Friday, July 30, 2021

Sometimes, It Takes Hitting Rock Bottom to Realize You Were Born to Soar!


I don't know who this is for, but I hope it benefits someone....and in full disclosure, this message started out as a simple Facebook post, but as it got unintentionally lengthier than I intended for it to be, I decided to turn it into a blog post.

I have been walking in my dream as a self-employed, independent, unaffiliated, national education speaker, consultant and author for ten years now. At the age of 50, I left my purpose as a principal ten years ago to walk into my passion as a trainer of principals. The springboard to getting here however was my 6-year tenure as the principal of Newark Tech HS in Newark, NJ...the best 6 years of my professional life. Prior to my arrival to Newark Tech in the fall of 2005, I had hit rock bottom professionally. When I say "rock bottom," I mean ROCK BOTTOM...which had an obvious adverse impact on me emotionally. In today's lexicon, we would say that my mental health took a significant hit. I was not well...at all. I was in bad shape. I was on the verge of losing everything I worked so hard for over the previous 17 years...and I was on the verge of a breakdown emotionally, because I dared to "go against the grain" professional. I dared to do certain things my way which I felt strongly were best for children...decisions I don't regret one iota today and if given the same circumstances again, I would proceed in a similar fashion. Said differently, we all have principles that we stand beside but the true test to your commitment to your principles is when they are challenged. Mine were challenged and it almost cost me my career.

My point - there's someone out there reading this blog post who's either at rock bottom or on a downward spiral toward approaching rock bottom. Rock bottom isn't always a bad place though. For me, it was the absolute best thing that could have happened to me both professionally and personally...a blessing in disguise. It forced me to dig deep into my soul to locate....to identify...to find aspects of me that I didn't know existed. I was "comfortable" for a long time...TOO COMFORTABLE...but this experience forced me to become "uncomfortable with being comfortable and comfortable with being uncomfortable." I had no solid Plan B. Yes, I was a public speaker on the side, but not to the extent of making a career of it. I was on my backside now. I was literally suspended from my principalship - I was a local news story (television, radio and print) and my termination hearing was the following week. I'M TALKING TO SOMEONE OUT THERE....I STOOD FIRM ON WHAT I BELIEVED WERE THE RIGHT DECISIONS FOR CHILDREN....I STOOD FIRM BESIDE MY PRINCIPLES...AND NEARLY LOST IT ALL.I remember it like it was yesterday...September 22, 2004...the school board voted unanimously...7 to 0 that the decisions and actions that I took in question were appropriate and that I be reinstated immediately. Again, I stood firm by my principles.

At the end of that school year, I transferred to a school district that I knew nothing about and became for the first time, a high school principal. What an experience it was. It gave me a reset. It gave me a new lease on life professionally. I found a fit where I truly belonged. I was able to be "Principal Kafele." Those six years at Newark Tech were the springboard to the work I have been doing over the past ten years, but in order to get here, I had to leave the situation that was taking a toll on my mental health. Newark Tech was my cure. My mental health and that situation were not compatible and something had to give. I made what turned out to be a life-changing decision...to start all over in a place where I had peace of mind.

I'M TALKING TO SOMEONE OUT THERE TODAY. Someone reading this essay is going through something. Someone reading this essay has been challenged. Someone reading this essay is being tested. Someone reading this essay is contemplating quitting, giving up or throwing in the towel. Someone reading this essay is contemplating walking away from your dream...your purpose...your passion. Someone reading this essay feels that they have hit rock bottom....a point of no return. My response to you is WAIT...STOP...HOLD ON! Rock bottom isn't always a bad place. Sometimes, rock bottom is the blessing you were waiting for but it came to you in a disguise. That situation you are in just might not be the right situation for you but you needed to hit rock bottom in order for you to realize it. There is so much more in you. There is so much more to you. There is so much more for you. There are so many gifts and talents that are laying dormant within you that you haven't identified or unleashed yet. There are so many people in the world waiting for you to soar in another direction....a new direction...directly toward them...people who NEED YOU! That situation you are currently in doesn't have to be your final definition of who you are. It is time for you to redefine yourself. It is time for you to pursue a new breakthrough. It is time for you to blossom into your fullness....but you might not be able to do it there.

Hey somebody out there, if I am in fact speaking to you, GET UP OFF OF YOUR BACKSIDE, start writing your new goals, devise and write your new strategy and begin to walk in it everyday in the spirt of a RENEWED YOU. Get yourself a trusted accountability partner too. Start this process right after you finish reading this essay. Don't put it off for another second. Procrastination is the enemy of all pursuits. Start today....RIGHT NOW and do know that the road will be bumpy at times, but that's okay. That's just life. Keep your eyes fixated on the prize. And realize that "flying" was always in you, but sometimes, it takes hitting rock bottom for us to fully realize that we were all born to soar in the first place.

