Making School Work

By now, we’re all aware of the difficult landscape of school in 2020. Our story has probably played out like most of yours. Families were provided the option to choose in-person or virtual learning for their child/student.

But as an administrative team, my principal Dr. Greene and I continued to ruminate over the question, “How do we maintain engaging, on-grade level instruction for all students every day and continue to foster strong student-teacher and guardian-teacher relationships?”

Andy Stanley, Senior Pastor of North Point Community Church, in his series “Leading Through” talks about the importance of clarity in leadership. He tells leaders to “be clear even when you’re not certain.” Communication being the key to success: How do we communicate the options; how do we communicate the difference between the two options; how do we communicate the expectations and the promises or guarantees; as well as, how do we communicate the with teachers about expectations, procedures, and the daily differences in school life.

In a time of uncertainty, there has to be somethings that parents and students can count on. At the end of the day, there has to be some guarantees. We can guarantee a high-quality education, we can guarantee that we will work diligently to make sure that all students receive the support, care, and high-quality instruction that they desperately need and deserve.

Additionally, we knew this year would require teacher coaching and support, not only front loaded, but ongoing. We have been very thoughtful to make sure that we have provided Google trainings, online learning trainings, as well as refocusing our professional learning communities to be an ongoing support for teachers.

We have also been more thoughtful about how we are taking care of each other and staff during these uncertain times. Checking in on staff’s families and not being afraid to ask for help and assistance. We are a teacher leader driven school, which is really helpful to ensure that all members of the building are leading the charge to make this the best, most unique year yet.

Finally, as administrators we had to think about how we could leverage these new procedures and requirements in our work with building relationships.

We had to consider how to facilitate safety precautions, in a loving way – temperature checks on the bus and the car line. Dr. Greene and I greet students and get them out of their cars in the morning to make them feel welcomed and also check their temperatures before entering the building. We have an isolation room and full-time nurse in the building, PPE materials for all teachers from TEAMA, Tennessee Emergency Management Agency. Students wear masks all day, except for breakfast and lunch. We created videos to show students the proper way to wear a mask during the day.  No large gatherings in the building. Students report straight to homeroom, they have lunch in their classrooms (we created a schedule that allows for teachers to have duty free lunch). Communication through videos, Facebook, and during students’ homeroom and extended skills classes. All of these changes have required us to think strategically about how we will lead students and teachers through all the “newness” of this school year.

Silver lining – moving the district and teachers forward with blended learning. But also, it’s shown us that our mission of engaging, on-grade level work and relationships transcends the current climate, even a pandemic. We will continue to do the best we can for our students and staff and be grateful that we have found a way to offer safe options for our families.

Dr. Derek Voiles is an assistant principal at Lincoln Heights Middle School in Morristown, Tennessee. Prior to entering administration, his classroom had become a teaching classroom for other teachers across the state of Tennessee. Each day, it is his goal to equip classroom teachers to use engaging, research-based instruction to increase students’ ability to become complex thinkers, accomplished readers, and sophisticated writers. For the past 8 years, Dr. Voiles has focused on increasing student literacy and advocating for educational opportunities that support the needs of all students. In addition to classroom teaching, Dr. Voiles has served as a member of Commissioner McQueen’s Teacher Advisory Council, a State Collaborative on Reforming Education Teacher Fellow, a Regional Content Coach for the Tennessee Department of Education, as well as a member of the Tennessee Educational Equity Coalition Steering Committee. Dr. Voiles was recognized as Tennessee’s 2017 Teacher of the Year. He is on Twitter as @DerekVoiles.