Staying Connected Through the Summer

APs must build upon the connections they’ve made in the last year to keep students, parents, and teachers engaged.

Topics: Assistant Principals

Assistant principals instituted any number of new strategies to keep in touch with students throughout the pandemic and ensure they have access to the resources they need to learn. Similarly, APs have built new pathways for teachers and staff to stay on top of instructional leadership in distance and hybrid school settings.

Aqila Malpass, AP at Rocky Ridge Elementary School in Hoover, Alabama, and a 2021 NAESP Outstanding Assistant Principal, got creative to connect with students and parents. She posted TikTok videos of activities such as finding letters of the alphabet in nature, and set up YouTube tutorials to help parents with kids who were struggling with math or reading.

As summer break begins, however, even students, families, and teachers adept at distance learning won’t be checking in as frequently—many taking some well-deserved time off. Unfortunately, letting these connections slide might exacerbate any learning losses experienced in the last year and have negative effects at reentry. What can assistant principals do to maintain the connections they’ve built through the summer?

Malpass offers four strategies for APs to use to keep kids educationally on track, even when class isn’t in session:

  1. Ask parents what they need to support their children during summer break. “Especially after this most unusual school year, it is important to ask what they want,” she says. “That information will drive the videos I make for them, the resources I send via email, and the resources available for parents to pick up at the school. There is a lot of weariness, especially for parents who work. We give them options.”
  2. Make summer enrichment activities a blend of academics and fun. Rocky Ridge identified students who might benefit from intensive instruction during the summer and offered parents the option to enroll their children in an all-day summer camp featuring a half-day of instruction and a half-day of “fun and movement,” Malpass says. “We don’t want them to burn out. The camp is four weeks, so they still get a summer break.” Emphasize self-care and enjoyment with teachers, she adds. “They have been through a lot this school year.”
  3. Add some whimsy to summer outreach. The pandemic year was taxing, so APs should try to make distance learning less serious than a traditional classroom session. “If I want students to watch me do a lesson on division, I might have to dress up in a costume,” Malpasss says. “Even if students don’t necessarily want to do school, it’s going to be pretty cool to see what costume Miss Malpass wears on her YouTube channel or TikTok account.”
  4. Keep the community connected. For broader outreach, weekly email newsletters and regular Facebook updates keep Rocky Ridge parents informed and active. “Our district also has a Dads’ Brigade, where community members in each school zone can volunteer to spruce up the school during the summer and get it ready for the new school year,” Malpass says.

Mikel Royal, district adviser for the George W. Bush Institute’s School Leadership Initiative and former project director of Denver Public Schools’ Principal Pipeline initiative, adds that APs can take a cue from their principals—watch how they engage with students and teachers and employ similar strategies, scaled down to offer extra support to specific groups.

For example, the AP might examine student achievement data and identify grade levels “that could use additional support and attention and engage with those students, parents, and teachers,” Royal says. “Take a look at the most vulnerable subgroups that could use additional support. Take a more targeted focus. This advances the assistant principal’s leadership ability.”