The start of this school year has been unfamiliar to us all – students, teachers, parents, administration, and every school employee. Some won’t be sure what to expect, others expect more uncertainty and change ahead. People are experiencing more mixed emotions around getting back to school than ever before. Leaders can take the right steps now to build confidence in employees and families, so we can get students back to learning.

Communicate to Build Employee, Student, and Family Confidence

I had to reassure the staff, parents and students that it’s going to be okay. Once we got the safety in place, then we wanted to build relationships through communication. We’re trying to keep our parents and staff up to date on everything. Nowadays, things change hourly. Relationships are huge. Let the parents know—’it’s okay to be terrified’. – MaryJo Raczkowski-Shannon, Principal of Hunt Elementary School

You’ve likely heard the phrase: Maslow before Bloom, before navigating student learning obstacles in 2020. Students, employees, and families need their basic needs of psychological safety met before we can effectively engage them in learning and achievement. As students return to classrooms, our priority is to create a sense of safety and connectedness.

During an Accelerate Your Performance podcast interview, Principal MaryJo Raczkowski-Shannon described how her team at Hunt Elementary School successfully provided a safe environment, communicated transparently to reassure people, and executed a positive first day back to school.

MaryJo’s Tips for Back to School Success:

  • Start by reassuring school employees, teachers, and staff. Then begin to reassure parents, students, and the community.
    • By building confidence first with school employees, we have their endorsement and more support to build confidence in parents and students.
  • Focus on building relationships through communication and connection.
    • How will you keep people informed? How can employees, parents, and students ask questions and provide feedback?
  • Use social media to increase transparency and frequency of messages.
    • Hunt Elementary School did more than tell people their plans to keep students and employees safe. They showed them through pictures, videos, and posts on social media.
  • Inspire a positive culture.
    • Celebrate student’s face masks and other safety precautions.
    • Create fun signs and billboards to help students remember social distancing policies and other safety precautions in place.

To help education leaders build confidence that students are safe and their learning is on track, our expert coaches are hosting a series of roundtables to support daily actions that keep students learning, cascading communication with care and sharing results with our teams to improve.

After we make an effort to put people first, we can begin to discuss with our teams: Do we have a plan to assess where students are?

Positive Learning Trajectory

Leaders in schools have been reacting to the effects of COVID-19, planning and adjusting for several months. Even though circumstances may still change, we can’t lose sight of our goal as educators: to ensure students are on a positive learning trajectory.

You’ve likely spent much of your time focusing on student and employee safety, facilities, transportation, and other operations and logistics for re-entry. Once leaders have built confidence around safety for employees, students, and parents, we can begin to focus our time on learning outcomes to get students back on track.

To effectively focus on returning to learning, leaders will need a plan in place. To support leaders and teams in achieving this, our Organizational Excellence Execution and Improvement toolkit provides resources dedicated to helping your team determine:

  • What results are we trying to achieve?
  • How do we apply a system to continuously review how we are doing in areas that are most critical to a positive student learning trajectory?
  • What changes can we make that will result in improvements for students and families?
  • How do we continuously review where we are so that we know what to keep doing, stop doing, and adjust what we are doing?

We are rapidly receiving new information. Therefore, we are forced to continuously adapt and adjust to changes occurring in and outside of our schools. Stakes are high in times of uncertainty. When we execute a specific set of strategic actions around the measures that matter most and monitor our progress, leaders stay on track and focus the work on getting results that matter most to the people we serve: students and families.

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