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Establishing A "New" Normal

Updated: Aug 19, 2020

Questions Every Educator Should Ask Themselves in Preparation for the 2020-21 School Year

There are some things we understand much better today than we did four months ago. The challenges of leading school districts and schools of all grade levels during the COVID-19 pandemic has become the greatest challenge leaders have ever faced. It’s important that leaders are equipped and supported as we continue to pivot and transition as we plan for the 2020-21 school year.

Here are key questions we encourage educators to consider as they prepare for the upcoming school year.

1. How will you lead the charge to ensure your school or class embodies systems of equity?

The challenges of leading schools while also navigating a pandemic at the same time as millions of people across the world protest social injustices makes leading even more challenging. The responsibilities of leaders in schools, colleges, universities, and various communities continue to grow.

Despite all this, good leaders will rise to the challenge. We must truly think differently about the work before us as we provide the social, emotional, and academic wellness our students deserve. There has never been a more opportune time to reform education than now. There is no better time to re-imagine our schools and the communities where they reside than now.

To help you navigate this challenge, here are our a few strategies to consider:

Map and use resources wisely (fiscal, human): Think about creative ways your school counselor, social worker, psychologist, behavior specialists and therapeutic treatment providers can support your students and their families.

Build relationships through community involvement: Expose youth to opportunities they may not normally have access to in their community. Consider building strategic partnerships with churches, mentoring programs, YMCA, Boys and Girls Clubs, sororities, local colleges and universities, neighborhood associations and fraternities who host activities like ballroom dancing and golf.

Small changes can make a tremendous difference: Creating change does not happen overnight. There are many ways you can promote the importance of building and sustaining our community. City, district and school websites, newsletters, social media, and podcasts are perfect places to start.

2. What role will you play in promoting health and healing of all students?

True educational and community reform will not be successful unless we include our students in the process as their involvement will foster sustainability, accountability, and much needed healing. Including our students in the process of establishing a new normal will also help create a more inclusive community as we create culturally sensitive and responsive schools that hiring empathetic staff who provide equitable learning experiences for all students.

To help you navigate this challenge, here are a few strategies to consider:

The “good ole days” were not good for everyone: As much as many of us miss life before COVID, the reality is school operations and academia did not serve all of our youth equitably. As we move forward, consider assigning every student a mentor from staff to help them transition into the new school year, implement trauma informed practices and if necessary revisit the stages of child development with staff so they are equipped to support all students. In some cases, children are being reprimanded and denigrated for just being children.

Replace fears with facts: None of us can predict what will happen a month from now, let alone tomorrow. Let’s practice sharing what we do know in times of uncertainty to create a sense of normalcy and control for those in our care. Help students understand that social media has its limitations while also helping them practice social media etiquette. Finally, work with them to limit their time on social media and replace that time with reading, socializing appropriately with peers and finding a hobby to immerse themselves in.

3. How can we support teachers to ensure that core instruction must be optimal?

The reality is many leaders are exhausted. The extraordinary effort, creativity, and compassion to run schools exclusively virtually without any prior notice has taken a toll on all of us. In addition to changes in the way we deliver academics, leaders must now process and implement a plan to keep 5-year olds six feet apart on school busses, in their classrooms, cafeteria, bathrooms, gymnasiums, and playground. These same spaces must also be sanitized consistently to prevent the spread of the virus when schools reopen.

To help you navigate this challenge, here are our a few strategies to consider:

Take a closer look at Tier I instruction: Analyze your data and identify both student and teacher performance concerns, then make necessary adjustments and address the concern(s)accordingly.

Maximize teachable moments: There will be many mistakes made during this time. Remember to lead with compassion and grace as we all figure out the best way to help our students, staff and administrators be successful. Give affirmation as often as possible and leverage every moment as one for improvement – not failure. Take advantage of the questions and comments of our students that often cause of to pause. Ask them to work with us to find the answers to some of those questions while also validating their creativity and resilience.

Provide teachers the necessary professional development to help them maneuver the virtual instructional space effectively. We are living in a different era and must adjust our practices to reflect our current times. School and district leaders need to understand the impact of these challenges on the staff and provide avenues for staff to step away and breathe when they get overwhelmed. Helping staff institute effective methods of self-care will open the door for teachers to plan and deliver instruction creatively and innovatively.

School and district leaders are balancing the need to provide physical and emotional safety while still encouraging students to master content. Their commitment to persevering, giving staff and students their best and pivoting every step of the way is commendable.

A special thank you to Shamile Childs for co-writing this blog with me!

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Thanks so much for this! After participating in your webinars and leadership cohort this summer I am ready for the challenge. I am ready to continue to ensure my students are successful, feel safe and know that through this pandemic we will come out on top!

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