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Could the Banning of Black History Month Be Next? (More CRT Madness)


Like wildfire, the banning (and the consideration of banning) of what is called Critical Race Theory is spreading across the country in various different states to the detriment of tens of millions of children and to America overall. As indicated in an essay I wrote yesterday entitled,
Critical Race Theory, Sleight of Hand, & Some and Mirrors, I see this as nothing more than subterfuge, deception, a ruse. In my eyes, it’s not CRT that they want to ban because as I read and listen to countless individuals, they don’t even know what CRT is. No….what they want to ban is the truth of America’s ugly history over the past 402 years relative to Black-white relations in this country. For example, you will recall that in the summer of 2020, then President Trump was scheduled to speak in Tulsa, OK on Juneteenth (June 19) which sparked outrage from the African American community in particular. It brought the Black Wall St. race massacre and the meaning of Juneteenth to the center of media attention nationally. Millions never heard of either prior to this moment. What we see with these "Critical Race Theory" state bans is the consequence. These legislators in these red states are essentially saying, "Oh hell no...there's no way in hell we are going to allow the truth of America toward Black people historically to make its way into our classrooms. We will suppress that truth by any means necessary!" This is where we are now in America’s schools.

Since I became a teacher back in 1988 in Brooklyn, NY, I have stood firm that cultural-relevance, cultural-responsiveness and equity must be inherent components of America’s classrooms; particularly when Black and Brown students are present. I consider these to be nonnegotiable components of the teaching and learning dynamic. But I stand equally as firm on the teaching of African American History and this, I do not confine to the presence of Black students. America is comprised of each race and countless cultural groups but there is only one race of people who came to these shores involuntarily – Black people. Black people are uniquely American. We all have roots in Africa but most of us do not have fam back home in Africa (that we are aware of) that we can call and say we will be coming home to visit on a summer vacation trip. America is home. It’s all we have. What family we know is here and throughout the Western Hemisphere. Our story is therefore a uniquely American story. There is no such thing as American History without the fullness of the African American story. To write us out of history is to pretend that we don’t exist and to pretend that we did not come here as slaves (captives). The banning of CRT is nothing but a modern day attempt to further suppress the story and experience of Black people in America. It’s a way to control the thinking of the masses of children in America’s classrooms.

 

Dr. Carter G. Woodson, considered to be the father of Black history in America due to his creation of Negro History Week back in 1926 which evolved into Black History Month in the 60’s wrote sixteen books but the one that is most pertinent to the times is a classic and perennial best-seller, the Miseducation of the Negro, written in 1933. There’s a paragraph in the introduction that is often cited and recited, and recited by me countless times over the past 35 years. It reads as follows:

 

“When you control a man's thinking, you do not have to worry about his actions. You do not have to tell him not to stand here or go yonder. He will find his 'proper place' and will stay in it. You do not need to send him to the back door. He will go without being told. In fact, if there is no back door, he will cut one for his special benefit. His education makes it necessary.”

 

He said it best when he said, “When you control a man’s thinking, you do not have to worry about his actions.” This is my interpretation of the goal of banning CRT. It’s about banning the Black experience so that control of the minds of America’s children may be maintained in classrooms relative to the truth of the past.

 

So what about Black History Month? Of course the reading, studying, learning, researching and celebration of Black history can never be confined to one month and in this case, February. But February is still most significant because it provides us with the opportunity to highlight…zero in if you will, on Black history during that particular season. I look at it as a month long “celebration” of Black people. But when you juxtapose it with the banning of CRT, it raises legitimate questions. Is the banning of Black History Month next in America’s schools? Will it be watered down? Will it be reduced to “nothingness?” Will teachers be intimidated from teaching it? I said it a “zillion” times and I will say it again, YOU CANNOT TEACH NOR DISCUSS THE BLACK EXPERIENCE IN AMERICA DEVOID OF A DISCUSSION ON RACE. It is an impossibility. It cannot be done. And this is why I call the banning of CRT ”sleight of hand” & “smoke and mirrors.”

 

As I close, I want to draw your attention to 50 questions that I added to the conclusion of my newest book, The Equity & Social Justice Education 50. The book is written for educators and my premise for the questions is that teachers must be conversant in these eras of Black history, regardless of the racial composition of their students. These questions represent American history and not having familiarity with each is just unacceptable for a multiplicity of reasons. But in the context of this blog post, in a state where CRT is banned, these questions would be considered violations of the ban because they require discussions of race…which may make some of the children feel uncomfortable…which is the deception that is being used to ban CRT.

