If you are feeling overwhelmed, trust me, you are not alone.  When I check in with principals all over the state, I hear many saying they didn’t think it was possible to work more hours and harder than they were before, yet everyone seems to be doing just that.  We’ve been working in crisis mode since March 12, 2020.  That is 2+ months of running extremely fast to try to meet the basic needs of students and staff and to re-envision how to provide an education.  Crisis mode can be beneficial as it provides the adrenaline rush and sense of urgency that is needed to make things happen quickly such as food and technology distribution plans, putting health and safety precautions in place and even continuity of learning plans.  However, crisis mode doesn’t always allow for careful consideration and planning.  It is now time to switch gears out of crisis mode to begin to plan forward.

On Friday, Governor Whitmer announced she will be forming a Return to Learning Advisory Council to help create a school reopening roadmap for the fall of 2020. This Council will include educators, health care officials and community members.  A roadmap to open school needs to take into consideration many factors and a broad coalition of input is needed.  In addition, MDE is forming a Reopening of School Committee which will be broken into sub-groups focused on suburban, rural and urban considerations.  MDE’s Committees will include representation from teachers and administrators statewide.  There are many other teams of educators around the state studying these issues in districts, ISDs, professional associations, coalitions and even in organizations such as Michigan Virtual.  I have no doubt that the guidance that will come from the state level will provide schools with clear guidelines as well as some considerations for application in a local context. 

As we wait for these groups to provide direction, what are things building principals need to be thinking about?  There are no doubt countless items that could be listed but a few items rise to the top of the list:

  • What have you and your staff learned about teaching and learning since May 12th?
  • What is working? What is not? In terms of your continuity of learning plan.
  • What feedback have you intentionally collected from all stakeholders to inform the revision of your plans for the fall?
  • What decisions will need to be made and what training needs to be put in place to prepare all stakeholders for success in the fall?

Numerous surveys and news reports suggest that students and parents have accepted the way schools have handled learning as a reaction to the pandemic.  However, they have also made it clear that “pandemic learning” and remote learning are not one in the same.  In most cases a significantly revised plan will need to be in place in the fall with a comprehensive approach to move learning forward for all students.  Even if school were to open in the fall with no social distancing requirements or restrictions families will be looking for options.  Some will not be comfortable sending their child back to school 5 days per week 8 hours per day.  Districts need to plan now to provide in-person, blended and fully online learning options for students or face the possibility of losing enrollment.  

Think about what you and your staff accomplished in a very short window of time.  You have served thousands of meals, formulated plans to continue learning, developed ways to check on student well-being and devised very creative ways to honor seniors and all students in end of the year activities. 

 You essentially have about two months to formulate an amazing school-at-home program.  If you look back to what you did in a few short days and weeks in March it is entirely possible to do even more in the next two months.  This is the piece of the puzzle that you can’t wait for information on, you need to start acting now to develop the vision of a new learning system that includes a system of school-at-home.  When you think about your staff- What teachers would thrive in this environment?  What opportunities could you develop that include synchronous and asynchronous elements?  How can you include social-emotional supports and coaching for students and teachers? How can you include your student and parent community in the design to build buy-in?

As you begin to envision your new learning environment it is easy to get caught up in the what-ifs and to worry about issues around equity or even grading to the point that it derails efforts…but what are your options if you just wait for more data and a plan to be provided? You are then risking not being ready to provide options to families who will leave your district and enroll elsewhere AND lose the opportunity to retool, revise and better serve your students.  Seize the day- the clock is ticking.   

Written by Wendy Zdeb, MASSP Executive Director