“You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have.” –Bob Marley
They say that history has a way of repeating itself and it does. In the U.S. the Spanish flu pandemic hit in 1918, then a little over 100 years later another one arrived—the COVID-19 pandemic in 2019. Who would have ever known that we were going to have to navigate this uncharted territory?
Times like this show you what kind of leader you are and what skills you possess. My experiences as a principal during this pandemic have touched every emotion I have. I knew that I had to be emotionally strong and be an intelligent leader that made decisions that were in the best interest and safety of my staff and students.
Currently, we do not have many students at my school doing face-to-face instruction because most students are receiving online instruction for the remainder of the school year. Our students are very smart, able-bodied and resilient, so I have no doubt that they will be fine. The students that are in the building are happy to be back in school, but immediately realized the arrangement is quite different now. They have to stay six feet apart from others, wear masks and frequently wash their hands. Things are nothing like they were before COVID-19 took over.
Since we have been back in the building, I have had many individual discussions with my staff members about their emotions and the high levels of anxiety they have been experiencing. I continue to be very concerned about their physical well-being but even more concerned about their mental health. I am very empathetic and compassionate when it comes to their thoughts and feelings. They have to first take care of themselves before they can take care of anyone else. I am also concerned about our students’ mental health. They have not been able to socialize, visit friends, etc. and that can be very detrimental.
This has been one of the most challenging experiences of my career as a principal. I would have never imagined a pandemic occurring, but it did. My number one priority is to make sure my staff and students are safe and free from any kind of super-spreader activity. I have an awesome staff and I have always been very transparent and honest with them about my fears, thoughts, and expectations. They know that when I say something it is genuine and from the heart.
We have had many meetings about the transition back into the building and many discussions about schedules, protocols, screenings, temperature checks, cohorts, instruction, precautions, red social distancing circles, green arrows, isolation rooms, PPE (personal protective equipment), and more have taken place.
I have an open-door policy and they know that I am here for them. I have gotten very early morning calls, but I answered, and I gave them a listening ear because that’s what caring principals do.
I must admit that the one good thing out of the pandemic is that everyone’s technology skills should now be on point. With the hundreds of meetings that took place along with teaching online we are now all technology experts.
During this transition, I have had the support of my principal colleagues. We call one another to check and see if everything is okay and to bounce ideas off of each other. Collegiality is very important and we have great principals in our county. We work hard and want the very best for our babies. I work in the best school district, Cumberland County Schools, and my Superintendent, Cabinet members, Central Services, and Board of Education have been very informative and supportive.
This has been a praying time for me and it has really strengthened my relationship with my maker. This is a time that I needed Him the most. Our babies and their learning continue to be a priority and a focus for my staff. John Dewey said that you learn by doing and I have learned a lot. I will continue to be strong, supportive, and lead with all of my might. And, oh yeah, wear my mask too!