 

Please take a look at each of these questions and ask yourself whether or not you are conversant in these eras of American history.

 

1.  What do I know about the circumstances upon which the first Africans arrived to America?

2.  What year and location did the first Africans arrive?

3.  What do I know about the Middle Passage?

4.  What do I know about Black participation in the Revolutionary War?

5.  What do I know about the intricacies of the “peculiar institution” known as enslavement?

6.  What do I know about the abolitionist movement including the rise of the Black press?

7.  What do I know about the Dred Scott decision?

8.  What do I know about the Emancipation Proclamation, including Black participation in the Civil War?

9.  What do I know about Juneteenth?

10.  What do I know about the Black Codes?

11.  What do I know about the 13th Amendment?

12.  What do I know about the 14th Amendment?

13.  What do I know about the 15th Amendment?

14.  What do I know about the reason for HBCUs?

15.  What do I know about the reason for Freedmen’s Schools?

16.  What do I know about the reason for the Freedmen’s Bureau?

17.  What do I know about the intricacies of Reconstruction?

18.  What do I know about the Compromise of 1877?

19.  What do I know about Plessy v. Ferguson?

20.  What do I know about the founding of the NAACP?

21.  What do I know about the Garvey Movement?

22.  What do I know about the Harlem Renaissance?

23.  What do I know about the Negro Leagues?

24.  What do I know about the plethora of inventions and discoveries of Black inventors and scientists?

25.  What do I know about the history of lynchings of Black men and Black women?

26.  What do I know about the history of race riots and white mob violence toward Black men and women?

27.  What do I know about Black Wall Street?

28.  What do I know about the Rosewood Massacre?

29.  What do I know about the Tuskegee Experiment?

30.  What do I know about the Great Migration?

31.  What do I know about Black participation in World Wars I and II and the Tuskegee Airmen?

32.  What do I know about Brown v. the Board of Education?

33.  What do I know about Emmett Till?

34.  What do I know about the Montgomery Bus Boycott?

35.  What do I know about the Little Rock Nine?

36.  What do I know about the Greensboro Four?

37.  What do I know about the 4 Little Girls?

38.  What do I know about the March on Washington?

39.  What do I know about Bloody Sunday?

40.  What do I know about the treatment of Black soldiers after the Vietnam War?

41.  What do I know about the Civil Rights Movement?

42.  What do I know about the Civil Rights Act of 1964?

43.  What do I know about the Voting Rights Act of 1965?

44.  What do I know about the Black Power Movement?

45.  What do I know about COINTELPRO?

46.  What do I know about the Black Studies Movement?

47.  What do I know about the struggle for Black racial justice beyond the ’60s and ’70s?

48.  What do I know about the historical and contemporary tensions between the Black community and the police, which include the mass incarceration of Black men?

49.  What do I know about contemporary issues of racial and social justice in the Black community?

50.  What do I know about the infinite number of examples of “Black excellence” that has existed since the arrival of the first Africans to America as indentured servants and subsequently throughout the period of enslavement through the present?

 

For further reading, order my newest book, The Equity & Social Justice Education 50: Critical Questions for Improving Opportunities and Outcomes for Black Students (ASCD) wherever education books are sold.


Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Critical Race Theory, Sleight of Hand, & Smoke and Mirrors

I have been watching the debate and banning of Critical Race Theory (CRT) with great interest over the past several weeks. I have so many thoughts and emotions about it that I want to share but I don’t have the space in a short blog post so I will keep it simple. First, what is CRT? I’ve watched so many anti-CRT people on television being interviewed about it and when asked the question, they typically do not have a clue. In other words, angry people fighting against something that they know little to nothing about.

 

Let me take you back to my undergraduate school days beginning in 1984. After spending 5 years in high school while attending 4 different high schools and doing absolutely nothing academically and finally graduating with a 1.5 GPA, I attended a junior college for the next five years as a full time, unemployed student and never graduated. I had a comparable GPA with zero ambition for my life. In an effort to do something with my life, I enrolled in a 4-year university in my home state of NJ, maintained a 4.0 for most of my tenure there and graduated Summa Cum Laude. How so? On the first day of classes, I stumbled on African American history. This did not occur in classes. It happened in the campus library. I stumbled on a book about the parallels of the lives of Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King , Jr. This occurrence changed my life forever. The one book led to another…and another…and another and I became a voracious reader of African American history with an insatiable appetite for more and more. As I read, I was simultaneous fascinated and angry throughout that initial year and for decades after. Fascinated because I never knew that as an African American, I had a history that was so vast, replete with joy and pain but angry because I never learned not even a modicum of this in the classroom from K – 12. I discovered through all of this reading that Black people in America had overcome tremendous odds…some of the most overwhelming odds known to humans over the past 400 years. I was angry. I needed to know why the truth and fullness of the American story was never told to me in a classroom. To date, I have never taken a Black Studies course but I built a personal library that I am most proud of. The question again – why was I never told? Learning this history literally made me feel invincible. I felt like I was some sort of superman because I came into an understanding that I was a descendent of a magnificently strong and brilliant people which is why and how I went on to graduate near the top of my entire class.

