In the spring of 2020, when COVID-19 first prompted schools in the United States to shift to distance learning, our team was all in for kids. We connected with each family. We put together online resources. We copied paper packets. We made an “I miss you” video and organized a drive-thru car parade to wave hello. We organized virtual events and set up online forms to find out if students (and their families) needed anything.
And then, about a week into our “new normal,” a staff member texted and asked if I could give her a call. She was not OK. As a divorced mom with two kids who were quarantining with their father, she was having a hard time. She felt alone. She missed the routine of coming to work each day. She missed seeing her colleagues. She missed the sense of connection that comes from working in a school.
It was then that I realized that in addition to being there for the kids, we needed to be there for each other. As educators, our students give our work purpose and meaning; we are there to serve the kids. And as school leaders, our job is to also really be there for the staff.
It was then that we started a weekly staff check-in – an optional online meeting to talk and support each other; no school business, just connection. We also created an online form for staff, like we had done for our students’ families, to share what was going well and what they needed help with. It could be as anonymous as staff wanted it to be. We organized virtual events just for staff. We provided staff with the resources and professional learning opportunities they told us they needed. And over the summer and into the fall, we worked with a local university to provide mental health workshops and set up 1:1 therapy sessions for all who wanted them.
If we want to be all in for kids, we need to be all in for staff. We need to support and be there for one another. Because our students and their families are not the only ones living and learning through a pandemic – our educators are, too.
We’ve made it through so much, but there’s still a long road ahead of us. On the challenging days – and there will be more challenging days – and on the days when it’s a struggle to remember my “why,” I try to remember that we are in the people business, and people are counting on us. And then I turn to the people around me for help and support. It may be another principal or an educator in my online professional learning network, but more often than not, it’s an educator working just down the hall from my office who is doing something amazing. On the challenging days, I focus on the people making a difference – and I keep moving forward.