Principal Supervision In The Era Of COVID-19

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Principal Supervision In The Era Of COVID-19

By Dr. Gary Bloom

 

The importance of principal supervision has received a lot of attention over the past few years. Organizations such as the Council of Chief State School Officers and the Wallace Foundation have called for a coaching-based approach to principal supervision. In my work, I have advocated for the use of Blended Coaching, supported by Supervisorial Feedback and Direction, as a model for principal supervision. I have suggested that supervisors must be prepared to coach principals around their professional practices, and also around their emotional intelligences and dispositions. The current pandemic adds new challenges to principal supervision. Here are a few scenarios derived from the field that illustrate what principals and principal supervisors are up against.  If you supervised these principals, how would you both coach and evaluate them?

 

  • John has been viewed as a successful elementary principal. He is an extrovert who has excelled at building relationships with his students, staff and community. Student achievement at his school has been flat though, and this year was going to be the year that John directly challenged his veteran staff to work harder to meet the needs of the school’s small population of English Language Learners. John is depressed and dismayed, missing the daily reinforcement that comes with interacting face to face with a school community. He is taking a hands off-approach with his staff, not sure how he can support them beyond making technology available. On top of it all, he is very distracted, closed up in his house with two school age children and a wife who is also working from home. 
  • Maria, a middle school principal, is overwhelmed by the ways in which the pandemic has brought issues of social justice and equity into relief in our country and in her community. She is expecting her teachers to put in a full day of work every day, and does not trust all of them to do so. She is closely monitoring teachers’ “Google classrooms” and requiring teachers to attend thirty-minute video meetings every day at 1:00 PM. Some teachers are beginning to push back and have contacted the union, claiming that she is controlling and is asking too much of her staff.
  • Mark is the principal at a large comprehensive high school. He is a bit of an “old school” guy who in the past has focused much of his energy on sports and student activities. Now that sports and activities are mostly on hold, he is not quite sure what to do with his time. His assistant principals are charged with planning next year’s master schedule, but it is unclear how classes will be structured. Leading instruction has been left to department chairs, and the little bit of evidence that there is seems to indicate that some departments are doing much better at reaching out to students and delivering quality content than others.
  • David is a second year principal at a school with a needy community that is struggling in the current climate. His school has experienced high teacher turnover and has many teachers in their first and second years, and a number of vacancies. David is committed to being a strong instructional leader, but he is at a loss as how to best supervise and support his novice staff members. He is also struggling with the need to recruit and screen new teachers.
  • Marina’s on-line staff meetings are often disorganized and focused upon logistics rather than instruction. On-line grade level meetings are mostly spent venting about the difficulties of the current situation, punctuated by the sharing of lessons and web resources. Marina is aware that many of her teachers are feeling disillusioned and helpless, and is not sure what to do about it.
  • José has rallied his certificated and classified staff to meet the needs of his community, distributing food and work packets to students and their families on a daily basis. He has worked with his district to distribute computers to each student, and to make sure that students have broadband access. Teachers are working collaboratively to share resources and best practices. The school has a strong sense of community. Yet it is clear that special needs students are struggling and around 10% of students are not in regular contact with their teachers. With looming budget cuts and uncertainty about what is coming in 2020-21, José is doing his best to stay motivated.
  • Susan has learned that a group of her parents have held a zoom meeting to air grievances about her leadership of her charter elementary school. They are frustrated that their children are having a hard time working independently at home. They claim that teachers need to be more innovative and engaged. And some are demanding that the school reopen in the fall, while others are asking for a fully remote program.

 

I suspect that some of these scenarios will be familiar to readers. We are all facing new challenges in this environment, and we are all learning as we go along. If there were ever a time for supervisors to take a coaching stance, it is now. Because there are often not clear solutions to the challenges we face, principal supervisors need to work collaboratively with principals to find a way forward. They need to nurture professional learning communities among principals so that best practices can be shared and propagated. Principal supervisors need to be prepared to recognize and address the emotional issues, both personal and among site staff members, that principals are grappling with. This does not mean that we set aside accountability; expectations and standards for principal performance need to be explicit…. and they need to be revised to fit in the current context. Challenging times for all of us.

 

SEL Leadership in a Virtual World

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SEL Leadership in a Virtual World

The AASA Leadership Network invites you to share your ideas about how you and your district are addressing the needs of students, families, and staff during this challenging time in our country and our world. This is the first in a series of AASA BLOG entries from outstanding educational leaders engaged in implementing social and emotional learning (SEL) in their districts and schools to support their students, staff, and families during this period of national transition.

