviors will be sustained.

So, rather than wait to see what sticks, what might you and your team determine would be welcome changes to continue moving forward? Now is the right time to consider what we may be doing now that we would want to be normalized, that we would want to be a part of a better normal.

We all know that at nearly every school (and church, family, business, for that matter), there are things that we do because we have always done them that way. Here are five areas of reset for your consideration. Five things that we are doing now that might be good to continue as we move into next year (and beyond). There are certainly more than this, but hopefully these five will get your conversations going about what to keep from our current experience.

  1. Now that we’ve shown that we can, should we hold more of our meetings virtually? We can. Should we? It’s worth a conversation. Think about how more efficient it would be to have meetings with parents via Google Meet (or your favorite live video platform)? It’s more convenient for parents, saves them driving time, and for the immediate period (while we continue to practice safe health protocols) it limits individuals from entering the school. Can you move both smaller and larger meetings to a virtual format? We’ve been holding IEP meetings virtually. Can we continue to do so? Parent and teacher conferences for MTSS, SSTs, and virtually anything could be converted to virtual. So can PTO meetings. Parent information and open house events can be produced in a fashion that have some live elements while other portions are pre-recorded and streamed. Think about it: if we eliminate the driving to the school for many (most?) of our meetings, how many more families can we effectively reach? Again, NOW is a good time to explore that possibility, because it’s applicable no matter what circumstances arrive for you in August.
  2. Our relationship with families of students has changed over the past two months. What have we learned and how do we apply it positively moving forward? If you’ve read much of this site, you’ve heard our concerns with the phrase “dealing with parents.” Parents (families) are highly influential in the motivation and subsequent performance of the students in our schools. To do anything other than seek the best relationships with all of the parents of our students is counterproductive at best. How do you reset and reshape the family-school relationships at your school? Everyone should have seen that it sure works better when we work together. Conversations in May, June, and July can lead to a deeper partnership in August and beyond. Don’t miss these moments to shape a reset that can make A LOT of difference on many levels.
  3. There’s a reasonable possibility that some portion of next school year could be “school-at-home” again. What have you learned about assessment and grading in a distance learning environment that will help you moving forward? This is, as they say back home, the portion where I’ve “gone from preaching to meddling.” Grades are always a controversial topic. It might be a bad time to honestly talk about them. It may, however, be a great time to talk about them. My guess is that may differ based on your location (and the mindset of your faculty). Here’s what everyone should have noticed: there’s a big difference between assessment and grading. For all the time we have spent on each of them, it’s amazing how much further we still need to go. Is now the right time to sort through how we assess performance to design learning? How grades are snapshots and not framed portraits? How learning, growth, and mastery fit in? Your teachers are on the job through May. We have June and July beyond that. Clarity on what your school uses assessments and grades for would be a great start.
  4. Classrooms that were control-centric before we moved to school-at-home were ill-prepared for distance learning. Those that were relationship-centric were able to transition more effectively. Preparing for potential distance learning is about tablets and broadband, but it’s also about relationships. How do you really make relationships the cornerstone of all of your classrooms? Student motivation isn’t only about the relationship with the teacher and the culture of the classroom, but those are two things that influenced who did and who didn’t do work when the aspect of control was mostly eliminated. Influence is always stronger than control in the long run… control, however, can be effective in particular environments. School-at-home? Not that environment. What might you do now in conversations over the next month and beyond to help your teachers explore control and relationships? Is that something that can be of benefit no matter what the circumstances of your reopening may be?
  5. How do we stop ourselves from going back, working too much again, and being too out-of-whack in our lives?  COVID-19 has been fatal to over a quarter of a million people to date. It’s awful. There has been tremendous suffering and loss. It’s been devastating.  Flowers can grow in the middle of a pile of rocks, so even in the worst of settings, something good can grow.  I’ve enjoyed meeting with principals and assistant principals over the past two months and hearing about what they’re doing in their yard, and with their kids, and in their lives. What the restrictions on our movements and our access to work has done, it would seem, is something worth learning from. We are sleeping more.  We are taking time to breathe.  We are enjoying life and the people in our lives who make it worth living.  I hope we don’t go back to being just as we were before all of this. My hope is this experience will help you focus on all that you have to be joyful about and grateful for. I hope that appreciation will last when we reopen schools, and when you go back, you will be returning as a reset version of your old self. I hope that we won’t get right back into the everlasting sprint that we had evolved into. We can and will be good leaders, but we need to lead ourselves first. This is the reset I have the greatest hope, the most sincere desire for. The reset in you. A stronger, more confident leader, fortified by having caught your breath and enlightened enough not to easily give it away. This reset is one that isn’t contingent on anything except you. Not necessary to wait for more information on this. You can, right now, begin planning what you will do upon the return. Think about what you’ve learned. Reflect on what’s most important. Pledge and plan to grow from this experience and your reflection on it.  Reset.
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