Erik Naglee is a high school principal in Greensboro, North Carolina. You can follow him on Twitter at @nagleee.
This is an anxious time for students and families. I know I’m not the only principal who’s been up at night thinking about how I can support our kids – not only by working to meet material needs and provide online learning access, but by making them feel seen and cared for too.
For all that students are missing out on, there are some things we can’t allow them to lose. It’s our hope that we’ll be able to honor our seniors and their families with a traditional graduation ceremony – but that’s an unknown for us right now. I was reflecting on this, and I thought, “What can I do to create some excitement and connection for these kids? How can we give them a memory of this time that will bring some joy?”
Create connection. My first step was to reach out to the seniors. Our students poke fun at me because I’m very active on Twitter – they call me “Twitter Fingers” – but they enjoy it, and they expect me to use it to connect with them. So I posted a short video letting them know that they were all going to get a visit to create a sense of connection right from the start.
I decided to visit our seniors and celebrate each one of them on video. This is a way I can make them feel seen and honored in our school community – and it also gives me a chance to connect with them and their families in person, ask how they are and share my support. Here’s what I’m doing, step by step:
Build plans, build excitement. We have 420 seniors. When my team and I started going down the list of names, we knew it would take a while to get to every kid. So I thought, let’s use that to our advantage – let’s build up some excitement as a community. We plan our visits by neighborhood. That works well logistically – it gives the kids a chance to prepare and it creates a great sense of anticipation. Every day, I’m getting text messages and calls from seniors asking, “Hey, when are you guys coming to see me?”
Show up and shout out! Each day, I go to some of our seniors’ homes, and they come outside to share a short reflection on their high school experience. I record the video from six feet away, and they talk about the clubs and teams they loved being part of, their favorite classes and the teachers who made a difference for them. They also share their next steps – whether that be college, career or military. It means a lot to them to get the chance to share their memories from school and their plans for the future.
Celebrate each student as a community. Unless a student would prefer me not to, I post each video on Twitter. Kids are enjoying seeing new videos appear, and it gives teachers and families a way to celebrate them too. Some seniors wear a shirt from the college they’ll be attending in the fall, and I’m so proud to see that. But I also love seeing how many of them want to wear something with our school’s name on it.
My goal is to put together a complete “senior video,” and I hope we’ll get to show it at graduation. But even if that’s not possible, our seniors will have the memory of us coming out to show up for them, honor them and tell them face to face: We’re proud of you.