When I reflect on what the school year might look like this fall, like all administrators I am filled with a certain amount of uncertainty maneuvering through the COVID-19 pandemic as well as our commitment to focus on equity and diversity. Most of us are spending our time this summer planning for the education of our students. While we make plans for the fall, we also need to be prepared for the trauma our kids have experienced, the behaviors we may encounter, the need for students to hear their voice and express themselves, and develop a plan to be able to respond to a new normal and the increasing needs of all of our students.
This summer, I worked extensively with my administrative and counseling teams to discuss how we will effectively and efficiently respond to the needs of our students once school begins. Here are some of the ways we’re preparing for the fall.
We have decided to build additional supports into the school day for our students. Last year, we had two days a week where we dedicated time at the start of the school day for academic interventions and positive behavioral supports for students that we refer to as Spartan Time. For this coming fall, we have added three additional days of Spartan Time to the start of the school day so that we have this time daily for 25 minutes. We plan to have no more than 15 students in each Spartan Time setting.
We plan to continue to use this intervention time for positive behavioral supports and academic interventions for our students as we have in the past. The creation of this daily intervention time did take two minutes away from each class period. Although we are losing instructional time, we believe the gains we will experience in student relationships, building connections to school, and the ability to have class and community meetings and take the time to hear and understand our student needs is worth the time lost.
One reason we added the daily intervention time was that we realized quickly that we would need to change the bell schedule to build time into the start of each school day to be prepared for, really, anything. The added time will also allow us the flexibility to work with late busses that may be running two routes to pick up students that didn’t fit on the first run due to social distancing.
Although we do not know what the pandemic will look like in four weeks, we do know that we may be taking temperatures, feeding students breakfast, regulating the dysregulated, and encouraging students to move to class quickly upon exiting the bus.
Tiered Interventions and Behavioral Supports
In the fall, we will need a plan to intervene quickly to help our kids. Many students will need academic supports that we will identify through common formative, summative, and benchmark assessments. Through the professional learning community process, our teachers will identify those students who have not met specific standards and assign them an intervention time. For those students who have historically had Tier 1 counseling supports, we will continue these supports early on by meeting with each student when school resumes and identifying emotional tiered supports they may need moving forward.
We are fortunate that we have an educational support counselor who works with our Tier 2 and 3 students needing significant counseling services. In addition, we work collaboratively with several outside counseling organizations that are able to assist our students and parents with continued long-term after school care and temporary inpatient care.
For our students identified as needing Tier 2 behavioral supports, we will assign them to a specific behavioral Spartan Time with a teacher who is an expert in building relationships and motivational techniques with students. In this Spartan Time, each student can receive tailored academic and behavioral supports geared toward their respective needs. Students needing Tier 3 behavioral supports will be placed in the Spartan Time that is located in the sanctuary room. Our sanctuary room is a safe space for students to go who are dysregulated. Each student who has been identified as needing Tier 3 behavioral supports will go to the sanctuary room and be given a pass that they use for this safe space. While some students will go to the sanctuary room on their own, at times a teacher may suggest this as an option. This space allows them the opportunity to go in, voice their concerns or explain why they are upset, and get regulated. The goal is for the student to then be able to move back into the classroom to finish the class and hopefully the school day.
We also are planning to fine-tune our current CARE team biweekly meetings that we hold with counselors, administrators, and the special education lead to discuss struggling students. We decided to invite the sanctuary teacher for those Tier 3 behaviorally and emotionally struggling students.
The Connection Crew
Over the summer, the idea of the Connection Crew was born to forge stronger connections with students. This group historically was our staff climate committee, which discussed the overall culture of the building and how to improve on different concerns that arose. We now will use the committee to discuss how to connect with students, how to make sure each student has an adult in the building that they feel they can trust, and how to ensure that a caring adult will check in on each student. This is an exciting new group, and I am eager to see where this goes in the future.
As an additional way to prepare for social distancing in the fall, we looked at our cafeteria and realized that this space would not be sufficient to allow for our current three lunch periods with 250 kids in each lunch. We decided to add three additional lunch periods in order to divide 750 kids up across six total lunches, allowing for students to spread out in two sixth-grade lunches, two seventh-grade lunches, and two eighth-grade lunches. Instead of our normal 250 students in a lunch at 10 students to a table, we could have four students per table and 125 students per lunch period.
Responding to Trauma
We all agree that what schools quickly put together in March with less than a week’s preparation is not exactly what we will do moving forward. We know we need to provide our families with options that will fit their particular needs. Whatever we—and they—decide, we know that all of our kids have experienced a series of traumas unlike anything any of us have experienced in our lifetimes.
During a time where daily protests over racial inequality and police brutality are on the news, on social media, and all playing out simultaneously in front of our children in real time, we also must be prepared to provide our support and understanding to our all of our students.
When I think of education today on my 27th year, I think of how much the job of the principal has changed. We are instructional leaders who have been given the charge to educate all kids and to provide a climate of high expectations with a strict narrowed focus where state standardized assessments are at the forefront of many academic decisions. Maybe this fall our focus wavers a little, maybe we spend the rest of the summer remembering that the most important thing we can do is what is in the best interest of our kids. We all know we get tangled up in attendance rates, graduation rates, and state assessments. For this year, how about giving yourself some grace and your kids your unwavering support and what they truly need after not seeing us for six months?
There are still many unknowns as to what the start of the school year will look like for all schools, but what we can do is have a plan to make sure academic and behavioral supports are in place for our students. We can make sure students have a safe place to be heard and know they are valued and that we are listening. It really is a great opportunity for us to not only provide students the best possible education, but by building in time at the start of the school day we can also create a safe place to process these trying times. Our students must know that we care about them, love them and will move forward providing them a voice, an education, and unwavering supports no matter who they are.
Dr. Krisandra (Kandy) Worley is principal of Saeger Middle School in Cottleville, MO, and the 2019 Missouri Principal of the Year. Follow her on Twitter (@DrKWorley).