This may be the most consequential leadership and communication period of your careers. The perception of guidance and application of public education is being examined through a lens never before used. It is up to you to give shape to those perceptions and let your constituents know the specifics of what you and your staff are doing to ensure continued student success.
Teaching and learning are perceived, and possibly correctly so, to be all over the map right now. One south metro high school student shared, “I only have about one hour of school work a day and I am getting perfect grades.” A parent may ask, “If they can get all their learning from home in a far shorter time, why do we send them to school?” Other constituents wonder why the school year is shorter or the teacher/student time is far less. “Do we need to pay full-time teachers?” they ask. Or, “What are principals and superintendents doing now?” One teacher said she will not teach next year if distance learning is still in place because nothing is built into the system to allow her to know the students she is teaching.
These are thoughts floating around our communities. These comments are offensive to educators who have dedicated their lives to the education of our children and who work to create the best possible outcomes for students, families and communities. But the fact is, schools weren’t prepared for this or any similar crisis and two weeks of transition planning can’t change that. In most schools and school districts some elements of oversight and implementation may still be missing.
A short honeymoon period between schools and stakeholders prevailed as we all experienced the dangers of the pandemic, but the honeymoon is over. Our society has high expectations for public education regardless of the circumstances in which it operates. Parents continue to believe schools should motivate, occupy, and educate their children at the highest level, regardless of the new challenges involved in that duty. Further, we live in litigious times. While some parents have teacher/school appreciation signs in their front yards, others have filed lawsuits before outcomes are even known.
We would all likely agree that in only the rarest of circumstances can distance learning compensate for the fluid interactions, observations and instruction that take place within traditional classrooms between teachers and students and among students. Nonetheless personalization of education is required regardless of the seemingly insurmountable challenges that exist.
It is the job of education leaders to structure their oversight and communication roles in new and vigorous ways for as long as virtual classrooms are required to maintain the health and safety of students and staff. Long after the pandemic crisis passes, questions, perceptions, and emotions will remain. Education leaders have a renewed calling to monitor and adjust to learners needs and to share that process with stakeholders.
Communications during a pandemic 101
- Support your staff. Appreciation, leadership and encouragement will fuel their journey through the formerly unfamiliar. The MDE has launched webinars to support educators in distance teaching and learning. The commitment of Minnesota’s educators is to be applauded and supported. Communities need to know how that commitment is demonstrated on a day-to-day basis and that it is most effective in partnership with students and parents
- Ensure that all students have the tools for learning. If students don’t have access to the required technology either that access or an alternative must be provided. For example, one Northern Minnesota rural school district teacher delivers hard copies of learning materials to the students’ homes and picks up completed work at a later date. If Facetime or Zoom are not available, a telephone likely is. One Minnesota teacher has made social-distance outdoor visits to each of her 27 students’ homes.
- Provide regular communications outlining the learning process as it has been adapted for sheltering at home students. These communications may be used as a means to emphasize students’, teachers’, and parents’ evolving roles in this untested environment.
- Face-to-face communications remain essential even if the faces are on screens. Technology provides a plethora of options for meeting “face-to-face” safely for individual and/or group interactions including zoom, face time, etc. A Star Tribune survey of parents shows that the more frequent the live video sessions between staff and students, the greater their satisfaction with their children’s learning. Nearly 3 in 4 parents whose children had daily live conferencing, rated their experience with distance learning as a 4 or 5 on a 1-to-5 scale. Yet only one-quarter of parents, reported that video conferencing was occurring on a daily basis. (Star Tribune May 11).
You are endowed with the privilege and responsibility of influencing the future of public education and the learners it serves. This is your time…Your time to enhance and adapt your communication and leadership practices in unprecedented ways in response to unprecedented circumstances.
These materials are provided by
The Minnesota Association of School Administrators
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