Principals: Hold On to Your Vision of Success

October 22, 2020

With the pandemic upending every aspect of how we educate our nation’s students, principals, along with teachers and other school staff, have been asked to do heroic work under exceptionally challenging circumstances. ‘Pandemic fatigue’ doesn’t just apply to social distancing and wearing masks. Our nation’s school leaders are also experiencing the type of fatigue that comes from having to constantly make important decisions with imperfect or incomplete information, while navigating the very real emotions and fears of their students, families, and staff. It’s difficult work under the best of circumstances, and under the current set of circumstances, well…

As our school communities adapt to our new reality – one in which we’re likely to be for a while longer – it’s important that school leaders continue to define and maintain their vision of success for their students. Ideally, this vision of success is one that you’ve created collaboratively with your team; a vision that defines how you want students to learn and engage with teachers and each other; a vision that lays out what your students will know, be able to do, and feel when the school year is over, and beyond.

While the vision may fundamentally remain the same regardless of how we are instructing – in person, remote, or a hybrid – how we get there may look different. To ensure that school leaders are able to keep their schools’ vision of success front and center, the Danielson Group recommends:

  1. Focus on a narrower set of high-leverage skills. The skills that make an effective teacher are similar in in-person and remote environments, but it can be overwhelming to think about how every aspect of teaching translates online. By focusing on specific high-leverage skills for the current context, school leaders can narrow their collaborative conversations and professional learning opportunities for teachers. The Framework for <Remote> Teaching identifies eight components that are most likely to support and ground educators while navigating through an uncertain teaching environment, including demonstrating knowledge of students, engaging families and communities, planning coherent instruction, and engaging students in learning, among others. Observation, feedback, reflection, and professional learning on these components can help to focus conversations between school leaders and staff.
     
  2. Engage with your team to revisit your school’s vision and the path to getting there. Professional learning with your team has taken on a new importance. Not only do school staff need to adapt their skills to effectively teach in this environment, but professional learning opportunities may be the only time school teams are able to come together as a whole, offering much-needed community and support. Use this time to recenter the team on your vision and discuss what may be getting in the way of achieving it. What is preventing students from learning and how can we remove those obstacles? How can we identify and address the needs of specific students and families that may be facing unique challenges? What support do teachers need to successfully deliver instruction in this new way?
     
  3. Don’t forget to take care of yourself. School leaders are used to putting the needs of their students, families, and staff first. It’s an important part of the job. But as the public health outlook continues to shift, often requiring additional retooling of even the best-laid plans, school leaders must ensure they are prepared to manage their teams in these exceptional circumstances for the long haul. That means taking care of yourselves. As the saying goes, ‘we must put on our own oxygen mask before we assist others.’ Identify what gives you energy – a brisk walk, a good book, meditation – and find a way to weave these opportunities into your day. We simply can’t fill others’ cups if our own cups are empty.

Maintaining a vision of success is important to every school, in every school year. But in a year during which students and staff may feel unsettled, a clear vision for success, adapted to a new reality, can be a grounding force that guides and bonds teachers and staff.