Like many leaders across the country, I am leading a school during a pandemic. We began the 2020-2021 school year on August 3. We started the year virtual for all scholars, and then on August 17, we opened our doors for the families and scholars who selected in-person instruction. Our first day of school was chronicled in an incredible story by This American Life.
Leadership is different during a pandemic, and this type of leadership was not covered in any leadership course I took while earning my adminstrator’s license. As school leaders, we are jugging many areas. While also closing the academic gap that grew due to students being out of school since March, we are also trying to make sure we keep everyone in our building healthy. While numbers are increasing across our city, my focus is also making sure that we can stay in school as long as possible and not have a significant outbreak within our building. During this time, we have to make sure we are creating a safe space for students to report.
One of the best ways to keep everyone safe is to ensure we are taking the necessary steps. As a leader, I want my teachers to know that they can and must report any symptoms or anytime they think they may have been exposed to COVID-19. At the start of the year, I told my teachers that we would do everything to keep them safe in the building. We have the proper PPE, check temperatures, and ensure scholars have on a mask. We have someone who cleans our building regularly throughout the day. I also remind them they have an obligation to themselves and everyone else in the building that they are taking the steps outside of school to stay safe.
Teachers have personal lives, and I do not expect them to go to work and go home and not go out in public, but I let them know they have to be careful because their decisions can drastically impact what happens in school. I do not want my teachers to feel this shame because of the virus. If they feel as though they will not be supported, then that will keep them from reporting. We rely heavily on self-reporting because that allows us to put a plan in place. This was something that, as a leader, I had to model. I had to take off three days earlier in the year to ensure I did not have COVID-19 or experience any symptoms.
As a leader, I need to create a safe space for parents to report, as well. In addition to relying on teachers to be self-reporters, we need the same from our families. Since the beginning of the year, we wanted families to know that if they reported, that we would never single out their scholar or their family. Again, we do not want to create shame, but we want everyone to know how important it is to protect everyone. Parents have been cooperative with our systems of keeping their scholars home if they feel any symptoms or pick up their scholar when we call.
Due to the rise in COVID-19 cases in our city, the health department has decided to close schools and move everyone virtual. While I understand the need to limit gatherings, I cannot help but think about the fact that our mayor closed school buildings but kept open bars, nightclubs, and shopping malls. Some would argue the school is the safest place for children as we fight the COVID-19 virus. The schools seem to have done an excellent job controlling the spread and keeping both children and the adults who work in the building safe. I can say we did a fantastic job at our school with no positive cases. Now, when schools were starting to makeup the ground we lost last Spring when the school shut down, we are back out of our building. Yes, we have all learned lessons on making virtual learning more successful, but nothing replaces the learning many children received within the walls of a school.
This is not easy for school leaders. I have kept the same message of grace, patience, and empathy. Even with that, we must create safe spaces for people to report. We can beat this pandemic. We can keep schools open, but that will only happen if we work together.