Last spring, schools across the nation went remote. Not enough time to prepare. Everyone in shock from the pandemic.
What helped my school? Our culture. The environment that had been established way before life changed.
When life has ups and downs, the culture helps people to rise or fall.
Nothing was as good as it should have been. Not enough was known about much of anything, and I’m not just talking about education. A crisis of massive proportions arose across the globe, and we functioned as best we could.
Our principals and leadership met with groups of staff each week, so we stayed connected, made decisions and processed together and cared about one another. Culture.
Teachers taught, but we spent a lot of time having conversations with our students through video meetings, emails and phone calls. Culture.
Whether students or staff, we knew we could rely on one another. We knew to supply grace to each other. We knew we were a community and the culture helped us feel like not all was lost.
What said even more were families and students sending staff emails. They encouraged us. They asked if we were okay. They shared what we meant to them.
They supplied light back, because of the light we provided in darker times. A culture like that creates a safe place to function, no matter what.
Now, in a matter of days, our students will start the new school year. It most definitely will not be what it used to be, except for our culture.
Knowing that the cornerstone of our school is a community of learning while also teaching to the whole child, every child, we’ve been learning. Through the summer. Through extra professional development. Through our own feelings of what if what we’ve always known to do and what we’ve learned isn’t enough. Because our culture means we go above and beyond, always, because our students and their families matter. Details matter.
The pandemic hasn’t gone away. It’s why we changed from students either being remote or hybrid to all going remote to start. Culture we can still maintain, but without safety, it’s hard to learn and grow.
A school cannot have a culture that could take us through a pandemic time, without the right leadership. Principals who have led us with grace, understanding, realness and wisdom, even as they’ve made changes and admitted some of their own struggles through this process.
They’ve given us leadership roles to not only delegate, but to show their faith in us, even now.
They’ve given us time and shifted their original plans, so we could grow, but not break.
They had us make videos of ourselves so this year’s students and families can see us, hear us, and know how much we can’t wait to teach and to also support them all.
Even more powerful than all of that was having us email and call the families of those students who we will be with at the start of each day. We let them know what to expect so they’re not feeling nervous for the first day and beyond, for the students and their parents. To answer questions. But most of all, to help let out a breath, knowing we care enough to call and be there for them even before we have met their children. Culture.
On my end, I adored talking to students who were excited to hear from me. I realized how much I missed hearing the awkwardness of being the age of middle school kids. I soared when parents shared how happy they were to receive my call, how much better they felt and how supported they felt. But, what made my teacher heart fill to completion was getting emails from several of my new students asking me questions they had and then thanking me for my help.
CULTURE! We haven’t even started our first day together, but our culture’s base has already been laid down.
Our school’s vision is to engage, empower and excite our students to grow and learn. Without a building, through emails, calls and soon via video conferencing and other online tools, they will thrive. They will learn. They will feel supported.
And we will be their school community, doing what we know is best for them. Content, we already knew. Learning new ways to engage, empower and excite our 2020-2021 students is simply a part of being educators. What more we may need to move forward? Well, we will grow together, stronger and our culture will be even better than it’s ever been, no matter what life throws our way.
Dedicated to Blake Revelle, Tara Mahoney and our Amazing Knights Community. Love working with all of you!