#PrincipalOfficeHours: A Conversation About Reopening and the New School Year

Recently, lead learners like you gathered on Twitter for a #PrincipalOfficeHours chat to discuss school reopening in this complicated back-to-school season. We’ve collected the roundup below to share a few highlights, and we hope it brings you a little extra inspiration – whether it’s a tip to share with your team, a plan to mull over or a new approach to try!

Special thanks to hosts Principal Alexa Sorden and Assistant Principal Basil Marin, and to our chat co-sponsor Transcend.org! To read more of your fellow school leaders’ plans, scroll through #PrincipalOfficeHours on Twitter – and add your insights to the conversation, too. You can share your voice in future leader chats by following @PrincipalProj!

Question 1
What does your school’s back-to-school plan currently look like? What are the knowns and unknowns?

“We will start virtual with a rubric to phase back into a face-to-face model based on the positive case numbers in our area. Teachers will teach from school and we have prepared a distance learning handbook for families and students.” —Principal VaShawn Smith

“Our BTS plan is fully in person. Our district is doing its best to provide a safe learning environment for students. We have a small percentage of students who have opted to attend virtually. A handful of teachers will be working to support those students with learning needs.” —Educator Dawn Harris

“Students will be remote for the first 4 weeks and then our board of education will vote to move us to 50% capacity. We feel prepared moving forward, but the unknowns are how the virus may spread and what it will look like if an outbreak comes about.” —Assistant Principal Joel T. Brown

Question 2
How does back-to-school communication look different for you this school year? What new approaches have you tried? 

“We usually mail a letter 😂! This year, we are having a virtual back-to-school night using a Bitmoji design to have parents go to rooms using clickable doors to learn more info from their child’s new teacher. It’s a new world for us!” —Principal Danielle Davis

“Instagram has been our mode of contact with students and families. We have a great designer who puts out information in Spanish and English on a daily basis and adds stories of students and teachers in ‘remote’ action.” —Dean of Instruction Chris DeRemer

“This year will include a virtual open house for new parents, virtual back-to-school nights and a redesign of the school website to align more with virtual learning. There will be a strong utilization of all social media platforms.” —Principal Harold A. McCray, Jr.

“We are using our social media platforms, created a private Facebook page for our parents, and I have put an emphasis on being transparent and honest about our process and procedures while soliciting as much family input as possible.” —Principal VaShawn Smith

Question 3
What is the number one thing you want to communicate to students and families right now?

“The number one thing I would like my scholars and families to know is that they are not on this journey alone. Our school community truly cares and wants each student to be successful.” —Assistant Principal Basil Marin

“I want students and families to know that I am here for them. I want them to know that we will get through this together. I will do everything in my power to help them! If I don’t have the answer, I will work to find someone who does!” —Principal Dennisha Murff, Ph.D.

“Families, we know you may be scared or uncertain. We will do everything in our power to take care of your children and completely understand that you have to make the decision that is right for your family about attending school.” —Assistant Principal Christopher Adamek

“I want families to know that I will do everything possible to ensure that students are safe in my care and that quality of education will NOT suffer as a result of the conditions in which we must learn. There is no obstacle too big to get in the way of education.” —Educator Dawn Harris

“The #1 thing I want students and families to know is that their teachers and their new principal are here FOR them and WITH them, advocating for their safety. They must know that they are loved and that we’ll work together as a community to ensure that they are successful!” —Principal Trelane Clark

Question 4
What opportunities are you creating for two-way communication with families? How do you make sure all voices are heard?

“We have used Google Forms to gain input for summer school in August and for the district reentry plan. Families have also been calling and emailing heavily since March. I have really enjoyed these one-on-one conversations and check-ins.” —Principal Kim Griesbach

“We’ve been using TalkingPoints to communicate with families speaking a number of languages. They’re able to text back and it auto-translates. We also will ask support staff to make regular contact with families to check in on their needs.” —Assistant Principal Jody Ratti

“We use our social media, especially now. We are showcasing videos of our janitors sharing their disinfecting and sanitizing schedules to help alleviate families’ worry during the pandemic.” —Principal David Golden

“The old fashioned phone always helps us connect. Our secretaries (amazing people) called over 650 homes this week to inquire about Chromebook needs. Most were set on tech but were so happy that our office reached out!” —Assistant Principal Jon Craig

Question 5
What is one way you’ve been able to collaborate with the teachers in your school community as you all plan for the new year?

