Leaving school last Friday, I’m not sure that any of us knew what to expect. I know as I leave tonight, for the last time for a while, I’m feeling similar emotions. Tuesday was our last day with kids, Wednesday with staff. Our building will be shut down beginning this Friday afternoon. It’s surreal.
One thing that I know for sure is that we will get through this. I keep telling myself and all that are around me—we will get through this. I’m not exactly sure how, yet, but we will figure it out. As educational leaders, we tend to over-plan, overanalyze, over-worry. This situation that we are in is definitely causing us to rethink so much that we’ve relied on over the years.
I’ve worked to limit my own Facebook consumption because it causes anxiety to see all the homeschool posts or the restaurants and shops that have closed. One thing I did see that caused me to stop in my tracks is the overwhelmed parents and teachers who seem to think they have to be perfect as we navigate these uncharted waters.
With that weighing heavy on my mind, I sent the following letter to our families yesterday. As educators, we are scrambling to help support our kids for an indefinite amount of time away from school with a moment’s notice, while working to help parents define new home routines. The packets might not get done, the books might not all get read, and that’s OK because we will get through this. At a time that can easily divide, it’s so much more important that we come together and support each other to get through.
My Letter to Families
Dear FMS Parents, Grandparents, and Guardians,
Wow! It is finally starting to sink in a little as I sit in this empty building. The purpose of this email is to check in on YOU. In just a matter of days, so much has been added to your plate. Please know you are not in it alone. If you need anything during this time, I’m an email away. Our teachers are also ready and willing to help. After today, our building will be closed, but I will be working from home. Food will continue to be served at FHS and McIntire from 11-1 throughout this week. More plans are being developed for future food distribution. If you know of someone that needs food, email me, and we will work to get assistance ASAP.
Please know that during these times, there is no expectation of perfection. Our staff has worked to give you resources to help create some normalcy for your kids, but we most definitely don’t expect you to do it all. You have so many other things you are trying to shuffle.
I personally have given my boys at home direction, but also some choice. Here’s our sample routine for now: (My boys are 9 and 16.)
- AM: Pick three to do (I choose two activities from what the teachers gave and then two that I make up).
- Lunch: Eat, straighten up, then call a grandparent or loved one to check in and see how they are doing.
- PM: Pick three to do (same as the morning, but vary the activities).
This works for us, but please know that each family situation is different, and it is okay to do what works for you. I do suggest coming up with some type of routine. This will help not only your kids but your sanity as well. Also, although it can be a battle, I’ve had to start to limit screen time for the mere fact that it causes my boys to become more anxious and grouchy. Again, you need to do what works best for your family, but I want you to know you have my support through all of this!
Finally, please know that you’ve got this! Each of you have raised amazing young adults. You have taught them so many things over the years. Just take time to enjoy your kids, have fun with them, and love them. They will remember that for the rest of their lives. We will get through this. Again, if you need anything at all, please don’t hesitate to reach out.
Proud Principal, Fulton Middle School
I am also working to figure out ways to best support our staff. I am blessed to work for a district that hasn’t put overwhelming mandates or expectations on staff. Our letter today from our superintendent had two main messages: I’m so proud of all of you and take care of yourself and your family. The goal is to find ways to connect and provide a little normalcy in a world that is ever-changing.
Allyson Apsey (@AllysonApsey) created a staff check-in that I have adapted. It is, of course, optional, but provides another way I can virtually support the adults in our building. Our counselors have a similar form for our kids.
Our social work department will continue to compile and share resources with our staff for mental health as well. I’ve included those below.
Resources Compiled by our Social Work Department:
- Self-Care Tips to Get You Through the New Coronavirus Normal
- Caring for Your Mental Health Despite the Coronavirus
- How to give your kids stability when coronavirus closes schools
- Ten Strategies for Educators’ Wellbeing: A Handbook for Schools During the COVID-19 Outbreak
Taking Care of Ourselves
Finally, we have to figure out how to take care of ourselves as leaders, as well as our own families. We cannot feel guilty if we can’t do it all during these times. We are so used to doing, doing, doing, but it’s OK to stop, reflect, and rest, while encouraging our other leader friends to do the same. We have to give grace to others as everyone is handling this differently.
Here are some past posts I have written that address specific wellness ideas:
Thank you for going above and beyond all that you serve. We will get through this together. Please reach out if you need any support at all! Our hashtag is open 24/7, and we would love to stay connected!
Beth Houf is principal of Fulton Middle School in Fulton, MO, and co-author of Lead Like a PIRATE: Make Schools Amazing for Students and Staff. She is a 2019 NASSP Digital Principal of the Year. Visit her blog, Lead Like a Pirate, and follow her on Twitter (@BethHouf), Voxer (@BHouf2026), and Instagram (@BHouf).