Authored by Dr. Mary Jane Boynton, principal of Parkside Middle School in Prince William County, Virginia
March 13, 2020. The day that will go down in history as when traditional K-12 public education ceased to exist. The day that required a systematic, world-wide educational paradigm shift. Oh, and it needs to happen in a matter of weeks-months, rather than years. The day when all school principals learned they would be required to lead their students, staff and parents through an unprecedented pandemic, with no guidelines or ‘map’ to follow.
There is nothing in the leadership research or manuals to guide or assist school leaders on how to lead through a pandemic. Nothing! There is no one to call and talk to for advice or suggestions. Everything is new, uncharted and let’s be honest, downright terrifying!
I have been an administrator for fourteen years, and a teacher since 1992. The majority of my teaching career has been teaching and working with English learners. Since 2011 I have been the principal at an extremely diverse middle school in Northern Virginia, with close to 30% of my students identified as English Language Learners. When reflecting on how my role as an administrator has changed and what I have learned, I cannot answer that question without focusing on how it relates to my English learners and their families.
Priorities changed, and no longer am I thinking about how to serve my students within the school building, COVID has required me to think beyond the traditional schoolhouse, and cautiously delve into the homes of my students, especially my EL students.
Where did I begin to meet the needs of my EL students?
Communicate, communicate, and communicate a little more!
- Taking the time to call each and every student and their family to ensure open lines of communication.
- When all else fails, even in the time of COVID, visit the home, following all safety precautions.
- Ensure there are ample staff to answer phone calls for help and assistance.
- Additionally, make sure that the staff who are answering the phones, and answering the door, are able to help with the new technology requirements.
Access to technology
- Ensure all students have devices, and more importantly, they know how to operate them.
- Ensure all students have internet access.
- Provide a variety of opportunities for students to receive assistance, while also ensuring the safety of students and school personnel.
Access to learning
- Provide students and parents a variety of chances to learn how to access the new technology programs in person, and with opportunities to practice.
- Staff available, before, during, and after the school day to assist parents and students with all different types of technology issues, as many times as they need us to be there.
- When necessary, provide in-person learning opportunities for students. I know this is not available to everyone, but thankfully we have been able to provide this to students on a case-by-case basis.
And then remember to…
- Remain calm, transparent, and sincere when communicating with students, staff, and parents.
- Be prepared to do whatever it takes.
- No time for excuses, only solutions.
- Focus on the positive, not the negative.
- Take the challenges in small sections, and work through them little by little.
- Display high belief and high expectations of our students, teachers and staff.
- Be willing to walk the walk and talk the talk. Don’t expect others to do what you are not willing to do yourself.
- Get teachers and students what they need to be successful.
- Celebrate the successes, regardless of how small they are.
- Be grateful, and share your gratitude with your students, staff, and parents.
As a school leader this time period has challenged each and every one of us beyond what any of us could have imagined. However, it has also allowed us to experience a true sense of community. Together, we can make a difference, and we can rise above every challenge, and succeed.
Mary Jane Boynton is the principal at Parkside Middle Cambridge International School in Virginia, USA. She has taught and led in Scotland, Malta, Mexico as well as the United States. At Dr. Boynton's direction, Parkside earned the accreditation as the first Cambridge Professional Development program in the United States. She specializes in leading and learning schools with diverse student populations.