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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?

Design for high engagement this fall

Student wearing maskIn a couple of recent posts, I said:

One of the biggest challenges of ‘remote learning’ over the past few months has been that most of the motivators been pared away. For many students, all that has been left is the uninspiring learning. Little to no interaction with classmates. Little to no interaction with caring educators. No electives, extracurriculars, or athletics. And so on. Accordingly, we shouldn’t be surprised when our students – who generally have more control and autonomy at home over their learning decisions than they do at school – simply opt out. They decide that the exchange rate has shifted and they’re no longer interested, regardless of our pleas (or punishments) to the contrary.

As we try to figure out what schooling will look like in the months to come, we need to pay attention to the motivators and demotivators that help foster student engagement. If all we’re offering students is the uninspiring learning, we’re in a heap of trouble.

and

Our families gave us grace in the spring when we did remote learning because it was an ‘emergency.’ If we squandered the summer by engaging in magical thinking about returning in person this fall instead of making the organizational investments that we needed to make, they’re not going to give us the same grace again. And they’ll be right. We had our chance this summer to get better at online learning. And many school systems didn’t do nearly enough.

Whether we’re face-to-face, blended, hybrid, hyflex, or fully online, we need to be thinking deeply about what our students need from us this fall. As much as we’re worried about past or ongoing ‘learning loss,’ our students aren’t going to learn if they’re not first engaged. We can’t learn things if we have ‘checked out’ of the experience!

The student who’s sitting in school at an isolated desk, wearing a mask, separated from her friends, facing forward with her feet on the floor, perhaps behind a plexiglass divider? She’s going to be nervous, scared, and feeling disconnected. She’s also probably disenchanted with her overall school experience compared to years past. Listening to teacher lectures and doing rote, low-level desk work isn’t going to help her stay engaged.

The student who’s sitting at home, trying to find a quiet place to concentrate and work, separated from his friends, juggling a variety of technologies and assignments, perhaps struggling with device / Internet access or parent support? He’s going to be anxious, confused, and feeling disconnected. He’s also probably disenchanted with his overall school experience compared to years past. Sending home low-level factual recall and procedural regurgitation work isn’t going to help him stay engaged.

All of our students deserve deeper learning opportunities, even during a pandemic. As educators, we should be designing learning activities that are hands-on, active, and applied; that provide students with a lot of voice and choice; that allow them to be creative; that foster their critical thinking and problem-solving skills; that let them share, communicate, and collaborate; that provide opportunities for them to tap into their interests and passions; that give them chances to use technology in interesting ways; that connect them in meaningful ways with outside experts, organizations, and local communities; and so on…

No one should be surprised when we start to hear families pushing back on the kinds of learning tasks we put before students this fall. We had all summer to design for something different than textbooks, homework packets, and electronic worksheets. If day after day, week after week, we push out low-level and low-engagement learning, we’re going to start losing kids left and right like we did in the spring.

Did your summer professional learning opportunities for teachers focus on technology tools or robust learning? What are your schools and educators doing to design for high engagement student learning this fall? (and maybe the 4 Shifts Protocol can help?)

Image credit: Special post, Chris Schultz

See also