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Dear school leaders and policymakers: It didn’t have to be this way

Covid map 2020-08-05Dear school leaders and policymakers, 

It didn’t have to be this way.

You had all summer to watch the rising number of coronavirus cases all across the country.

You had all summer to educate yourself about the science.

You had all summer to read credible news sources and see the viral outbreaks that occurred everywhere that people gathered without appropriate protections.

You had all summer to encourage people to do the things necessary to slow down the viral spread (hint: it wasn’t going to restaurants and bars).

You had all summer to invest in the safety precautions necessary for schools to be safe (ventilation systems, personal protective equipment, rules and policies, etc.).

You had all summer to recognize that reopening schools this fall was magical thinking and instead invest heavily in your educators’ ability to do high-quality, high-engagement remote learning (unlike last spring).

You had all summer to help your community close family equity gaps regarding computing devices and Internet access.

You had all summer to fortify yourselves for the brave political conversations and gather allies.

You had all summer to engage in realistic messaging to your community.

You had all summer to be the leader that you were appointed / elected to be.

Now you’re asking your community and citizens for “grace during this difficult time.” Are you surprised that many folks aren’t willing to give it?

It’s never too late to lead. Are you finally going to do so?

 

P.S. If you did most or all of these things, THANK YOU.

 

Image credit: Covid ActNow

Welcome back for the 2020 school year! [a letter from your local superintendent and school board]

Dear students, educators, and families,

Welcome back for the 2020 school year! We are incredibly delighted to have our children and educators back in school again, particularly after such a challenging spring and summer. We couldn’t be more excited to see your kids’ smiling faces back in our classrooms!

As you know, some things will be different this fall. We wanted to share a few things for us all to think about over the next few months…

First, some of our children and families probably will become very ill. The coronavirus can reside in young children at high rates and may even spread more efficiently than across adults. Recent news stories about outbreaks at summer camps in Georgia, Texas, Wisconsin, and Missouri show us that children are not immune from the virus. Asymptomatic children not only may infect other students, they also may go home and spread it further to the possibly-vulnerable adults around them. A school in Indiana reopened and had to immediately send students home again after a student tested positive on the very first day. Hawaii is seeing a surge in the number of infected children. And so on across the country… Thank you for being willing to send your children to school despite these risks. We are so appreciative!

Second, some of our educators probably will become very ill too. Dozens of principals in the Bay Area had to quarantine after an in-person planning meeting over the summer. Hundreds of teachers in Gwinnett County, Georgia already have tested positive for the coronavirus after just a few days of returning to school for pre-planning. Symptoms can be mild but often are quite horrific (and could mean weeks on a ventilator). Even if victims recover, effects of the virus can linger for months on end. Medical experts are in agreement that neither students nor educators should come back to school unless community transmission rates have dropped substantially. That drop has not occurred in our community. Indeed, coronavirus cases in our community are higher than in the spring and have doubled across the nation. However, our President, U.S. Secretary of Education, and Governor have reminded us that you need to get back to work so we are grateful for the bravery of our teachers and support staff. Please give them a big thank you the next time you see them!

Third, some of our infected kids and teachers probably are going to die. Children are dying from the virus, and of course adults are dying too. Death rates increase as people get older. About 1 in 4 of our teachers is at risk of serious illness or death if they are infected, due to either their age or pre-existing health conditions. Contact tracing is taking 7 to 10 days in many areas, which also means that identifying and tracking down who is infected and who isn’t may take us a while. Please be patient with us, particularly since we haven’t decided what our decision triggers are for keeping our schools open or closed. And, just in case, please also start preparing your children now to say goodbye to some of their classmates and teachers this year. Our amazing school counselors are available to you and we encourage everyone to practice appropriate social distancing measures at funerals and memorial services in our community. Safety first!

Fourth, due to anticipated teacher resignations, retirements, illnesses, and deaths which will cause a number of instructor vacancies, we are experiencing a substitute teacher shortage. If any of you are interested in being a sub, we would love to have you sign up. We always welcome parents in our schools and classrooms!

Fifth, per your request, we are providing remote learning options for some of you that will be taught by local teachers. However, we simply do not have enough student seats or teaching spots to accommodate everyone. We know that many parents are worried about student ‘learning loss’ after this spring, so we are pleased to announce that we have purchased self-paced online courses from several major corporations for those of you keeping your children at home. Your children can move along at their own pace and will have a few opportunities to interact with an instructor from somewhere else in the country. It’s a win all around!

