Interaction with learners

Pandemic isolation has damaged school culture. Here’s how directors can reset (opinion)

Since the return to in-person learning, school leaders across the country have experienced a return that was not so normal. We found ourselves having to support staff members who had grown accustomed to operating in isolation, were losing their sense of creativity and were frustrated with the profession.

To alleviate these concerns as principal, I have focused my efforts on helping my staff reconnect to their “why” and recommit to our concept of a one-to-one school. single family. I’ll share how I did this and what other school leaders can do to ease the ongoing backlash from COVID-19 related school closures.

As a school principal, I have observed three ways the return to in-person learning after our long isolation has damaged school culture. I have seen some teachers operating in isolation, although they return with great intentions and enthusiasm. I have seen many teachers return with a diminished sense of autonomy and creativity in their approach to practice. And I’ve seen teachers become extremely frustrated with the continuing uncertainty and growing demands to minimize the spread of the virus during the return.

About this series

In this bi-weekly columnprincipals and other authorities in school leadership, including researchers, professors of education, district administrators, and vice-principals, offer timely and timeless advice to their peers.

The dilemma of teachers not all moving in the same collaborative direction was a consequence of professional isolation at the height of the pandemic. As we know, the pandemic has forced many of us into retreat, confined to our homes for almost an entire year. Many educators have only been able to engage with their colleagues and students virtually during the 2020-2021 school year. This compromised our human relationships and our ability to function collaboratively.

With the return to in-person learning, many of the professional duties of teachers have become prescribed. District leaders and administrators across the country attempted to make the return more palatable by scripting protocols and prescribing plug-and-play instruction routines. This approach has had the unfortunate side effect of stifling teachers’ creativity, giving them less autonomy in their work in many school divisions.

Additionally, the roles of teachers have changed dramatically with the return to in-person learning, often causing them to lose hope of being able to keep up with changing demands and emotionally support themselves. In addition to an increase in student discipline problems upon their return, many teachers also felt frustrated to the point of considering leaving the profession.

To overcome these specific challenges during this past school year, I have made it my mission to help my staff reconnect and re-engage. Reconnecting was simply a call to realign our behaviors and practices with our collective “why”. Recommitting is about realigning our efforts as a family and as a team. This approach has served to reset, rejuvenate and reorient everyone around the fundamental elements of our school’s vision, mission and purpose.

This approach allowed everyone in our school to avoid resorting to isolation.

To implement this objective of reconnection and re-engagement, I first considered the fact that the need to reorient staff towards interaction and collaboration with each other was essential when returning to learning in nobody. I emphasized consistency and being stronger together in my messaging at staff meetings, in routine communications, and in day-to-day interactions. I also intentionally integrated departmental and cross-departmental teamwork opportunities into our daily work and decision-making.

This approach allowed everyone in our school to avoid resorting to isolation. In addition to addressing this disconnect, this emphasis on collaboration and teamwork has reduced frustration and made everyone’s workload more manageable.

Then, I nurtured the creativity of my teachers by ensuring that my leadership was not unidirectional. One-way leadership or authority is hierarchical in nature – all decisions and problem solving rest exclusively with administrators. Instead, I took a transformational leadership approach, welcoming ideas and solutions from those I serve. This transformational approach has helped to empower teachers by encouraging innovation and independent problem solving.

Finally, to limit frustration, I insisted that staff should devote more energy to solutions rather than getting bogged down in existing problems. As a school, we have fostered a culture that encourages courageous dialogue about staff concerns to avoid the proverbial toxic break room discussions.

I encouraged everyone to speak directly in a professional manner rather than letting concerns fester. We then approached these concerns with a deliberate mindset of seeking solutions or understanding. Ultimately, this strategy to reduce dissatisfaction made the workplace more tolerable and sustainable for teachers.

Fully embracing the theme of reconnecting to the collective ‘why’ of the school and re-engaging with each other as a team can help address what many school leaders have witnessed in the wake of the closure. of school buildings in the event of a pandemic. These efforts have certainly brought about a necessary transformation in my school.