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Look for the Leaders

The Covid-19 pandemic has upended every part and piece of my life, and yours. There is no separating work from home from childcare from homeschooling from economic insecurity from mental health from physical health from… so much more than that. It has been a time of incredible change and hardship and there are more moments (than not) when I’ve crawled into bed at night unable to imagine what next?

And in these moments, one thing that I know is true is inspired from the most simple advice I was raised on: Look for the Helpers.

When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping." To this day, especially in times of 'disaster,' I remember my mother's words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers-- so many caring people in this world - Fred Rogers

Anyone raised at the time I was knows that Fred Rogers worked to help children (and caregivers) foster empathy and acceptance in us all. His quiet strength and clarity taught us to be better versions of ourselves.

To every teacher I support, I say: Look for the Leaders.

I have been inspired and calmed by the remarkable ways that superintendents, administrators, principals and co-directors I work with have headed into a vast unknown and tried to bring entire districts and schools into a virtual space while preserving the humanity and education of their students.

From these leaders, I’ve (re)learned:

  • Some children need distraction. One principal in Manhattan ran a contest where students who participate in Zoom classes get to vote on which color he dyes his hair: it is currently pink.

  • Some children need daily contact. Two co-directors used every staff member available to make phone calls to every child enrolled across their K-8 building each day in the first two weeks of distance learning.

  • Some children need access. One director of operations in the Bronx drove to apartment after apartment dropping off Chrome books and iPads until each family had a device in their home.

  • Some children need incentive. One principal led teachers to identify students that were disappearing from online instruction. They created target groups and designed individualized, whole class and whole school rewards to bring these students back to school.

  • Some children need play. One principal used his morning announcements to reenact Star Wars scenes on May the Fourth.

  • Some teachers need professional development. Two districts began online pd in literacy because they knew their teachers (and students) couldn’t wait any longer.

  • Some teachers need space. One principal encouraged teachers to ease the workload by sharing videos across the grade team. One teacher makes the reading videos, one teacher the math videos, one teacher the content videos and in the end teachers have just a tiny bit more space than they otherwise might.

  • Some teachers need healing. Two co-directors offer bi-monthly PD centered around reducing anxiety, creating art and managing home/work balance.

  • Some teachers need to be part of reopening plans. One principal created committees to craft multiple scenarios for how schools will come back together in the fall.

  • We all need support. The systemic racism that persists across our nation also lives in our school buildings. As students, teachers and families have tried to navigate these issues some schools are revamping their read alouds, content curriculum, Zoom conversations and family meetings to provide space for voices that have been silenced for far too long.

These are not all of the ways that leaders have risen. But they are among my favorites.

No school is perfect. There are many missteps and miscalculations that have taken place. And yet, all the safety and beauty and learning that has taken place belongs to every school member. Including, especially, the leaders.

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