Any discussion surrounding education and the current demands being met by educators should place great emphasis on the selflessness and heroism currently being benevolently displayed on behalf of others. Let us acknowledge that teaching in and of itself is an under-recognized calling for anyone who may be patient and skillful enough to develop and impact lives, life trajectory, and overall life opportunities by way of the classroom.
I can recount question after question as we then (and still) continued to receive daily updates regarding the severity of the pandemic, and our response as a charter network and school community. Initial curiosities and complexities surfaced regarding assessments, grading, professional development, hiring, end of year trips, finances, athletics, and refunds, to name a few. As a principal, I am a life-long learner who is driven by feedback and understands the impact of relationships in this work. My prioritized response both then and now has been simple: “How are you doing?”
But how does community exist in a non-physical space for both scholars and staff?
Throughout the duration of what has now conclusively been identified as a global pandemic, we have attempted to operate with a people-first strategy. At KIPP STRIVE Academy (KSA), our mission is to equip scholars in grades 5-8 with the tools necessary to excel in competitive high schools, colleges, and professional careers. KSA scholars achieve Success Through Rigorous Instruction, Virtue, and Enrichment (STRIVE). How can any of this be possible if our people (any of them) aren’t well or if they don’t have the resources or access to them? What responsibilities and interactions exist in the environments of my young people that don’t occur within the walls of school?
Answering my own initial questions along with regional network guidance helped to determine our school community’s way forward in putting our scholars, community, and stakeholders at the forefront of decision-making. This began by partnering with district and network providers to ensure our scholars had food, computers, wi-fi and even transportation. Counseling appointments continue (virtually, of course) and teachers are available at a given email and phone number if office hours are missed.
As a school leader with minimal external responsibilities away from the school-house, it has been an interesting developmental experience having to establish a balance of rigorous criteria for direct instruction, maintaining key school operational features, and communicating effectively to respective grade-level and department leadership, while simultaneously respecting the boundaries and needs of my staff outside of the brick and mortar of our building. Key moments such as:
- Partnering with teachers to identify office hours that would be beneficial to both optimal scholar participation timeframes (our scholars woke up late) and their particular family needs, while simultaneously not overlapping with other content.
- Working collaboratively to get all classrooms, those with a technologically savvy teacher and without, off the ground, and leading live lessons multiple times a week with small group learning accommodations and collaborative teaching models.
- Establishing a cadence for both leadership and extended leadership team meetings that allows all parties to consistently devote multiple hours of expected screen time for end-of-year and fall start-up planning, while our adolescent “teammates” work alongside us.
All examples are seemingly simple, yet collectively they were effective steps taken toward achieving the holistic vision of partnership with teammates—an attempt at preserving the core of who we are as a team and family. In an environment that has presented so many unforeseen challenges, we aim to continue partnering with our team to ensure we are keeping our promise to scholars, while also attending to the needs of their dynamic respective environments.
Having confirmed initial priorities of safety, security, and resources, the focus of my leadership team narrowed to ensuring we were creating an engaging experience for our scholars where the social experiences of our school community could also exist
The news surrounding the transition to online learning came in the immediacy of a Twitter news announcement. Within a matter of days classrooms and lesson plans were completely flipped, re-scripted, and formatted to meet the needs of our community’s scholars. Assistant principals began creating systems for internal tracking and monitoring of participation rates across the school–virtual “attendance.” For non-participants, the calls and outreach of our teachers, learning specialists, and school counselor helped to identify and differentiate the need for resources and overall engagement.
Having confirmed initial priorities of safety, security, and resources, the focus of my leadership team narrowed to ensuring we were creating an engaging experience for our scholars where the social experiences of our school community could also exist. But how does community exist in a non-physical space for both scholars and staff? How do we ensure teachers are not only safe, but being supported and receiving up-to-the-minute information and resources?
KIPP STRIVE Academy’s response was found in routine and consistency. Scholars could expect their assignments posted by 9:00 a.m. with a very specific cadence of teacher feedback in relation to the assignment. Virtual community meetings were held every day with opportunities to engage with raffles, discussion questions, or grade-level games with special guests and teacher appearances. Every Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, teachers would find themselves in an hour of content development, grade-level meetings, and whole-school huddles for announcements, information, and games. Nothing compares to a virtual baby shower and staff “guess that baby” game using photos of co-worker as infants.
While worries about the future still exist, KSA looks forward with a calm and positive outlook on how to constructively respond to each hurdle. We most recently held our “Drive Through Bridging Ceremony” for our scholars transitioning to high school, and held virtual Zoom® end-of-year ceremonies for respective lower grades. I look forward to introducing KIPP Metro Atlanta’s first class of matriculating scholars from kindergarten as our new building 8th grade leaders. As their former kindergarten teacher, I find this moment especially enthralling. Next year will bring what challenges it may; KIPP STRIVE Academy will continue to equip scholars with the tools necessary to excel in competitive high schools, colleges, and professional careers.
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