 

In 1988, I become a 5th grade teacher in Brooklyn, NY. The students were Black. It made sense to me that with all of my new accumulated knowledge of American history with an emphasis on the African American experience, that this content should be infused in all of the content areas in an interdisciplinary fashion, and that is exactly what I did while staying true to the curriculum. What a refreshing year that was. I soon after went back home to Jersey and once again, taught 5th grade and implemented the same approach that I did in NY. At the completion of my 4th year in NJ, I was named the school, district and county Teacher of the Year and NJ State Teacher of the Year finalist. I knew instinctively that my students were performing at the high levels that they were performing because of the infusion of African American history into their learning. In other words, I used an approach that was culturally relevant, culturally responsive and equitable. And obviously, I brought I high degree of cultural competence to my students.

 

In 1998, I became a school administrator and in 1999, a principal. I went right to the superintendent’s office upon my appointment and sold him on the significance of infusing cultural relevance into student learning with an emphasis once again on the infusion of African American history into the content areas and a couple of stand alone courses in African American  and African history. We subsequently went on to outperform the rest of the State of NJ of students of similar demographics solely because we put the students on the pages and in the lessons – in other words, we were culturally relevant.

 

Now what I am sure stands out for the reader of this blog post is that my students were Black so the challenge compared to a racially diverse student body will look different but attainable. Due to space, let me use one singular example – Black Wall St. in Tulsa, OK. Much of America never heard of Black Wall St. until the summer of 2020. I was deeply familiar with it since the 80s when I began my reading journey. I taught my students about it in the 80s and 90s. Black Wall St. is a part of the American story but it is only one example of the American story relative to African Americans. Black Wall St. is both a story of triumph and a painful story of America’s ugly past as it relates to African Americans. Here we had in the Greenwood section of Tulsa an economically thriving community….a self-sustaining community where there was little need for the dollar to ever leave the community. Everything that the people needed was there and it was built by them…which is key….a total of 35 square blocks. It was built out of survival. Racial oppression and racial injustice was real (and continues to be real) and opportunity was limited. Black people in Tulsa and other parts of the U.S. had no choice but to build their own thriving economies…out of survival. This began in 1906. In 1921, 100 years ago, there was incident on an elevator where a 19 year old Black young man was accused of attempted sexual assault of a 17 year old white young woman who was the elevator operator. He was subsequently arrested (although never to date proven guilty) but the angry white mob outside of the jail where he was being held wanted access to him in order to lynch him. The events that followed led to the massacre of Black Wall St….the entire Greenwood section of 35 square blocks burned to the ground including over 300 deaths whose remains to this day are still unaccounted for....due to an allegation of an attempted sexual assault that was never proven. This is a part of the American story that to this day, many don't want ever to be told in a classroom. No race theory...just facts.

 

My point – opponents of “Critical Race Theory” argue that CRT is inherently racist and it will make white children feel uncomfortable in the classroom. HEAR ME WELL – nothing that I have written above is CRT. What I have done in this blog post is to share with you my personal journey and to share briefly with you the origins and destruction of Black Wall St. – again, a part of the American story. Black Wall St., both its origins and destruction must be an inherent part of the Social Studies and American History curriculum. But the story cannot be told devoid of a discussion about race toward ensuring that the white students in the classroom do not feel uncomfortable. You can’t tell this story without a discussion on race because Black Wall St. was birthed in race and it was destroyed in race. There is no aspect of American history relative to the African American experience that can be told without the mention of race. It is an absolute impossibility. The existence of Black people in the Western Hemisphere is a story about race.

 

In terms of what CRT is, CRT argues that race is a social construct and that the policies and laws that shape America are inherently racist. As progressive educators, we are not demanding the teaching of CRT. That has never been our fight. Our fight is to simply be allowed to teach the fullness of the American story inclusive of the African American experience. Here, I am talking about the only population of people on these shores who came here involuntarily as slaves (captives). The African American experience is inherently American, but it is an experience that has been hidden, omitted, marginalized, distorted, trivialized and caricatured. It is a story that must be told. Yes, there will be children in classrooms who will feel uncomfortable but those very children need to be informed as well. We can no longer hide the truth of America’s past and present. If real change and progress are to occur, honesty must be at the heart of the evolution.