We are very pleased that this first entry is from Dr. Sheldon Berman, currently Superintendent of Andover Public Schools (Massachusetts) and a national leader in the field of social and emotional learning.

Section One: The SEL Challenges Confronting Educational Leaders Leading in a Virtual World

This is an unprecedented time in our history as a country and as a profession. Our response to the Covid-19 crisis powerfully reinforces the necessity of education to bring consistency and support to the lives of our students. As educational leaders, we must make certain that both our students and our staff members regain some semblance of normalcy in order to maintain engagement and connection—and to sustain meaningful education during this time of upheaval.

At the heart of social and emotional learning (SEL) is the goal of reinforcing positive relationships and connections among members of a learning community. These goals are especially important for helping learners to feel safe and engaged in this new virtual world.  As we search for ways to use distance learning as an educational delivery system, we must continue to acknowledge the importance of students’ relationships with their peers and their teachers. What is perhaps most important in leading virtual learning is the need to help our students and staff overcome isolation.

In spite of the distance we must maintain and the disruption to all our normal patterns of interaction, we still can sustain relationships with our students, bring smiles to their faces, and reinforce the connections that may seem broken in the face of isolation.  What makes this even more critical, is that in the midst of this national crisis, people around our students are getting ill and experiencing unprecedented economic and personal challenges. Connections with teachers and peers can be a welcome relief and healing force in students’ lives.

As educators, we can continue to provide support, stability, and normalcy to our students—in spite of working at home and disruptions from economic upheaval. We have to focus our leadership on our SEL work and let our children know that we miss them—and that we are there to support them. Before I give some practical suggestions about the importance of SEL in effective distance learning, I’d like to share a quote from Mother Theresa that seems particularly relevant now:“None of us, including me, ever do great things. But we can all do small things, with great love, and together, we can do something wonderful…”

Section Two:  Promoting Connectivity and Engagement in a Virtual Learning Environment

So what can educational leaders do to promote connectivity and engagement during this time of isolation and transition? There are a number of strategies for reaching out to our students to make personal contact with students and staff on a consistent basis and ensure that distance learning is as engaging, interactive, and experiential as possible. Here are few of the strategies —and we invite you to share your own success stories with us about education in this new virtual world:

  1. The Equity Priority: The first step towards equity in communication is providing, as best we can, the technology and connectivity to our students and families through distributions of Chromebooks and hotspots to those who need it with simple directions and access to technology workshops for students and parents. Once we achieve some level of equity, we can ensure that every student has a support network and personal contact with teachers—regardless of their access to technology. For example, we make weekly or more frequent contact with every learner via phone contacts, emails, letters, and either individual, small group or even whole-class video conferencing meetings. 
  1. Setting Reasonable Expectations: Given the disruption in students’ and staff members’ lives, the expectations for learning and connection have to be reasonable. We can’t expect teachers to replicate the classroom or expect students to complete all the work that would have been accomplished if they were in school. Remote teaching, particularly online learning, takes much more time for teachers to prepare for and facilitate than teaching in the regular classroom. It is vitally important that educators understand the limits of what students might be able to accomplish in a more limited amount of time and set reasonable learning targets to reduce student anxiety and apprehension. Giving students time and support in this new environment is essential for them to function in a meaningful and productive way so that they can be proud of what they are able to do.
  1. Reinforcing Connectivity and Support: It is essential that students experience a sense of routine aligned with their in-school experiences. Providing a schedule for when teachers will be available or when online learning will occur brings a sense of order to a student’s and their family’s day. For example, elementary teachers whose students have access to technology and connectivity can host daily virtual morning meetings for students. At the secondary level, teachers can use technology to host virtual advisories for middle and high school students either in small groups or in their regular advisory groups. Teachers can also be available online for office hours to provide parents and students an opportunity for individual support.
  1. Engagement and Interactivity as a Key Focus Area: We can ensure that students’ social interaction and emotional engagement are priorities during distance learning activities by enhancing remote learning activities that are project based or require students to work together remotely. Providing video lessons that students can access and assignments or work sheets isn’t sufficient. Lessons have to include discussion and sharing of ideas or experiences in order to personalize and engage student learning. Video conferencing 1-3 times a week can also be highly effective, moving from whole-group meetings to conferences involving smaller groups.
  1. Varied Pedagogy: The virtual world requires sensitivity to students’ varying attention spans and the inevitable distractions of their home environment. Teachers must strive to make distance learning as interactive as possible with less focus on didactic presentation and much more focus on discussion, feedback, coaching, and counseling, as needed.
  1. Encouraging Student-to-Student Interaction: Students’ relationships with peers are essential in a virtual world. We can strive to integrate a range of strategies to enhance this interaction, including a major focus on small group project-based learning. For example, a project team can interact (via collaborative research, discussion, presentation, etc.) using such platforms as Zoom and Google Classroom.
  1. Building a Sense of Community in Spite of the Distance: Key to successful SEL implementation is building a sense of community in the classroom and the school so that students know they are included, valued and known. Remote learning can still accomplish that. Teachers and administrators in a school can create individual and collective messages in which each teacher expresses caring and support for students and lets them know they are missed. The faculty can create fun videos such as a dance video with each teacher participating for a couple of seconds each to brighten students’ day. The school can also host virtual talent shows with submissions of videos from students edited together and shared online or via cable TV. All of these strategies help to sustain students’ sense of connection to the school community.
  1. Meaningful Progress Monitoring: We can allow for a great deal of flexibility in this area, but we need to ensure that students and parents are receiving ongoing feedback on learner progress. Our teachers must make certain that students are clear about learning targets for a lesson or unit. They must also provide regular individual feedback on student work to support learners in achieving identified lesson and unit outcomes.
  1. SEL Support Services and Programs: Our commitment to sustaining meaningful and productive relationships and connectivity extends to the work of counselors, psychologists, and social service workers. Each of them can reach out to students and families through phone, email and video conferencing. They can continue providing individual and small group therapy using teletherapy tools. And they can reach out to teachers so that students who are not participating are identified and contacted. In this way they can stay connected with students and their families, ensuring that they receive the services and resources they need.

