Leader’s Digest with Principal Kathy Walker

Issue #5: Tapping back into your “why” this BTS season

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Kathy Walker is a middle school principal in Statesville, North Carolina. You can follow her on Twitter @kathywalkeriss

Optimism. Concern. Fear. Excitement. Determination. We school leaders are building our back-to-school plans a little differently – but for all of us, each day brings a rollercoaster of emotions and experiences. I always expect this time of year to be busy, but I never imagined I’d be planning my fall around a pandemic – and this is not an easy ride. 

As lead learners, we’re planning for online teaching, hybrid schedules and everything in between. We’re fielding a million questions and concerns. Each day brings so many ups and downs – but beneath all that turbulence, there’s still the joy of starting a new year of learning with the students, teachers and families who mean so much to us. It’s what inspires me to lead, in these turbulent days, with grace. With confidence. And with trust – in myself, and in my school community.

For me, leading with grace means that although I may not have every answer to the unknowns ahead, I will still build my plans with care and commitment. It means showing my team how much I believe in them, and letting my students and families know how much I care about them. Here, I’m sharing a few ways I’m bringing grace into my leadership practice right now:

  • Prioritizing relationships. We know our students have been through a lot. By giving them space to express their anxieties, we can give them the support they need to reconnect with themselves as learners. So I’m encouraging my team to build relationships that will make our kids feel ready to grow.
  • Promoting innovation. Teachers are trying out so many new tools and ideas right now, and I want my team to feel inspired, not daunted. So when I wrote them a “welcome back” letter, I decided to be brave and record my first video message, too – just to spread some confidence about all the innovating we can do together!
  • Encouraging teacher leadership. This time calls for leaders. If I can find out what a teacher’s dreams are, I can empower them to grow in ways that will do so much for our school community! So I’ve been asking my team how I can support their goals – and I love getting to offer them the encouragement they deserve.

I know this newsletter may have reached you as you’re feeling some stress or trepidation about the coming weeks. But I want to invite you to pause here and give yourself a moment of grace – and to reconnect with your passion as an educator and a leader. You’re doing so much to support and inspire your school community right now, and it matters.

Below, you’ll find a collection of insights and approaches from your fellow lead learners as they head back to school, and the many ways that this time looks different from years past. I encourage you to draw some inspiration from their perspectives, and to share your own journey with the #PrincipalProject community.

Above all, I encourage you to tap back into the “why” that means so much to you – and to bring that joy into the full, frustrating, exciting days ahead.

Kathy Walker
Middle School Principal
Statesville, North Carolina

For middle school principal Dr. VaShawn Smith, every day brings new opportunities to promote anti-racism in his school community – and to encourage everyone around him to raise their voices, too.

As Principal Amy Fast looks ahead to a complicated school year, she’s seeing how much her leadership can matter to her school community – and how meaningful her work can be.

Supporting Students This Fall – from Principal Krisandra Worley via NASSP

In middle school principal Krisandra Worley’s community, some students will begin school in person, while others will attend virtually – so she’s building flexibility and collaboration into her fall plans. Her back-to-school approach encompasses scheduling time for academic and behavioral supports, structuring socially distant lunch periods, and creating a “connection crew” with her team. Read more about her back-to-school plans here.

For School Leaders, Five Broad Goals for Fall – via Useable Knowledge

Centering equity. Engaging students. Encouraging teachers. This year, these BTS priorities may feel especially challenging – but this quick read from the Harvard Graduate School of Education shares five steps lead learners can take to build a supportive and inclusive foundation for the school year. Get the details here.

Reimagining Education: Let’s empower teachers to co-write curriculum with students and families – from Dean of Instruction Chris DeRemer

“To be sure, our instruction needs to be aligned to the standards. But just as importantly, it needs to be relevant to our students’ experiences, as they are now, today – and as they should be.” High School Dean of Instruction Chris DeRemer is leading his team to reimagine curriculum by writing their own curriculum and centering student interests. Click here to check out the steps he’s taking.

Keeping Kids Engaged in Remote Learning – from Principal Eric Sheninger

The key to successful remote teaching is learner engagement, says digital ed leader and former High School Principal Eric Sheninger.  While creating meaningful online learning experiences for every student can feel daunting,  he recommends six focus areas teachers can use to build connection with students from day one. To bring his tips to your team, read on.

You’re doing so much to make sure your school community’s back-to-school plans feel supportive and sustainable for students, teachers and families – but it’s important to make sure these busy days are sustainable for YOU, too. How are you building self-care into your fall schedule?

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