“I have created a Google Classroom for my team. It has links to resources and check-ins to know what the team’s well-being is. We also created Best Practice Seminars led by teachers to help increase collaboration and risk-taking! —Principal Michael Williford

“I’m creating ‘Faculty Families’ for the year – one staff member from each department makes up a family. We want to disrupt the norm of departments sticking together and encourage collaborations and new relationships among our team – and to model for our students to do the same!” —Vice Principal Jamie Brown

“I have created a document directory that includes quick links with updated information for our teachers. My principal and I also hosted small group PLCs with our teachers to discuss team concerns and to answer questions.” —Assistant Principal Anitra Cook

“When creating schedule options and best practices, we asked for team volunteers to come in and be part of a focus group. Insightful, helpful, and empowering to our teachers!” —Assistant Principal Jon Craig

Question 6
What is one way you might build or maintain school culture in this school year?

“As an administrative team, we will be conducting emotional wellness checks for both students and teachers, and making sure we are incorporating SEL components into our structured school day.” —Assistant Principal Basil Marin

“Looking to continue our teacher and student celebrations! Great moment last spring was the admin team jumping in a car and hand-delivering certificates and prizes to our winning students at their houses. Many proud families.” —Assistant Principal Jon Craig

“We will be asking teachers to work with groups of students, and will be reaching out regularly through announcements on every student Chromebook. We’re also planning to use padlet to create a virtual main street for our students.” —Assistant Principal Jody Ratti

“One way that I will maintain a positive school culture this year is by intentionally setting aside time daily for mindfulness. I believe that we need to invest more time breathing deeply together as a community so that we can reduce stress.” —Principal Alexa Sorden

Question 7
What is an equity concern that is top-of-mind right now, and how might you work to address it?

“The majority of the ways that our district has reached out to families to see if they have or need internet… are digital. We can try to connect people with resources, but we can’t know what resources they need if they can’t respond to our surveys.” —Assistant Principal Jody Ratti

“With the increase in attention being paid to anti-racism in education, I’m hoping we can also help educators understand the disparities in discipline procedures between students of color and their white peers. We have to do better in becoming more culturally responsive.” —Educator Dawn Harris

“My concern is making sure that our Hispanic families with limited English have access to all of the tools that they need.” — Assistant Principal Anitra Cook

“I’m keeping two equity concerns in mind right now. First: technology equity, how do we best serve students who become ill or absent. Second: treating all students with human dignity, how do we ensure that students feel included and secure to be themselves. These are always on my mind.” —Principal Belinda Talonia

Question 8
What does instructional leadership look like in these current circumstances?

“Instructional leadership looks like understanding the needs of both my team and my students. Identifying what supports teachers need to effectively meet the needs of students. It also requires us to look through the lens of equity to support students.” —Principal Michael Williford

“Instructional leaders are learning with their teachers. They are immersing themselves in best practices for learning and are learning ways to meet the needs of virtual and face-to-face learners.” —Assistant Principal Anitra Cook

“It looks a whole lot like ‘doing.’ Instructional leaders should be ‘showing’ and not ‘telling.’ Teachers don’t do this with kids; the same should be true for the adults in the building. Lots of modeling, encouragement and forming of relationships.” —Educator Dawn Harris

“Instructional leadership looks like providing meaningful and standards-based instruction to our students. Our students will rise to our levels of expectations – and if we believe they can be successful during virtual learning, they will.” —Assistant Principal Basil Marin

Question 9
As a leader, how can you support team members who are feeling overwhelmed or fearful?

“Be empathetic and transparent. When our school let out in March, I sent out a weekly Covid Check-In Google Form to gauge climate and morale. A teacher suggested that I restart that practice because they felt connected to me and others.” —Assistant Principal Anitra Cook

“Sounds silly, but be human. Not only be understanding, but supportive, both on a professional and a personal level. Remember you don’t have to have answers sometimes; sometimes a teacher just needs someone who will listen and NOT judge.” —Vice Principal Jamie Brown

“Listen. Notice if someone is struggling (without them voicing it) and show up – physically, virtually, with coffee… Model a level of support for teachers that you hope they offer students.” —Assistant Principal Jenny Britton

“Be there to listen, support and encourage every educator. Sometimes we have to be the lighthouse in the midst of the chaos. As a team, we have to check on one another – especially right now. Sometimes talking about it is all that is needed. Listen. Listen. Listen.” —Principal Kim Griesbach

Question 10
There are so many demands on you as a leader. What is one thing you can do to take care of yourself – now and throughout the year?

“Trust the process, lean on others, ask for help. Emphasize family first to you, your students, team and community and you will never be alone in this. Remember, this will pass and you’ll be better for it, and so will your community. Disconnect to reconnect.” —Vice Principal Jamie Brown

“Breathe; have boundaries and take time – any moment you need to reset. I had to take two today. I’m grateful I did.” —Principal Belinda Talonia

“Seriously, carve out times to breathe deeply at least every two hours, set some boundaries where you shut off your devices to eat dinner with your family, take a hot bath – and forgive yourself each day, you are human.” —Principal Alexa Sorden