I wish each of you the very best during this challenging and unprecedented time. We invite you to consider submitting your own reflections via this AASA Leadership Network SEL Blog platform. This is a wonderful place to share ideas that can enhance our efforts to promote health, safe, and engaging learning environments.

 

For more information about Social Emotional Learning (SEL) initiative visit https://aasa.org/czi.aspx.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Teacher and Principal Supervision in Spring of 2020

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Teacher and Principal Supervision in Spring of 2020

By Dr. Gary Bloom

 School closures and the difficult transition to remote schooling came at just the time when most educational leaders would normally have been busy completing formal teacher observations and summative evaluations of both teachers and administrators.  

It is a given that formative supervision and summative evaluation are essential to ongoing professional growth, and to ensuring that our work in schools meets professional standards. What has the interruption of these processes meant, and what should we be thinking about as we look to an increasingly uncertain Fall of 2020? 

Here are a few things I have learned about the current state of affairs as I have spoken with people in a number of school districts: 

  • Standard practices and protocols  have been interrupted and a great deal of flexibility is being implemented moving forward.
  • School leaders are largely  being empathetic and pragmatic as they work with staff to meet student needs.
  • There is less of an emphasis  upon teacher and principal accountability, and more of a focus of accomplishing what is possible as a team.    

Among the many repercussions related to supervision that I am hearing from the field, are the following:  

  • Most teachers and administrators  are feeling a high level of support and are communicating more than ever with supervisors and colleagues, though some others are feeling isolated, a bit helpless and left to their own devices (no pun intended).
  • Some teachers and administrators who would otherwise have been released or reassigned are being held in place because supervision processes were not completed or because of feared difficulties in hiring replacements.
  • Some districts are fearing that some teachers and administrators may choose to retire and/or not to return to work, creating unanticipated vacancies in a period in which hiring may be particularly difficult.
  • Labor/management relations have built upon and amplified relations that existed before COVID-19. Where there was a focus upon collaboration, communication, and student needs, trust and commitment seem to be ascendant. Where tension and resistance already existed, a commitment to best meeting student needs in the current circumstances may be harder to establish and maintain.

As we wrap up this school year and look towards 2020-21, a few recommendations come to mind in relation to teacher and principal supervision:  

  • Prepare to invest in coaching-based support. We are in a new world, where nobody has the  answers. Teachers and principals will look to their supervisors for guidance, and to their colleagues as best practices evolve. Communication and collaboration have never been more essential.
  • Develop clear and realistic expectations around job performance. What can we expect of any teacher or principal in the course of any one day if they are working remotely?
  • Give real attention to the goal setting components of your evaluation systems. Set goals that are meaningful and achievable. 
  • Data driven improvement processes and accountability are still relevant. How are we going to measure our success on a daily, monthly, and annual basis? 
  • Maintain and solidify commitments to equity, given our knowledge that the current crisis amplifies advantages and disadvantages.
  • Develop and practice protocols for observing and evaluating distance learning, remote staff meetings, professional development activities and the like. Effective coaching, effective formative and summative evaluation depend upon observational input.
  • Lighten up, show compassion and flexibility as we work through this crisis, while at the same time remembering that our actions have significant and lasting impacts upon our students.