Webinar Recap: Leading in Uncertain Times

Use lessons learned from spring school closings to meet students’ academic and social-emotional needs this fall.

August 2020, Volume 43, Issue 12

School leaders learned a lot from spring school closings that they are putting to use this fall as schools reopen—whatever that looks like for their district. Everything from combating learning loss and ensuring students get continued social-emotional support to opening safely and meeting equity requirements are concerns—and priorities—for principals.

In this webinar, “Leading in Uncertain Times: How School Leaders Are Meeting Students’ Academic and Social Needs,” moderator Adam Tyner, associate director of research at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, leads a panel of administrators—principals Amy Mason and Tameka Royal, superintendent Dave Wick, and assistant head of school Ty Bell—on these themes. Here are some top takeaways.

Lessons Learned From Spring

While Mason says her district was lucky to have access to Chromebooks and hotspots for her students, using Google Meet for large group instruction became problematic, despite being well-intentioned.

“It’s really hard when you have a big group of people—it’s true for adults and kids—to really have students engaging in that dialogue with their teachers,” said Mason. “We found a lot more success when they had small group interaction.”

For Bell, they’re going to “frontload instruction on how to use the technology and how to participate in an online instructional setting.” Though his students will return to the campus for in-person instruction, they plan to use the first week of school to ensure students know how to log in and participate in an online class setting in case they have to go back to virtual learning.

Social-Emotional Supports

Bell’s school did something during distance learning that he is particularly proud of: social-emotional support for students and their families.

“I started noticing what would have been a 5-minute call turned into a 30-minute call because people weren’t having interactions and they were desiring that,” said Bell. “We started planning some virtual events for our families, and by the end of May, when the weather was nice, we had an in-car scavenger hunt.”

The school’s in-person morning meetings continued on virtually for staff members, but Bell allowed families to join virtually to ensure everyone was on the same page.

Royal’s school focused on how to continue to have touchpoints with families when they no longer would be seeing them around to school for pick-up and drop-off. What did it look like for them? Their leadership teams were charged with calling and checking in on families. Plus, Royal made it a priority to ensure her planning included all stakeholders—students, staff, and faculty—and allowed for everyone to have “personal boundaries, so day after day you can come back as your best self and give all of yourself versus running yourself down.”

Wick, a big believer in the power of relationships, noted that the hardest part is building a relationship when you’re looking at someone on a screen.

“We know the social-emotional needs of students are fulfilled within the education environment,” said Wick. “Often, the teacher is the most trusted adult outside their parents—sometimes more trusted than their parents—and as a result, losing that day-to-day contact, that kindness, and that relationship that’s built between a student and a teacher is one of the things we have to really work on in a virtual environment.”

Playing Catch-Up

Combating the “COVID slide” starts with connections, said Mason, especially when a new year means students and teachers don’t have the opportunity to meet in-person and build connections.

“A way to build those connections is by bringing in reading material that’s actually relatable and something they want to learn about,” said Mason, “We need to hear from our students … and we need to give them opportunities to talk. … Then we will get to know our kids and find out what they need and the other pieces will come. If we don’t have those connections, then we’re just going to be spinning our wheels focusing on academics right off the bat.”

The wrong way to look at it is that students, for example, wrapped up third grade in March and they’ll start at where they left off in March even though they’re in fourth grade this fall, said Wick.

“You have to assess, first of all, and know where your learners are,” said Wick. “Then look for ways to accelerate through the power standards and maybe not cover everything you would have before, but [identify] those essential things they might have missed and try to incorporate them and accelerate at the same time.”

Watch the full webinar and download the slide presentation.


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