Planning the Way Forward: Focus on Students and Staff

COVID-19 has thrown many schools and educational leaders for a loop. One thing that has become apparent in school districts around the country is the importance of sound and thoughtful leaders, who have surrounded themselves with great people. I know at Mason City Schools, led by Superintendent Jonathan Cooper and our district executive team, we have recently seen this come to life.

As we began to meet each day as an executive team, we maintained our focus on students (and families) and staff. Our daily meetings provided our team with the tools and information necessary to create plans for the next day. As we know, during fluid times like these, it is important to focus on the day to day instead of on plans made out months in advance. Our meetings allowed us to create a plan for students and teachers that I believe is well thought out and helpful for a smooth and successful transition into remote learning.

I would recommend school leaders think of some of the following areas as they work through times like these.

Students and Families

Educate

One of the most important priorities was to educate our students and families—not only about our plans, but also about COVID-19 and its severity. Public Information Officer Tracey Carson sent home daily emails to families in an FAQ format that was easy to read and addressed the most popular questions from students and families.

Another key priority was making sure our students were receiving the same information as their parents. A Mason High School staff member alerted me that students did not receive the family emails in their own email accounts. We fixed that by providing them access to the same correspondence through Schoology.

Access

We provided access to school buildings for students and families to get devices, instruments, books, medications, and other items needed for the realities of remote learning. Our staff did an excellent job assisting with this. They were also given access to the building so they could prepare for their own learning that would take place over the next two weeks.

Share

Our district executive team, especially Assistant Superintendent Amy Brennan and Learning Experience Supervisors Shanna Bumiller and Krissy Hufnagle, did an amazing job creating a three-phase plan for our students and staff to follow as we began our journey in remote learning. Having a clear plan takes time and may not always be perfect in situations like these, but a plan gets you started and on a path. The foundation and beginning are important. Once you have these, you can change and flow as needed down the road.

Our counselors also met as a group multiple times last week to prepare how they would help our students. The team worked together to create a video they shared with students to help them transition during this change in our learning environment.

Staff

Inform

Ms. Brennan and her team worked many hours to create a daily update for staff.  The first week, our staff focused on learning more about resources and tools they could use for remote learning. Each day, they received an email with links and resources on a district staff Schoology page. They also received checklists to gauge their progress and information as to what would be expected for Phase 2 and Phase 3 of the remote learning plan. MCS Innovative Systems Officer Christine McCormick and her team also built a website to share all of the COVID-19 information so it was available in one location.

The high school administrative team created a Google Doc and Form that allows staff to ask questions and receive answers on the Google Doc. That way, the entire staff can see the questions and answers in case they have the same questions. The administration updated the document each day after the district executive team meeting with any updates or new information.

Maintain

It is important to try and provide your staff with a sense of normalcy during a time when they are experiencing many changes. One way we did this was by utilizing our Google Site weekly staff newsletter to include Calendly Appointment links for any staff needing assistance from administrators and/or coaches. Associate Principal Robyn Jordan changed the formatting of the newsletter to organize the information the staff received during the week. Hopefully this helped simplify where to go for information.

Our teacher leaders also held virtual meetings during the week as they would during a normal school week. Most of these meetings were used to catch up and check on the well-being of the staff and their families. Additionally, Ms. Jordan and our assistant principals had a virtual meeting with our teacher leaders during the week to share information and allow them to ask questions while seeing what other departments were experiencing.

Celebrate

It’s important to focus on staff wellness and also incorporate a positive vibe within your staff while they are experiencing such a drastic change in the way they teach and live. We did this by having a virtual staff meeting “happy hour” through Zoom at the end of the week so our staff could get together and see each other. Ms. Jordan created a Kahoot game we all played. She also placed everyone in virtual breakout rooms where we discussed specific topics and were able to check in on each other.

Collaborate

Working with others who are in the same boat is also important if you are to succeed. During this time, working with the other building principals in the district allowed us to collaborate more than we ever have. We were also able to make sure we were on the same page involving our decisions. Consistency is vital during changing situations. Regular communication helps maintain this consistency and is a good model for others to follow.

School leadership has never been a position you walk into each day and know exactly what you are going to get. While many of us say that is one of the things that is most attractive about the position, I’m not sure the last few weeks have been what any of us had in mind when we were thinking of the beauty of the unknown.

Everything will eventually slow down. We will all realize when we look back, things were not that bad—they were just coming at us very quickly. By maintaining a focus on students, families, and staff and remembering the items listed above, things will return to a sense of normalcy. We don’t often get to say that in school leadership, but we can model the way, even during these turbulent times.

Bobby Dodd is the principal at Mason High School in Mason, OH. He was a 2016 NASSP Digital Principal of the Year. You can find him on Twitter (@bobby__dodd) and Instagram (@bobby__dodd).

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