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 Principal Kafele writings and recordings, visit 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.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

The Coronavirus and the First Year Teacher


I remember it like it was yesterday…my first year as an elementary school teacher in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, NY in 1988. I had never previously taught a day in my life. A class of 5th graders where most had been retained at least once with 100% on free or reduced lunch. I hadn’t started on your normal first day of school. It was November. The previous teacher died the week prior. He was extremely popular and beloved….and then here comes me. Every one of those children were grieving and they exhibited their grief in ways that eventually made me into the teacher I became later. This was certainly the most challenging year of my thirty-two year career as an educator.

I eventually evolved into an effective teacher over the years but that’s for a later blog post. Let’s talk about 1988. By my present standards, I was absolutely horrendous. I was a horrible teacher. In fact, I don’t know if I deserved to call myself a “teacher.” I knew nothing about teaching….and my students knew it. I don’t think I ever had a good day that year. In fact, I state often that if I ever saw one of my former students from that first year, all I could say is that I’m sorry. They are all in their 40’s now. I initially vowed to find yet another career to pursue as teaching was not my initial career choice and my undergraduate major was Marketing. I had therefore concluded rather quickly at the time that I simply wasn’t built for the classroom. Every day was a new challenge, which is not a bad thing in and of itself, but every day was so chaotic and hectic. As I reflected upon it during my initial years as a principal ten years later, I thought to myself, “Wow…of that tumultuous year, the vice principal observed me once and the principal never observed me. I had one observation for about a half of a lesson and was assigned to no one to walk me through my new world.” I had to figure this thing out on my own.

To the new teachers out there, I give you this backdrop to talk about you and your first year. I know there are new teachers out there ranging from “I love this work” all the way to “I can’t see myself doing this again next year” and everyone in between. But even the ones who are having great first years, I am willing to bet that you ran into some potholes and roadblocks along the way….you experienced some bumps and bruises on your journey. In fact, this is normal for the superstar veteran teacher as well. Teaching is not easy work. The difference between you and I however is this thing call COVID 19…the Corona Virus…a global pandemic. In my first year, I didn’t have a virus to contend with. My challenge was in the classroom solely, not to mention coming in mid-year after a beloved teacher had died.

Your reality is quite different. You are in your first year. Whether you are having a good year or a struggling year, you have been hit with a challenge that could never have been anticipated…a global pandemic. As a first year teacher trying to find your way under normal circumstances, now you have a pandemic to contend with as well that is impacting all your students, their parents and the community upon which they live. That is not an easy endeavor due to the range of emotions that your students wake up to daily…the uncertainly about the future. As I type, schools are now closed, but when the pandemic first made its way to the U.S., there were so many questions about what the future held as it related to schools.

Schools are closed now but teaching…education has not ended. It just looks and feels different now. Now its distance learning from your home and chances are, as a first year teacher, no one prepared you for teaching through a pandemic in undergraduate school…from your home. So here you are now for example conducting ZOOM lessons virtually. That is not easy to do for your most seasoned teacher. The good thing however, is that like myself entering my first year in a very unusual situation but overcoming it, you too are in an unusual situation but you too will overcome it.

Hey first year teacher, as difficult and frustrating as it may be right now, do not get discouraged; do not entertain quitting; do not second guess your decision to teach nor your skillset. Always keep in mind that this is a difficult time for all of us in our various different capacities. On the one hand, you are a teacher, but on the other hand, you are an individual with a life outside of school. Dealing with a pandemic on an individual basis can be overwhelming in and of itself but when you couple that with the responsibility that you have for your students, it can be downright daunting…if you a allow it to be.

I could go “on and on” on this topic, but I won’t. I wrote these 900 words to simply say to a first year teacher somewhere in the world that “You got this! This will probably be the most challenging year in your career. As you adapt to and overcome this challenge, it will equip you to overcome all challenges. Keep learning…keep growing…keep adapting…and make sure you are collaborating with colleagues…the ones that have your best interest at heart, and you will be fine...and never forget...this too shall pass."

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