What Have We Learned?

We thought spring of 2020 was going to be our return to normalcy. 

We spent the fall and winter of the 2019–20 school year in complete crisis. Our school was supposed to be moving into a renovated co-located school building in fall of 2019, and when that project went into turmoil, so did our school. We spent 19 days in a construction site, then a month using the district office conference center as “drop-in” school while our classes moved online, until finally settling into the district conference center as our pop-up school for several months before finally returning to our building over President’s Day for what we thought was going to be our exciting return to a now-renovated school building.

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Purpose and the Assistant Principalship: Four Questions for Reflection

As an associate principal, I find my days filled with constant interactions with students, teachers, and support staff involving day-to-day operational needs, making decisions that affect everyone, acting as a sounding board, listening to various problems, observing and evaluating teachers, helping students and teachers reach their full potential, and doing things that impact our school culture. In my spare time, I am reading and responding to emails and making phone calls. Every day, I start my day hoping to make a difference or just make that one connection that may make someone smile. I enjoy walking the halls and hanging out in the cafeteria with students, checking in on them and wishing them a great day! Most students are used to the routine, so it becomes a race as to who wishes who a good day first. 

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Building a Restorative Justice Program

There are many types of restorative justice programs in schools, meaning that one size doesn’t fit all. Our motto here at Payson High School is “One Team, Making Today Count.” As a part of “Making Today County,” we encourage our students and staff to take advantage of all positive opportunities, no matter how small or inconsequential. As the principal I, too, identify issues, find the long-term solution, then identify positive opportunities to assist in that solution. This type of thinking has allowed Payson High School to create solid programs for students, become a National Showcase School for Capturing Kids’ Hearts, and a National Reference School District for Google. All of these were created through small opportunities that expanded in the end, and the creation of our restorative justice program is no different.

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Schools Can Emerge Stronger Only by Coming Together

Schools have not been closed—buildings have. Our educators—principals, teachers, and support staff—have worked tirelessly over the past year to address the unprecedented challenges the COVID-19 pandemic presented, including inequitable digital access, diminished learning opportunities, growing food insecurity, and numerous impacts to our students’ and educators’ well-being. Now, with support from the national administration and Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, our schools will be more equipped to effectively meet the needs of all students.

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Quarantine Routines: An Educator’s Guide to Surviving a Quarantine

You will have to quarantine.

For many educators, these are the words we have lost sleep over, worried about hearing, and struggled to plan for when it does happen. While we are preparing lessons for our students who are at home learning and supporting our colleagues’ classes while they are at home, we are hoping that we will make it through this pandemic with it not happening to us. But what happens when it does? When a loved one we live with, someone we are close to, or ourselves are faced with a positive COVID-19 test and we have to quarantine? 

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Developing Awareness, Adaptability, and Flexibility as School Leaders

How did you start off this semester? Was it a reset, relaunch, reboot, or redux from the fall? Whatever structures were in place during the first semester as our schools offered in-person learning on campus at reduced capacity, remote or distance learning, or a hybrid of those approaches, we already know more than we did before about how to engage students and families, how to support staff, how to work toward the social-emotional needs of all stakeholders, and even how to practice self-care as leaders on our campuses. So what are we doing to capture the lessons we’ve learned, make any needed adjustments, keep our focus centered on student needs and move ahead during the spring of 2021?

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These Principals Are Getting Into Good Trouble

Mauri Friestleben and Yusuf Abdullah have been getting into trouble. Good Trouble, to be specific. During 2020, while leading their schools through distance learning, COVID-19, and racial injustice, they took it upon themselves to inspire and empower others to join together to challenge inequity in schools. Their movement has inspired many other principals, now bound together by their shared commitment to engage in justice, equity and liberation for all students. The resulting coalition calls itself “Good Trouble,” after a speech John Lewis gave. He said, “When you see something that is not right, not fair, say something. Do something. Get in trouble. Good trouble.” 

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Make Time to Attend the 2021 NASSP Advocacy Conference

It’s hard to believe that it’s already time to make plans for the 2021 NASSP Virtual Advocacy Conference. Maybe that is a function of time in this pandemic year—it seems to pass both slowly and quickly. While this pandemic year has been a long one, it seems like just yesterday that we scrambled to cancel travel plans for the 2020 event. Yet, here we are again, faced with the disappointment that we won’t be traveling to Washington, D.C., again this spring. 