Sixth, assuming that we can get enough personal protective equipment (PPE), school may look a lot like this:

Thank you for helping us with these new restrictions and guidelines. We are doing everything that we can to keep your children safe!

Finally, for those of you who are considering participating in a ‘pandemic pod’ with other families or sending your students to the private school down the road, please don’t. We need everyone’s support (and money) for the public schools during this challenging time.

Thank you for all that you do to support our local schools and the success of your children. Looking forward to seeing you at Back-To-School Night in a few weeks!

Yours truly,

Your Local Superintendent and School Board

“Just following orders” isn’t good leadership

Just following orders

 

Every leadership program discusses “What hill are you willing to die on? What decisions are worth losing your job for?”

We haven’t done the necessary work to contain the coronavirus. Other areas that have opened too early have seen large waves of new cases. And we now have growing evidence that young children are powerful virus spreaders.

What could possibly be a bigger hill than keeping your children, families, educators, and community safe during a deadly global pandemic? What hill would you possibly pick instead?

“Just following orders” isn’t good leadership.

Coronavirus Chronicles 043 – Bunche Middle School

I am talking with schools to see how they’re responding in the wake of this global pandemic. I invite you to join me for the Coronavirus Chronicles, a series of check-ins with educators all over.

Episode 043 is below. Thank you, Jose Gonzalez and Darleen Perez, for sharing how Bunche Middle School in Compton, California is adapting to our new challenges and opportunities. It was SO MUCH FUN hearing about your remote learning project with your students!

See the complete list of episodes, which also are available as a podcast channel on Apple Podcasts and Spotify. If you and your school(s) would like to be featured in the Coronavirus Chronicles series, please get in touch. 

Other conversation series that may be of interest are below. Check them out!

Conversation series with educators during the pandemic

A conversation with Katie Martin

As always, Katie Martin has been doing a lot of wonderful work this summer around deeper learning and student engagement. I thought it might be fun for the two of us to just get together and chat. I tweeted an invitation to her and she kindly took me up on the offer.

Katie Martin Twitter exchange

Two days later we made that conversation happen and the result is below. As you can imagine, our discussion was wide-ranging and SUPER fun. I am sharing it here in case you’d like to join us. Hope it’s useful to you.

Happy viewing!

4 Shifts Video Series: Looking for some pilot schools or districts

Harnessing Technology for Deeper LearningI have a new 4 Shifts Video Series. I am trying to replicate – as best as I can virtually while sitting in my office chair! – a half-day workshop with me around the 4 Shifts Protocol.

The series consists of 7 self-paced modules and includes 38 videos, 7 lesson redesign opportunities, 6 additional instructional redesign scenarios, and other suggestions, strategies, and resources. The modules are intentionally designed to be granular, allowing for busy educators to work on them when convenient. The vast majority of individual videos and activities are 7 minutes or less. Estimated time for completion of the entire set of activities is about 3.5 hours total.

The 4 Shifts Video Series overview page has more information and describes further what I’m trying to make happen. The overview page includes an outline of the whole series and also has a few example videos. My goal is to help educators and school systems design for higher student engagement, whether they’re face-to-face, blended, or wholly online this coming school year. This video series will be a complement to the other professional learning supports that Julie Graber and I are providing.

I am looking for a handful of pilot schools or districts that will find 4 to 5 educators each to give me feedback on some key questions I provide. In exchange for the feedback, I’ll provide the series to the entire school or district for free. If this is of interest to you, please get in touch. First come, first serve!

Leadership for social justice: Class update 2

Class updateThis is my second update on my new summer Master’s seminar, Leadership for Social Justice. As I said in my last post about this class, my six students have been co-creating the class with me…

We have continued to approach the class through a variety of social justice lenses. After an initial focus on anti-racist school leadership, we broadened our lens the next week to take a look at culturally responsive-sustaining teaching and leadership. We also had collections of readings and multimedia on Latinx, Asian American and Pacific Islander, Indigenous, and Middle Eastern students and families. My students chose what interested them and we integrated those into our class discussion.

The following week we shifted gears a bit and focused on student / family socioeconomic status. In addition to a wide variety of readings, I introduced my students to the work of Richard Kahlenberg and we also critically dissected Ruby Payne’s writing in this area. We dove deeper into ideas of intersectionality and seemed to dwell more on policy concerns in this particular class.

The week after, we talked about equity leadership related to sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression. We had a rich collection of pre-activities for this class and we also had a guest speaker this evening. Tim Mosseau talked with us about how to create organizational cultures that promote equity, inclusivity, and emotional safety, with a particular focus on LGBTQ-inclusive environments.

