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.

 


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