Prioritizing PSEL In Pandemic-Era Education

Education leaders share which standards took priority in their schools during the pandemic and strategies to bring back-burner priorities into focus again.

Topics: Advocacy and Legislation, Pandemic Leadership, Professional Standards

Because of the pandemic, social injustice, and increased demands to address inequity, school leaders entered into a new era of education that led to likely permanent changes to the principal profession and new demands on them as they support their students and staff. To better understand how principals responded to these challenges and learn about their new needs, NAESP—through the American Institutes for Research—conducted focus groups of NAESP members that culminated in three briefs in the Leaders We Need Now (LWNN) research series. In brief two, Evolution of the Principalship: Leaders Explain How the Profession Is Changing Through a Most Difficult Year, principals revealed how these challenges forced schools—and school leaders—to prioritize certain standards over others.

In January, NAESP hosted an #NAESPchat on Twitter to have a real-time discussion on this important research. During the conversation, school leaders shared why certain needs took priority in their schools and strategies they implemented to bring the back burner priorities into focus again. This is what they said.

Managing Multiple Crises and New Demands

A common theme among Twitter chat participants was the pressure of shifting priorities and finding balance. The LWNN research echoes this, with crisis communication and social media management emerging as new demands in addition to shifting priorities and roles for school leaders.

When asked how school leaders decided which priorities to focus on, Johanna Prince said, “I feel like this has had to shift so much during the pandemic. There are days that the priorities are doing rapid tests and finding sub coverage, all while trying to keep kids at the center and making sure adults feel cared for.”

In response to a question about what new critical situations school leaders have to manage, Prince added, “The huge demand on mental health needs of kids and staff in the last two years. I am seeking to learn as much as I can to support, and wishing for more tools, resources, and connection.”

“Crisis management has taken on an entirely new meaning in the last few years,” said Andy Jacks. “I think the reality of how delicate the whole system is and how much we need teachers, assistants, custodians, secretaries, you name it. Can’t overlook the importance of those around you!”

Keeping Schools Healthy and Safe

Keeping students and staff safe also took priority to those who took part in the Twitter chat.

“My priority is ensuring everyone’s health, safety, and emotional well-being,” said Ellen O’Neill. “Then, it’s keeping up with ever changing guidelines. Unfortunately, some important areas are taking a backseat. I do my best to put them on the front burner whenever possible.”

Todd Stanzione added, “Safety is paramount, along with making the learning environment welcoming and ready for students and colleagues.”

One participant, Tara Falasco, noted in response to keeping up teacher morale that her school only implements new things that they absolutely have to “based on students’ health and safety. It’s not the time for new initiatives and programs. Memes, food, and lots of laughs help [to keep up teacher morale] too.”

Addressing Teacher Shortages

Teacher shortages is a big concern during the pandemic. When asked how their schools were dealing with this issue, they shared creative solutions that have worked—for the most part—in their schools.

“Creative staffing with instructional support staff, lots of conversations about bandwidth and workload, and scheduling folks on a rotational basis (including admins) to cover classes for teachers when absences aren’t filled. When subs are sick, there aren’t many options,” said James Frye.

“Creativity,” added Zach Korth. “[We figure out how to] utilize who we have, recognize the gaps they are filling, and honor students learning experiences.”

A nationwide issue, teacher shortages isn’t something that can be solved overnight, many participants mentioned. But some solutions that have put district-level personnel in schools to help have led to eye-opening experiences for those who aren’t in schools regularly.

“This has been a challenge,” said Peter Carpenter. “In our district, central services have been deployed to schools to support. It’s been eye-opening for those who have never served in school-based roles and creates empathy and appreciation in addition to support.”

Delegating Leadership Responsibilities

Principals and assistant principals cannot do it all. As participant O’Neill said, “Something has to give.” Her solution? “For me, it’s looking at the big picture and prioritizing. The people I work with consistently step up and offer support and assistance. I try to capitalize on everyone’s strengths without overwhelming them. Everyone is feeling the strain.”

Falasco added, “I meet with my psychologist, nurse, and social worker at the beginning of every week to talk about the needs of the building and work together to find solutions or reach out to colleagues who have the skills to help. I’d be lost without that tribe.”

Holding Hope for Students

Students are always at the forefront of decisions school leaders make, and that was clear during the NAESPchat, as participants ended on a positive note, sharing their hope for their students as they continue to navigation pandemic learning.

“I want them to continue to love coming to school, no matter what it looks like; continue to grow as life-long learners; know that nothing is forever and they can get through anything and maybe most importantly that they are important and loved,” said Falasco.

Korth added, “That we acknowledge what they’ve gone through and continue to do so. We acknowledge resilience but have we listened to how they feel and [ensure they] are heard? How can we move forward? And love.”

“Hoping teachers can instill the love of reading into our students; teachers are creating positive, meaningful, and memorable experiences for their students; and students feel loved and cared for when they enter our buildings each and every day,” said J. Kapuchuck.

O’Neill echoes those sentiments: “My hope is that our students feel loved, accepted, and cared for. Everything else is a bonus!”

Follow #NAESPchat on Twitter to read responses from this Twitter chat—or add your own! Find all three briefs in NAESP’s LWNN research series.