Well, it’s now 2021 and one of a few new year’s resolutions is to start a blog. Initially, I knew I
wanted the focus of my entries to be about leadership, education, curriculum, student
outcomes, etc. – you know, the things I am pretty familiar with from a professional standpoint.
For my very first blog though, I told myself that I could write about anything along those lines,
but the blog could not mention the word “COVID” – that’s so 2020!
Unfortunately, as I started to put words on paper, on varying topics, it became increasingly
difficult to write about anything that is both timely and relevant without mentioning the
elephant in the room- COVID-19. So, although we have ushered in a new year, unfortunately
pandemic life did not end when the clock struck midnight on December 31. And educators and
students across the nation walked back into the same predicament that we had left before
winter break. And as a school leader, I have to continue to lead through it all, whatever “it”
Let’s face it, even during normal times, school leadership has its fair share of challenges.
Whenever you are leading an organization with many moving parts and many different people,
you are bound to run into some obstacles. I’ve learned a few coping skills throughout my
leadership journey, but 2020, I must admit tested my skills more than ever and initially left me
feeling a bit inadequate and ill-prepared.
Of the many struggles the pandemic has brought on, I have found one of the biggest for me is
balancing my high expectations for student achievement with the reality that this year is
wreaking havoc on both staff and student performance.
I proudly admit that I have extremely high expectations for myself and my team. These high
expectations have contributed to a fairly decent success record for me as an educator. I also
believe very strongly in being held accountable for the success of students under my charge. I
am all about setting and attaining ambitious goals, and for that I have never made any
apologies. 2020, however, has shown me that in order to become a better leader, I must also
become a realist. The best leaders, especially today amid a national pandemic that has
transformed the educational system as we know it, must face the brutal facts and set clear and
reasonable expectations for student and district performance.
That being said, simply describing the education of students during a pandemic as a challenge,
is a massive understatement. Teachers are working harder than ever; administrators are
supporting them like never before; yet schools continue to see record course failures, increased
student and staff absenteeism, and constant change. Students are struggling with the unstable
environment that this pandemic has caused, and there are inequities unlike ever before.
Looking at and scrutinizing past student data, pre-pandemic, whether there were great
academic gains or drastic educational losses, is a moot point and complete waste of
time. Education during COVID-19 has required us to hit the reset button. The structure of our
educational system as we know it has changed completely and no one has a blue print. We are
building the plane as we fly it, so to speak.
Across our nation we have schools that are experimenting with several learning models. Some
schools are completely open and having class as normal, with necessary precautions to mitigate
the spread of the coronavirus. Other schools are completely closed with all teaching and
learning occurring virtually. There are attempts to continue to feed students at school and
home who depend on school meals for substance. There are many children who are going
without regular medical care as the school nurse was their only source of healthcare. There are
even schools who are still giving paper packets to students to complete in order to get credit for
assignments. This has an enormously detrimental effect on student performance.
It is also worth mentioning the pandemic’s toll on the mental health of our students, staff and
all of their family members. Educators have been pushed to the brink. Stress levels are through
the roof for parents and student suicide attempts are on the rise. Everyone is at their wit’s
end, yet there still seems to be no end in sight.
The impact of COVID 19 will not only impact us this school year, but by all accounts, will have
lingering effects on the educational system for many years to come. This is a reality we must all
accept and an issue for which we must plan and prepare. And although additional resources
will ultimately be useful, right now, what is needed most is time – time for the pandemic to run
its course and hopefully return to normal conditions as soon as possible.
So yes, school leaders need to continue to work diligently and have high expectations for
themselves and their teams. We must continue to hold ourselves and our staffs accountable.
Everyone must work determinedly to close the academic gaps that are widening as a result of
the pandemic and work to meet the academic needs of each student. School leaders must also
understand the need to strike a balance between performance pressures and supporting their
people – staff, students and families alike. Just as a good coach knows he can’t expect the same
results from an injured player, educational leaders cannot expect the same results from an
injured educational system. We will heal, but until then, we must have patience and
Educators must also continue to share data and information with stakeholders and prepare
them for the reality that student achievement most likely will suffer as a result of this pandemic
and the myriad negative effects it leaves in its wake. Additionally, however, we must assure
those stakeholders that although schools are faced with these many challenges, that we as
educators will continue to work tirelessly and collaboratively to find solutions that will mitigate
the damages caused by this pandemic and ultimately ensure the success of all students, despite
how long that may take.