 

As a retired K-12 educator, CRT is not my fight at the K-12 level. This is all smoke and mirrors, deception, sleight of hand, a ruse. CRT is not the issue in K-12 classrooms. The issue is telling the truth…the fullness of the American story in classrooms. And one of the consequences in telling the truth about the American story is that the racist enforcement of its laws and policies will come to light through the discussion and this is what the opponents of CRT never want the children to know.

 

For further reading, order my newest book, The Equity & Social Justice Education 50: Critical Questions for Improving Opportunities and Outcomes for Black Students (ASCD) wherever education books are sold.


Monday, June 15, 2020

School Leadership, Black Lives, Systemic Racism, Social Unrest and Social Justice Education


We’re at an interesting place in education in 2020. Although police killings of unarmed Black men is nothing new….in fact, it has been occurring for a very long time, what is new is that these killings are now being captured on cell phone video, surveillance video and police body cam video and broadcasted on television for the world to see. For the first time, the world is seeing what the Black community has been crying out about for over a century. With the recent cell phone-recorded police killing of George Floyd, the surveillance and subsequent body cam videos of the police killing of Rayshard Brooks, and the home invasion and subsequent police killing of Breonna Taylor, America has shifted. The America of today, June 15, 2020 is not the America of May 24, 2020. In other words, when George Floyd was killed on Memorial Day, May 25, 2020 where a Minneapolis police officer (knowingly being recorded) kept his knee on Floyd’s neck to the point of suffocation for a total of 8 minutes and 46 seconds, America shifted. Starting with Minneapolis, the masses immediately “took to the streets” in the form of marches, protests, rallies, demonstrations, rebellions and rioting. As I write on June 15 (21 days after the George Floyd murder), masses of people are still “in the streets” of America and the world, across racial / ethnic groups, demanding justice, solutions and immediate change relative to the policing of citizens of the Black community.

The aforementioned has implications for the classroom every day that cannot be disregarded. The social unrest that we’re all currently observing and will in all likelihood continue to observe for some time to come cannot be ignored, circumvented or “swept under the rug.” At the district and school levels, it must be met head-on. It must be welcomed and embraced. Why? Because it impacts every child sitting in your schools and classrooms. Schools across America must be willing to embrace and infuse America’s new reality into every classroom in the country under the banner of Social Justice Education. Of course, there are many schools that have embraced Social Justice Education long before 2020, but there are other schools where Social Justice Education is “way off the radar.” The times dictate that Social Justice Education is an inherent part of the teaching and learning process across all disciplines…Math, Science, Language Arts, Social Studies, etc. For the purpose of this essay, I am making the case for Social Justice Education in schools where Black children are enrolled because I am writing specifically here about “Black Lives.”

What is Social Justice Education (SJE)? First and foremost, I was a social justice teacher and principal because it was just natural for me professionally as it emanated out of who I am personally. I took on the tough topics and issues with my students because I felt it was my duty to do so. I owed it to each and every one of my students to have the courage and audacity to be a social justice educator...for them. But secondly, I have read extensively about SJE over the years and there are so many definitions and perspectives out there as to what it is and what it is not. For me, it’s simple. SJE is the ongoing student-centered exploration, examination, assessment, critique and analysis of the world upon which your students exist…the world around them relative to their relationship with it and how they fit into it relative to issues of social justice (and injustices) and overall systemic, institutional and individual racism (unconscious, implicit or explicit). As it relates to your Black students for example, the question becomes, “What are the realities of being Black? What are the realities, experiences, challenges, obstacles, needs, interests, goals and aspirations, across genres, of being Black in America? What challenges does being Black pose to your Black students?” Depending on the age of your students, chances are that your Black students have very strong, emotional and intellectual thoughts and opinions about the reality of being Black in America. As I indicated previously, SJE along with your Black students’ thoughts and opinions therefore cannot be ignored, circumvented or “swept under the rug” because the implications and correlation between their world and their academic success in your classroom and beyond are immeasurable. For example, they see the current unrest; they can relate to the current unrest; they understand the current unrest and many even may be participating in the current unrest. You must therefore ensure that SJE is an inherent component of learning and discussion in your school which not only enables your Black students to put their world’s in perspective toward confronting it, but equally enables your non-Black students to better understand and appreciate the world of their Black peers.

