Principals, it is time for a reset.
This school year will be filled with election messaging, Roe v. Wade debates, gender-identity issues, school prayer challenges, and whatever new political issues present in the next few months. No matter our stances on any of these contentious topics, they affect us both mentally and emotionally. Yet, as the world continues to feel as though it is spiraling into turmoil, we continue to show up.
We spent the last several years as the public face of mask and vaccination decisions that we neither controlled nor influencedWe have been villainized for teaching about any social injustice, supporting social-emotional learning, or trying to help kids through mental health challenges. We have tried to answer the questions about acts of racial hatred, the insurrection against our own government, a war in Ukraine, and mass shootings.
In this biweekly column, principals and other authorities on school leadership—including researchers, education professors, district administrators, and assistant principals—offer timely and timeless advice for their peers.
Amid that chaos, I realize that I have been complicit in the stress my staff is feeling over the past few years in trying to keep up the frenetic pace of school as “usual” when nothing has been ordinary. If you work in an initiative-rich environment like I do, then you understand what I mean.
Just last year alone, my staff participated in professional-development activities for social-emotional learning, creating a positive and inclusive school culture, multitiered systems of support, school safety, increasing student engagement, universal design for learning, self-care for staff, team building and learning together, supporting English-language learners, response to intervention, positive behavior intervention and supports, identifying rigor in your work, restorative justice in schools, reviewing state standards and rewriting curriculum maps and scope and sequence/pacing guides, identifying essential learning in all disciplines, and ongoing work with professional learning communities.
That’s too, too much to do anything well. And it’s far too much to ask during this turbulent time.
As I reflect on my goals for this current school year, all the initiatives swirling in my district and the outside noise of the world, I have decided to focus on the A, B, Cs of school: academics, behavior, and culture. We are going to slow everything down and focus on a few manageable areas for improvement, not only for my staff’s peace of mind but for my own as well. We have all been so overwhelmed for the last two years that doing less really is doing more. My plan is to simplify our workload, while concentrating on what really matters most for our school community
For academics, we will focus on implementing professional learning communities with greater direction and fidelity. We began PLCs in our district several years ago, but we never got it quite right. Staff members understood and bought into the concept, but we could never get out of our own way to see PLCs materialize in the way they were meant to.
However, this summer, several staff members attended a professional learning community conference in San Antonio. They were excited and transformed by what they learned. Our newly trained guiding coalition, consisting of teacher-leaders from several disciplines, is excited to lead the charge of retraining staff on what it truly means to becoming a PLC school, rooted in four essential questions: What is it we want our students to learn? How will we know if they are learning? How will we respond when individual students do not learn? How will we enrich and extend the learning for students who are proficient?
For behavior, our focus will be on restorative practices, where we will work on developing trusting relationships with all our students. It is time to reassess our disciplinary approach from a punitive method to one of student accountability, redirection, and reflection
For culture, we will focus on developing a sense of belonging for everyone in our building. We will develop and nurture activities for students and staff, so they know that all are welcome here
This school year is a time to reengage with our community and reestablish our partnerships with those we serve. We are always stronger when we work together. Instead of adding to the mental stress of my staff, my goal is to lighten the load. So much heaviness is already in the hearts and minds of students and staff, it is our responsibility to be reactive to their needs so that we can be proactive in their care.
So, for the rest of the school year, our plans will be simple, and our focus will be quite clear. How will you slow down? What will be your A, B, Cs for this school year to allow you to reset, renew, and reengage?
A version of this article appeared in the November 23, 2022 edition of Education Week as Why One Principal Is Asking Her Staff to Do Less