Deciding to become a school administrator can be an exciting career change for many educators. Using one’s leadership skills to support others, provide instructional direction, and promote a safe and positive school culture are just a few of the strengths necessary to lead a school during a normal year. However, there are new challenges for which a school leader needs to be prepared to handle when entering school leadership after a pandemic.
One of the most important character traits a school leader can possess, especially during and following a pandemic, is the ability to remain flexible. As CDC guidelines and virus variants change, school and district policy must adapt as well. At the start of the 2021 school year, as the Covid-19 virus seemed to be stabilizing and dropping in numbers, administrators were eager to lead a school back to normal routines. However, soon after school began, the Delta variant emerged, and changes were necessary. Social distancing was once again recommended, masks were encouraged, and it was up to the administrator to see that these and other changes were put in place for the safety of those attending school. Although the school year might have started with all students attending in person, quarantined students once again forced administrators to make decisions on how their at-home instruction would be handled. While it is inevitable that no two days in a school environment are going to be the same, following a pandemic it crucial for an administrator to be willing and able adapt to changes quickly.
Keep the Best Interest of the Student in Focus
School administrators are charged with the responsibility to provide rigorous instruction so that all students have the opportunity to grow and learn. Each decision that is made should always be centered on students. This is especially true for a school leader following a pandemic. It is so easy to get caught up in personal opinions or follow a given political view. Teachers can easily persuade an administrator to follow a path that is easiest for them, without consideration for what is best for the student. It is, however, the role of administrator to ensure that each decision made is what is best for the entire student body. This means ensuring that instructional time is protected, carrying out observations with fidelity, and not accepting the excuse that students are “just so far behind due to the pandemic.”
Maintain Grade-Level Standards
During the pandemic, many schools were shut down or provided only virtual learning options which placed students at an academic disadvantage. It is so tempting for teachers to spend the majority of the school year following the pandemic in remediation and review, catching up on missed skills. Although it is important to close the learning-loss gap, a school leader understands that this is not the best practice if students are expected to stay the course of their educational path. Following the pandemic, school leaders must promote instruction of the grade-level standards and curriculum while allowing some embedded review. This is the primary means of keeping students on-track and accelerating their learning at the appropriate levels.
Communication is Key
During the pandemic, many schools began restricting community involvement with the school. As the nation slowly comes out of the pandemic, schools may continue to limit visitations to help reduce the spread of the virus. This can be hard for families as communication is vital in maintaining positive relationships. For this reason, it is very important that a school leader be an effective communicator and encourage virtual messaging between teachers and parents. Parents want to know what is going on, the material being taught, and how their child is progressing. With limited face-to-face interactions, an administrator must provide means of sharing such information. It might be that the principal expects each teacher to communicate through a class management system like Remind or Class DoJo or through daily entries in behavior charts or student planners. Perhaps the administrator might recommend bi-weekly phone calls to parents to keep the lines of communication open. No matter the path, it is extremely important that the administrator ensures that teachers and parents are collaborating often.
Be Mindful of Mental Health of All
It is so apparent that Covid-19 and the lifestyle changes it initiated have been hard on most. Students and teachers were forced to change their routines, many spent time in quarantine, and some were left home with an abusive individual. No matter the cause, mental health is a concern that school leaders cannot ignore. The administrator should provide training for educators in detecting mental health issues in students and in peers. Likewise, the administrator should know what community resources are available to provide support for both students and adults.
There are also simple steps an administrator can take to promote positive mental health for those within the school. One simple means is to celebrate successes. Whether it is meeting a reading goal or making gains on monitored progress, rewarding achievements can go a long way in promoting positivity. Another way to encourage teachers is to provide small incentives such as an unexpected casual day mid-week or donuts in the lounge following a benchmark assessment. Keeping an open-door policy for students and teachers is also a means of letting others know you are available to listen to their concerns and needs. Just as the parent on the plane is instructed to put their own oxygen mask on first, it is also important for the administrator to be aware and maintain their own mental health. A leader cannot lead a school when there are mental struggles that block their judgement and ability to communicate effectively.
Deciding to enter the realm of school leadership is very rewarding for most who make that career choice. However, it is important to realize that following a pandemic provides new challenges for which the leader must be aware and ready to tackle with confidence and poise.