So what does this all have to do with school leadership? EVERYTHING. It requires leadership…strong leadership…purpose-driven leadership…visionary leadership…courageous leadership…passionate leadership to ensure that Social Justice Education occurs in all schools toward educating the “whole child.” Toward the implementation of Social Justice Education in your schools, I offer you the following ten self-reflective questions to guide your thinking, planning, organization and implementation:

1.  What do I know about Social Justice Education?

2.  What would Social Justice Education mean for the students of my school?

3.  Why would Social Justice Education be necessary in my school?

4.  What are the reasons that Social Justice Education exists in my school?

5.  What are the reasons that Social justice Education does not exist in my school?

6.  Can our students; particularly our students of color articulate, beyond emotional reactions, the injustices that surround them?

7.  Do the teachers that I supervise have the necessary cultural competency to engage our students in issues of social justice?

8.  What type of PD do we provide staff toward developing a comfort and confidence in engaging our students in issues of social justice?

9.  How knowledgeable am I in issues of social justice?

10.  How competent am I in incorporating issues of social justice in my overall instructional leadership with staff?

Principal Kafele is the author of seven ASCD books including his recently released Amazon best-seller, The Assistant Principal 50: Critical Questions for Meaningful Leadership and Professional Growth. For further writings authored by Principal Kafele visit PrincipalKafele.com.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

First Year ASSISTANT PRINCIPAL LEADERSHIP in the Age of the Coronavirus



As we are in the midst of the Coronavirus outbreak, I have thought about educating children even more so than I typically do…if that is humanly possible.  Specifically, I have been obsessed with how our educational systems will be able to sustain education for our children throughout this crisis upon which we find ourselves. As with most areas of education, I do have a few strong opinions about how to get through it so last Wednesday (3/18/20), I took to FB and Twitter Live and spent an hour and a half offering strategies and suggestions toward maximizing distance learning with an emphasis on the usage of webcam platforms such as ZOOM meetings. On Thursday, I decided I wanted to speak specifically to first year teachers toward addressing their unique challenges so I wrote a blog post specifically for them. On Friday, I decided I wanted to speak specifically to first year principals toward addressing their unique challenges so I wrote a blog post specifically for them. As I type, it is Saturday morning and I have the first year assistant principals on my mind, and I know they have unique challenges, so I decided I would devote my morning to writing specifically to them. From this point on, I will be writing in the second person as I share my thoughts specifically to first year assistant principals (veterans too).

As a first year assistant principal, once you entered the ranks of administration, you essentially entered an entirely new world relative to your previous work; presumably you were a teacher or a counselor. You are now a leader of men, women and children. You are a supervisor of a portion of your school’s staff. You are an instructional leader in addition to all of your other responsibilities including student discipline, cafeteria duty and bus duty. And then came COVID 19 and your world as a new assistant principal took on a change that graduate school could have never prepared you for. In other words, as comprehensive as your graduate school program may have been, chances are good that you didn’t have a course on “Leading Through a Global Pandemic.” Like all of the leaders out here, leading students and staff in the midst of a global pandemic has to be learned “on the job” and in real time. Yes, there are experts providing guidance but at the “end of the day,” this is something very different. To that end, I offer you the following five suggestions as you fight through this global crisis as a first year assistant principal.

1.  Your role is to assist
First and foremost, your title is Assistant Principal. You are there to assist. Although it is admirable and commendable when you take the initiative in areas that you see require your assistance, your first course of action in so many cases is to consult with your principal. I cannot overstate the significance of you and your principal being on the same page; particularly during this Coronavirus pandemic. Be sure to stay in constant contact with your principal who is obviously working out of his / her home. In other words, your principal’s home is now your school’s main office.  Keep your principal abreast of your thinking and initiatives that you want to take before you take them because remember, your principal is trying to figure this thing out too. This is new and different for everyone.
  
2.  You know your staff
As a supervisor of a portion of your school’s staff, chances are that you know these particular staff members, including teachers, a little better than your principal does. These staff members report directly to you. You are their leader. They too are trying to figure out how to maximize distance learning while keeping their students engaged. The reality that you can never lose sight of however is that teaching is only a portion of their lives. They are also individuals with lives outside of their career. In the midst of a global pandemic, they too are dealing with the emotions that accompany the uncertainty of the time we find ourselves. This is where your leadership is so crucial. As an assistant principal and in your case, a first year assistant principal, you must maintain contact with your staff beyond your supervisory role. It would be great if you could just check in on them. Strengthen those relationships that you have with them and assure them that you are there for them. Beyond their school lives, they have their own individual lives. They have their own emotions to contend with. And they have family responsibilities as well. Be therefore sure to compliment, encourage, praise and support your staff as often as possible. This can be done through email, ZOOM meetings (dept. or grade level) or however you deem most appropriate to maintain contact with staff. Some of your staff may be taking the pandemic in stride while others may be really struggling with it. As best you can, you want to be a support for these staff members as we fight through it daily.