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NAESP and NASSP Presidents Talk About Diversity

A conversation with Kimbrelle Barbosa Lewis and Robert Motley

We recently sat down with two eminent school leaders to discuss the importance of diversity in school leadership. Kimbrelle Barbosa Lewis is the principal of Cordova Elementary in Cordova, TN, as well as the president of the National Association of Elementary Principals (NAESP). Robert Motley is the principal of Atholton High School in Columbia, MD, and president of the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP). They each shared their path to leadership in addition to valuable advice to others who want to pursue principalship.

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4 Ways All Principals Should Be Leading Digitally

The past year has forced all principals into technology, but true innovative principals are trailblazers who lead the way without the push of the pandemic. These leaders understand that technology can empower students to solve today’s complex problems and to engage with learning in a way that inspires progress and growth. It’s principals like this who are leveraging technology to close the equity divide, engage with all stakeholders in creative new ways, and work to cast a vision on how education and technology can converge to bring about the transformational change our education system needs. 

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Therapy Dog Programs: Improving Student and Staff Well-Being

If you’ve ever owned a dog, then you will understand the meaning of “man’s best friend.” Their soothing, fun-loving, and charismatic nature naturally affects the mood of the environment. With just under a year of implementation, our therapy dog program has already made a huge impact on our staff and students’ morale and mental well-being. 

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Building Relationships With Candidates and Elected Officials

In Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book Team of Rivals, President Abraham Lincoln is described as being the master of setting aside political and personal differences and including opposing voices in his cabinet. In an era of political chaos, that model of leadership is lacking in many arenas of policymaking and discourse, and as public school leaders, we often wonder why policymakers make decisions that may seem counter to what we believe is the correct course of action on issues such as school funding, mental health, racial equality, and more. 

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Moving the Needle: Strategies to Increase Academic Achievement in Rural Schools

Six years ago, our middle level/high school in rural Idaho was facing the same problems as many rural schools throughout the United States. Shifts in the local economy and an increase in the number of transient students attending schools in neighboring districts had dropped our high school enrollment to below 50 students, raising concerns about its future viability. We knew that our district had many positive attributes that it could build on.

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Introducing the 2021 Assistant Principal of the Year Finalists

Every year, the NASSP National Assistant Principal of the Year (APOY) program recognizes outstanding middle level and high school assistant principals from across the country who provide high-quality learning opportunities for their students. Each of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Department of Defense Education Activity, and the U.S. Department of State Office of Overseas Schools selects one assistant principal to represent them, and from these, three finalists are chosen. These assistant principals have been selected for their exemplary contributions to the profession.

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Access and Accommodations: Reimagining Places and Spaces for Students and Staff

Imagine, as an educational leader, that you could create your own school from the ground up. Reimagine space to create places of learning, accepting, and understanding. Form environments that are driven by stakeholder needs and wants. In 2009, one person had a vision for a new, state-of-the-art comprehensive K–12 nontraditional school. The vision became embraced by many and was adopted in 2014 by Prince William County Public Schools (PWCS). In 2016, groundbreaking occurred and, with the first shovel planted, set a course in motion that would change the direction of service provision for the most in-need and vulnerable students in the division. 

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Leveling Up: Ways to Increase Remote Student Engagement

Shifting back to (or continuing in) distance learning during the 2020–21 school year provided opportunities to continue to look at how we can build relationships with students, even with only seeing them on a computer screen. Instead of focusing on what students are not doing, taking time to dig deeper and ask others what is working can be the first brave step of trying something innovative to support our students in this new way of doing school.

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In the Middle of Difficulty Lies Opportunity

On Tuesday, August 6, 2013, my family, my parents, my sister, and her family spent a wonderful day together at the Wisconsin State Fair in Milwaukee. It was a beautiful day, sunny and warm. That night we got home around 8:00 p.m. Our children (ages 1 and 4) had fallen asleep on the way home. We put them in their beds, and my wife and I went to bed soon after—all tired from a long day. That night, around 1:00 a.m., our house was hit by a tornado. 

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Letter to a Discouraged Student

You’re discouraged. I know you are. Your heart sank when you saw the grades. But those letter grades don’t define you.

Last spring didn’t go like it was supposed to go. You missed out on activities. You missed seeing your friends at school every day. And this year isn’t normal either. It’s uncomfortable to wear a mask at school. Remaining “socially distanced” isn’t much fun either!

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Taking Care of Yourself and Your Staff

Educators rarely leave the profession because they don’t love teaching. As a leader, that was one of my lightbulb moments. They leave because they don’t feel loved, they don’t feel balanced, and everything becomes too much. These are feelings every educator can relate to, and these are the feelings that I have been trying to overcome for a large portion of my 20 years in the field. 

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