We also have been integrating a case study or two from Gorski & Pothini’s book, Case Studies on Diversity and Social Justice Education, into every class session. These give us a chance to apply our understandings toward some real-world scenarios. Unsurprisingly, our conversation has been quite robust!

Like in my other Master’s seminar this summer, my students have been amazing. They’re taking the lead on much of what we do together. Their readings and multimedia, their discussion questions, their guests… all have enriched our learning in ways that are far better than if I had done it alone. I’m going to miss them after next week’s final class session!

Leadership during a crisis: Class update 2

Class updateThis is my second update on my new summer Master’s seminar, Leadership During a Crisis. As I said in my last post about this class, my six students have been co-creating the class with me…

In addition to helping identify readings and multimedia for us to look at before each class session, my students also have taken the lead on identifying guest speakers to come talk with us about crisis leadership. Our second guest speaker was Dr. Susan Luck, a business professor at Pfeiffer University in North Carolina. She talked with us about cognitive bias and its impacts on corporate leadership, organizational communication and transparency, and Kotter’s 8 steps of leading organizational change.

Our third guest was Jack Fishman, Executive Director of the Baltimore Choral Arts Society. He shared with us how the fine arts are adapting during the pandemic and helped us understand some leadership lessons that would be useful for us in P-12 and higher education.

Our fourth guest was Michael Franks, Supervisor of the Respiratory Therapy Department at Porter Adventist Hospital in Denver. His discussion of what effective crisis leadership looks like in medicine and from the COVID floor of the hospital was both inspiring and kinda scary.

I couldn’t be more delighted with how this course has gone this summer. After each guest, we spend an hour debriefing what we just heard and connecting it back to previous conversations and readings. Our understandings of effective crisis leadership in education have been greatly enhanced by the diverse perspectives that we are bringing in from other, non-education societal sectors. Plus my students are incredible. I’m going to be sad to see them go after next week’s final class session!

What are your school’s decision triggers for closing back down again?

The Buck Stops Here signYou’ve opened up school again and at least some students and teachers are attending in person. Unsurprisingly, some students, families, or educators begin to identify as positive for COVID-19. Now what?

How many kids have to get sick before you shut down again? What are your decision-making criteria? [practice saying these out loud and see how they sit with you]

Well, if 1 kid gets sick, that’s sad but we’ll stay open…

Well, if 10 kids get sick, that’s terrible but we’ll stay open…

Well, if 100 kids get sick, that’s a tragedy but we’ll stay open…

If 50 kids at that one school get sick, we will shut that school down but the rest of the district will stay open…

Until 20% of our students are sick, we’ll stay open…

How many educators have to get sick before you shut down again? What are your decision-making criteria? [practice saying these out loud and see how they sit with you]

Well, if 1 educator gets sick, that’s sad but we’ll stay open…

Well, if 10 educators get sick, that’s terrible but we’ll stay open…

Well, if 100 educators get sick, that’s a tragedy but we’ll stay open…

If 20 teachers at that one school get sick, we will shut that school down but the rest of the district will stay open…

Until 30% of our educators are sick, we stay open…

Until we can’t get enough substitutes to adequately cover classrooms, we stay open…

How many kids or educators have to die before you shut down again? What are your decision-making criteria? [practice saying these out loud and see how they sit with you]

Well, if 1 kid dies, that’s sad but we’ll stay open…

Well, if 10 kids die, that’s a tragedy but we’ll stay open…

Well, if 3 teachers die, that’s terrible but we’ll stay open…

Well, if 20 teachers die, that’s a tragedy but we’ll stay open…

Until 10% of our staff are dying, we’ll stay open…

Some schools are tracking their state or local health department data for guidance, but community spread is an imperfect match for school system spread. Accordingly, school systems should be prepared to make the kinds of decisions noted above, which means that school leaders are going to need to be very clear with their educators, families, and communities about what their ‘decision triggers’ are. 

Decision triggers are critical thresholds that trigger action if crossed. If school systems don’t identify and articulate their decision triggers beforehand for when schools will need to reclose again, then they will be hammered by educators, families, and community members who have their own decision triggers and will be angry that you’re not following theirs.

What do you mean 10 infected children are acceptable? Don’t you know those children may infect their siblings and vulnerable family members?

What do you mean you’re okay with 5 teachers dying? How heartless are you?

What do you mean that you’re waiting for state or local guidance? In the meantime, kids and educators are getting sick and some are probably going to die!

What are your school’s decision triggers for closing back down again? Have you made those public to your educators and community?