3.  You are a resource
As a former classroom teacher and current instructional leader, you are an academic resource. Although there is a plethora of distance learning resources that can be obtained online, you know your students and staff. Theoretically, you know what resources will work well with your students and staff. Therefore, although there’s a ton of great stuff on line, don’t hesitate to offer your own suggestions and resources as well.

4. You know your students’ parents
In your capacity of assistant principal, chances are excellent that you communicate with more parents than anyone else in your school. The parents know you and you know the parents. They too are dealing with their own anxieties and emotions in the midst of the Coronavirus. Many of them just want an ear to talk to. It would be ideal if you could be one of those “ears” and they can continue to reach out to you via email or ZOOM. You could also assist your staff where necessary toward them engaging the parents in ZOOM parent meetings. Additionally, in your assistant principal capacity, you work with a number of students. You have helped a number of students. And quite frankly, you have turned around a number of students. With the amount of time that your students may be away from school, much of what you established could potentially unravel. I therefore encourage you to utilize this time away from school to communicate with several of the parents of the students you have worked with and possibly the parent and the child simultaneous on ZOOM for example toward increasing the probability that what you established can sustain itself.

5.  You’ve got to maintain personal balance
As a first year assistant principal and therefore a first year school administrator, I can only imagine how overwhelming this experience may be. You are in this job you worked so hard to attain, and then out of nowhere, you are leading through a global pandemic. Despite the pressures and demands of your new position, it is absolutely imperative that you maintain a sense of balance. Your physical and emotion health is crucial. Self-care must always be a priority. Yes, work hard toward making education work for your students and staff, but balance out your work life with your personal life. In a pandemic, you have a family that needs a large portion of your attention as well. Attend to their needs, but don’t ever leave out yourself. Take time out for your own peace as well. And never lose sight of the fact that you are not alone. There are first year assistant principals all over the world in this fight with you. In the age of social media and particularly Twitter, you actually have access to many of them. Communicate with as many of them as feasible, including the ones in your own district and geographical area. And at the end of the day, remember, this too shall pass.

Even during a pandemic, your responsibilities can be potentially endless. Many children rely on the school for breakfast and lunch for example. A part of your duties might include distribution of meals at your school. Many children may be having difficulty coping with the realities of a pandemic; particularly students in graduating grades - 5th, 8th and 12th. That is a blog post in and of itself. You along with the other administrators and staff may have to grapple with these emotions until more information is made available. The bottom line is that the work is endless....even during a pandemic and as I said above, the communication between you and your principal is absolutely crucial.

For further reading on school leadership, pick up Principal Kafele’s four school leadership books, The Assistant Principal 50: Critical Questions for Meaningful Leadership and Professional Growth, The Principal 50: Critical Leadership Questions for Inspiring Schoolwide Excellence, Is My School a Better School Because I Lead It? and The Aspiring Principal 50: Critical Questions for New and Future School Leaders – all published by ASCD and can be ordered through principalkafele.com.

Friday, March 20, 2020

The First Year Principal in the Age of the Coronavirus


Yesterday, I wrote a blog post entitled, The Coronavirus and the First Year Teacher, which spoke to the challenges of not only being a first year teacher, but being a first year teacher in the age of the Corona Virus.  While writing the blog post, I couldn’t help but think of the first year principals out there and the added challenges to leading a staff and students in the age of the Corona Virus. Because of my passion for the principalship, I decided that I would follow up my teacher essay with this 2nd essay specifically written for first year principals and to first year principals. I have therefore chosen to write the remainder of this essay in the 2nd person.

Hey new first year principal out there, think back on those years as a classroom teacher when it hit you that you wanted to one day be a principal. You subsequently enrolled in grad school and worked diligently toward your administrator’s degree while simultaneously continuing to teach at a high level in your classroom. Eventually, you became an assistant principal and you served in that capacity effectively for as many years that you did, while keeping your eye on your ultimate goal – the principalship. You yearned for this opportunity for several years. You desired the opportunity to one day lead your own school. You knew that given the opportunity, your school would ultimately achieve at high levels if you were just given an opportunity to lead. Now you are in your leadership position – the principalship – and you have been in your new capacity since the school year began. And now, in the month of March, 2020, something called the Corona Virus has unexpectedly become a part of your leadership reality.

