Never in a million years did I think I would be writing a blog post on how school and district leaders are supporting stakeholder efforts while locked down in their homes due to a worldwide pandemic. But here we are, looking COVID-19 square in the face as it impacts our students, staff, and parents in ways once thought unimaginable. These are challenging times. And yet, challenging times present opportunities for school and district leaders to lead in unconventional ways—such as from a dining room table or living room couch.
There is no doubt that the impact a leader has virtually, from his or her home, is different than inside of a school. The reality all educators are living with right now is to do the best they can with what is available to them. And the only way we—as leaders—can make more ideas and resources available to our colleagues is through the connections we have in both the physical and virtual worlds. Flexibility, consistency, and a risk-taking mindset will help all school stakeholders move forward during these unstable times.
Staying current with best practices is one of the main responsibilities of an educational leader at the classroom, school, and district levels. Providing resources to teachers is needed now more than ever as they try to stay on top of teaching students virtually from home.
Each month I send out the Bulldog Bulletin to staff, which contains five best-practice resources that I came across online. The topics cover all aspects of teaching and learning, including literacy, math, classroom culture, technology integration, English-language learnings, special education, and pedagogy.
Another great way to stay current with innovative happenings in education is by following the #remotelearning hashtag on Twitter. Just the other day, I reached out to my PLN to ask for K–2 STEM lesson ideas that are more hands-on and less tech-based for students to work on at home. Over the next few hours, educators from all over the country shared resources that I then forwarded to my teaching staff. Now more than ever, school and district leaders must be the Connector in Chief in order to connect those with questions to those who have the answers.
Being available to students, staff, and parents during #COVID19 has more of an on-demand feel than just a few months ago. Computer screens are constantly open and phones are checked on a consistent basis in order to address concerns that may arise from various stakeholders.
Michele Stanton, a colleague and principal at Bragg Elementary School in Chester, NJ, holds Google Hangouts Meet office hours as a way for staff to check in and talk about anything during these crazy times. Melissa Fair, a colleague and principal at Dickerson Elementary School in Chester, also leverages the power of Google Hangouts Meet to hold virtual, grade-level team meetings to plan for learning experiences that will take place in the weeks and possibly months to come. Andrew White, a colleague and principal at Black River Middle School in Chester, records a weekly video outlining procedures and important information related to remote learning. Dr. Christina Van Woert, a colleague and superintendent of the Chester School District, sends straight-from-the-heart emails to staff and parents on a weekly—and sometimes daily—basis to keep everyone in the loop about important #COVID19 information released by state education department officials. Mike Dougherty, director of technology, has set up virtual Q&A sessions for staff and parents to address problems that arise from using technology at home. Transparency and support give school stakeholders information that ultimately helps promote the success of students in remote learning environments.
The amazing remote lessons that teachers in the Chester School District are creating and implementing have been absolutely tremendous. Our preK–8 teachers have connected virtually to share their experiences from the front lines of remote teaching with one another through Google Hangouts Meet or Zoom. Additionally, teachers are reaching out to their PLNs by sharing accomplishments and asking for advice. Students are successfully using tools such as Flipgrid to amplify student voice, Seesaw to demonstrate knowledge of the topic at hand, and Screencastify to create video content for assignments. Recently, Eric Sheninger and I connected over the phone and were sharing thoughts on special education during this pandemic. He was excited to share how the Chester School District was addressing the needs of diverse learners in a remote setting and subsequently wrote a blog post highlighting the great work of special education teachers and child study team members throughout the district.
Through all of this hysteria, everyone is stepping up to the plate. Students are doing their part by staying focused at home and completing assignments in a timely fashion. Teachers are stepping out of their comfort zones and providing on-demand lessons that can be accessed, in most cases, by a few taps of the screen or clicks of the mouse. Parents and guardians are adapting as they can while juggling working from home and ensuring their child is adhering to the virtual school day guidelines set forth by the school district. And finally, the administration is doing its part by being flexible, transparent, and timely with information as things evolve and change on a daily basis and our nation and schools adapt to what #COVID19 throws our way.
For me personally, playing the role of Connector in Chief for my district is not new. However, during this pandemic, this role is of the utmost importance if those I work with are to find unique and innovative ways to promote the success of students in the digital world.
Brad Currie is the director of planning, research, and evaluation for the Chester School District in New Jersey. He is the 2017 NASSP National Assistant Principal of the Year and co-founder of #Satchat, a weekly Twitter discussion for current and emerging educational leaders. He is the co-author of Tech Request: A Guide for Supporting Educators in the Digital World. Connect with Brad on Twitter @TheBradCurrie or visit his website at www.thebradcurrie.com.