New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio this weekend announced that schools would be closed through the remainder of the school year. Here in New York today we enter week four of quarantine remote school. Recognizing that it is burdensome to wade through all of the advice and guidance out there for educators dealing with these unusual times, here’s more advice from a Principal in the Coal Mine.
Don’t Add One More Thing
Don’t try to “win the quarantine”. Compelled to remain at home, the restless school leader conjures a host of what seem like reasonable ideas to make an impact and support stakeholders. Be suspicious of this instinct. One week into the quarantine, I reached out to my always supportive and resourceful PTA leadership and suggested we host a virtual PTA meeting. At first they said, “Sure, sounds like a good idea”, but upon reflection, they wisely cautioned me to back off from that idea. Parents are wrangling households of restless learners, managing their own and their family’s anxiety, and confronting the catastrophic economic impact of the quarantine. Many of my parents are themselves health care providers. The last thing they needed was the pressure to attend a virtual PTA meeting. As an alternative, we coordinated an informal question and answer with our building administrators via Google Hangout for parents to ask questions about upcoming plans and how to help their children with digital learning. It was very successful and had nearly 75 parents join (grid view Google app is a must). In her district, Danielle Gately and her superintendent created a Living History Challenge using Padlet that has provided an academic extension as well as a strong community building forum leveraging student and parent voice. Pick your spots. Many different balls are being juggled, don’t toss another ball at your stakeholders when they are only now just learning to juggle.
Offer ideas but share the struggle
There’s no shortage of advice for coping with the quarantine. It’s out there. TV, digital media, social media, everyone is telling us how to stay healthy and sane during this unusual time. As a teacher and a school leader you have a lot to offer and people want to hear how you are managing.
But, if you’ve got it all figured out, you and your family are thriving, you might wanna keep that to yourself. Your stakeholders will gain more from your vulnerability than they will from your perfection.
By most measures, the Oceanside Gately’s are “losing the quarantine.” Family dinners here have been renamed the Ceremonial airing of grievances. With three kids in our household, we try to include three different items with every dinner so there is something about which each child can exclaim, “I’m not eating that!” I’m embarrassed to admit while a few puzzles have been successfully put together, we haven’t played one game as a family. No one in my house is exercising, eating right, yoga-ing (that’s funny), reading, practicing mindfulness, or staying in touch with friends to the extent we should. I’d like to use this space to apologize to anyone who may have seen one Tweet or one Facebook post and assumed that we were. We are not!
For educational leaders, your friends and family in the school community will benefit more when you share your vulnerability than they will from the superbly crafted “model quarantine” you’ve shared with them through emails or social media. Keep doing what you’re doing; unless you’re not doing what that awesome lady on Instagram is doing with her family, then do THAT instead.
Hang in there. You’re not perfect. None of us are.