Before I go further, let me say that I was a 4th year administrator (principal) on September 11, 2001. What a day, week, month and remainder of the year that was for me. Graduate school had not prepared me for leading a school in the midst and aftermath of a terrorist attack in the next state over (I was in northeastern New Jersey) that created a school and community-wide panic. I had to figure this out while on the job and in real time. In other words, in school leadership, you must always anticipate the unexpected. It’s simply a part of being an effective school leader.

As you read this essay, you are a first year principal of an empty school building. Your students and staff are at home and social distancing is the order of the day….but you still have to lead. In fact, your school community is counting on your leadership…they need your leadership more than ever. Although your school is closed for an indefinite period of time, school is in session via the various forms of distance learning. As the leader of your school, you must demonstrate leadership from afar…remotely while simultaneously holding everything together. Again, nothing could have prepared you for this as nothing could have prepared me for 9/11, but at the end of the day, leaders must lead. To that end, I would like to offer the following five suggestions:

1.  Your home has essentially become the main office / principal’s office of your school
Said differently, the leadership of your school is coming from your home. As challenging as leadership is within the school, it’s certainly a greater challenge when you are leading from home. To that end, if you haven’t done so already, I strongly suggest that you guide your staff via the utilization of  ZOOM meetings or some other webcam platform so that you can communicate with them regularly beyond emailing them. Because your staff is working with your students daily, it is my contention that you schedule ZOOM meetings with your staff daily or every other day. They don’t have to be long meetings but that face-to-face time is vital toward enabling you to communicate with your staff from afar with everyone hearing the same message while they simultaneously hear from one another and communicate with you. Of course, your meetings with staff do not need to be confined to whole staff meetings. You may want to meet with departments or grade levels or whatever works best toward leading your school remotely. I might add before moving on, that communication with parents during these challenging times is vital as well. This must be encouraged of your staff but just as you and your staff are using ZOOM to communicate with each other, you and your staff can do the same with communicating with parents. It is doable and it speaks to the way that the Corona Virus is going to significantly change the way that schools utilize technology to communicate.

2.  Compliment, encourage, praise and support your staff as often as possible
Remember, you have staff members who are “all in” with meeting the needs of your students but at the same time, like most people, they are dealing with their own anxiety. They have their own families to contend with. Some of them have young children while others are caretakers for elderly parents. When they have a principal who’s knowledgeable and understanding of their various realities in the wake of the Corona Virus, it makes the work that much easier to endure. They can have the confidence that you have their back.

3.  Get as much feedback from staff about your students as possible
Like your staff, your students have their own anxieties. This experience is new to them as well. There has been a complete disruption to life as they previously knew it and it is affecting them in a variety of different ways. Moreover, you can never lose sight of the fact that so many students in schools were “dealt some of the most difficult hands imaginable” at birth. Home life is a challenge for so many students and now it is compounded by the uncertainty of the Corona Virus. Through your staff and as best you can, you need to be able to learn of the current emotional well-being of your students.

4.  You’ve got to maintain personal balance
Despite the challenges, obstacles, pressures and demands of leading a staff and students in the age of the Corona Virus, it is incumbent upon you that you maintain personal balance. Yes, your students and staff need you to lead effectively from afar, but they also need you to be stable and strong throughout the process. In other words, your teachers have you to lean on and your students have their teachers to lean on, but who do you have to lean on? While you are working through your own anxiety relative to the virus while simultaneously leading your staff, balance must always be a priority. Your emotional and physical stability matter. You can never lose sight of your own self-care which includes how you manage and utilize your time.

5.  You are not in this alone
As a first year principal, never lose sight of the fact that you are not alone. You may feel alone from time to time but the reality is that you are not. You have principal colleagues that you can and should lean on in your district. Reach out to them and ask them what they are doing and how they are coping. Perhaps you know principals in other districts. Again, reach out to them as well. Social media and particularly Twitter are an asset that I didn’t have when I was a principal. There are thousands of principals on Twitter and they are definitely talking about coping with the Corona Virus. If you are not on Twitter, I strongly suggest you get yourself a Twitter account and start the process of having access to principals nationally and worldwide via becoming a part of various professional learning networks (PLN’s). Also, don't forget your assistant principals. They are your foot soldiers and you must strive to get maximum productivity out of them as well during this challenging time. Your communication and collaboration with your administrative team must be ongoing. In addition to your administrative team, you have various support staff; both certificated and non-certificated...utilize them. You are not in this alone.

There’s so much more that I could say and would like to say, but then that would become a book. Just know first year principal…you are not alone. Every principal in the U.S. is grappling with the Corona Virus. Incorporate the suggestions I made above and seek out information from others and in the end, you, your students and your staff will get through this and it will ultimately be a thing of the past.

For further Principal Kafele writings and recordings, visit principalkafele.com.

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