For most educators, working virtually is a new endeavor. Not only are they being asked to think differently about instruction but also how to teach on new virtual platforms, communicate with students and families in new ways, stay connected with their school community and balance their personal lives. So many changes in such a short amount of time can lead to unintentional stress. As instructional leaders, you can help ease the stress for your teachers by encouraging them to explore new opportunities, create their “new norm” and maintain their momentum when they start to feel as if they just can’t go on!
“As Albert Einstein said, ‘In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.’”
Maintaining a Sense of Connectedness: Being connected can mean different things to different people, but regardless of how we connect, it can be an essential element for maintaining momentum. To help maintain a sense of community among your staff, consider hosting virtual staff meetings and using this time to experiment with virtual team building activities. You and your instructional support team might also decide to create a virtual scavenger hunt using a digital tool such as GooseChase. This is a fun and engaging way to encourage your teachers to post and share resources and ideas. An example of a challenge might be to have staff take a picture of their home office and share it with you and the rest of the staff.
This is also a great time to catch up on your reading or watch those webinars you never seemed to have time to do before. Work with your media specialists to create a virtual library where teachers can share about the books, articles or webinars they are reading. Encourage your teachers to carve out 20 minutes a day to read or watch something new that might help them grow in their profession.
Maintaining and Growing Your School Culture: Continuing to maintain your staff as a family is going to be difficult but not impossible. There is no time like the present to revisit your school’s vision and mission statement. Remind your teachers that despite how unclear things may seem, maintaining your focus as a school on the goals you established as a learning community can help them to refocus and re-engage.
Introduce virtual “Spirit Week” with your staff. Post the week’s challenges in advance and encourage them to post pictures to share as a staff or with your entire school community. Be sure to start simple so everyone feels they can participate. Some suggestions are Crazy Hair Day, PJ Day, TicTock Dance Party, and School Pride Day. Consider joining the Twitter craze at #VirtualSpiritWeek.
Sometimes teachers also need an “accountability partner.” Make sure that every teacher has a partner or a trio that will check-in daily or every few days to see that their momentum hasn’t faded. They don’t necessarily have to be a part of their PLC but rather a trusted thought partner they can talk through ideas with and maintain their focus.
Maintaining Family Support: As the African proverb states, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Now, more than ever, you need the support of your families. Hosting virtual town-hall meetings similar to Myrtle Grove Middle School in New Hanover County Schools in North Carolina might be a good start. Town hall meetings provide time for parents to ask questions and feel connected with other families at your school. To help streamline the discussion, create a survey a few days prior where parents can post their questions. After reviewing the questions, you can better determine who from your faculty to invite to join the discussion. Don’t forget to record the sessions so parents who can’t join live can still access the information shared.
Another way to maintain family support is to help organize family support groups. Create space where parents can come together to share strategies and resources for how they are keeping their students engaged. These can be facilitated by a team of parents, teacher leaders or your school support staff. If you have a large ESL or ELL community, work with your ESL teacher or district to identify how best to engage your bilingual families in a support group.
Maintaining YOUR own Momentum: Burnout is a very real thing! What are you doing to manage and maintain a healthy work-life balance? Are you establishing a schedule and office hours for your staff? Do you have an accountability partner who is checking in and serving as a thought partner? It can sometimes feel that you need to be connected 24/7 in case something changes, but disconnecting from social media and email for blocks of time during the day can free you up to focus on leading vs. managing. Being a leader means modeling best practices.
Are you finding time to laugh each day? Research conducted at Harvard Medical School found that when you laugh, “your heart rate rises, you jiggle with mirth, and your brain releases ‘feel good’ neurotransmitters: dopamine, serotonin and an array of endorphins.” Take time to watch a funny video or ask your teachers to share funny stories of life at home. Make videos showcasing your staff having fun and sharing their creativity! Share about your own life at home to connect with your families and help them feel better if things aren’t going quite as expected.
Despite the disruptions our school families and communities are experiencing, there is always an opportunity to learn, reflect and continue to grow as building leaders. As Albert Einstein said, “In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.” What new opportunities are you uncovering or rediscovering to help your staff, family and yourself maintain momentum and continue to provide great teaching and learning?