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Leading During a Pandemic

 Never thought I'd EVER type a title like that. 

Pandemics were only events I had taught about during my History classes. The experience thus far can only be described as surreal. It's been a part of our reality for nearly 10 months now and the fear and uncertainty is still not lost on me with the reporting of daily infection and death rates. It has been my single greatest challenge as a leader to date to show up to work everyday imbuing optimism that we're going to be ok, that school is a safe place to be. I have to say that on 98% of those days, I have believed just that. We have be so very fortunate not to have experienced any positive diagnoses of COVID-19 so far. Implementing the new health and safety protocols, while tedious and laborious, has not been all that  difficult. Sure, the work up front was a lot - signage, taping arrows and cues on the walls and floors, rearranging classroom furniture to establish social distancing in the classrooms ... as the Principal, this was 100% my responsibility. Being the only Administrator in my school, I've never felt lonelier. The usual responsibilities that come with this position can be overwhelming on a good day, but to being on the frontline of keeping people safe and healthy, knowing the potential life and death consequences is next level. 

Doom and gloom aside... it's not been completely awful. The pandemic has shone light on some issues that have needed to be addressed for some time. 

  1. A number of issues related to equity have been brought to light and numerous systems have mobilized various initiative to begin to address system racism that have been experienced by students and parents in schools. Events in the news from all over the world of injustice have galvanized and given voice to people whose voices have been silenced and refuse to be any longer. These stories are a blight on what should be the most enlightened institution on the face of the earth, but hard conversations are being had. Realities are being faced. Action is being taken. 
  2. Pedagagy has FINALLY left the 19th and 20th centuries and it has arrived in the here and now. Sort of. I'm not 100% convinced that it's been completely transformed but virtual learning has forced all manner of educators to learn about the tools and platforms that some had been avoiding because there simply was no choice. PD was quickly made available. Virtual learning has changed the learning environment and now it is time to look at the fundamentals of assessment and evaluation and how that needs to change to adapt to a virtual learning space. 
  3. There were a TON of improvements made to schools, from upgrades to ventilation and HVAC and broadband access, to the purchase of more wireless devices that allowed greater access for students.
  4. School leaders, who already know how important effective communication with their communities are, had to up their game. I personally saw a greater presence on social media and more frequent updates to school websites. What was being communicated was not limited to updates in the health and safety protocols and re-entry plans, but rather, I saw an uptake in the number of good news stories that were being shared. I think we're all learning that despite our circumstances, sharing the beautiful goings-on in our schools is so necessary for all to see. It demonstrates that our schools are so much more than our academic programs. To see student leadership groups continuing on with their goals and plans, albeit virtually, with the aim to boost school spirit has been inspiring. If the kids aren't quitting then neither should we.
  5. While no one likes wearing masks all day or disinfecting surfaces every few hours, our schools have never been cleaner and quite frankly, I LOVE IT! I'm hoping these practices (masks aside...) are keepers once we see a turn in the pandemic. 
My biggest complaint? The boundaries of the workday have been obliterated. With the pace of change being as rapid as it is, updates and emails have come at all hours of the day and night, weekday or weekend. It's no one's fault. It just is. Given the nature of what we're dealing with, it's been hard not to respond and act immediately. Shutting down and disconnecting has been so hard. Each "ping" signifying a notification of some sort triggers a bit of anxiety, leaving one to wonder what new change has come into effect and all the action items that go with it, or what will need to be done if a positive diagnosis is reported and confirmed. Normally, I would never send parent communication on a weekend but I have an email scheduled to be sent on Sunday with the instructions regarding remote learning for the first week of January. I feel horrible for imposing but on the other hand, I would feel negligent if I communicate the information needed by both parents and students on the first day back from Christmas vacation. 

We're all doing the best we can with the information we have. The information changes every 33 seconds but it's beyond us. I would argue that most of us in leadership roles rely on an element of control in our circumtances as part of how we do our jobs and we have been forced to let go of that. This Principal has experienced some pretty major growth in that regard. More than anything, I have pivotted my focus from the amount of changing information to the way that I respond to it. If my staff were to witness the daily freak-outs that could be taking place, I'm not so sure they would have much peace or confidence in their ability to do their jobs which have changed quite a bit in such a short period of time. That would trickle down to our kids, whose anxieties are already at an all-time high. Perhaps the most infectious thing in our schools right now is not coronavirus but rather our attitudes and mindsets. 


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