An Insider’s Point of View: A Principal’s Plan for Back to School — Part One

By Guest Contributor David Huber, Principal, South Side Elementary School, Connecticut

This guest blog post is the first in a series by David Huber, principal of South Side Elementary School, in Bristol, Connecticut. Huber reflects on the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on learning in his school and district and the long-term changes that will likely result. To hear more from him, opens in a new windowwatch our webinar, Ensuring Educational Equity for the 2020-2021 School Year and Beyond.

On March 12, 2020, our students were dismissed as they would be on any other school day, only to find out later in the evening that we would not be returning to school for the remainder of the school year. When our students return on August 31, it will be 170 days since they have seen their classmates and teachers. 

In years past, planning for a new school year meant we would simply look at student achievement data, set goals, and determine an appropriate plan to accomplish those goals. As we look to reopen for this school year, our school improvement must look different if we are to make up for any losses in learning from this past spring and to ensure educational equity for all students. Another essential factor will be to assess and support the emotional well-being of all families and staff.   

The COVID-19 situation has presented many opportunities for us to improve upon our teaching and learning. As I begin our school improvement planning for 2020-2021, I need to prioritize three areas: staff professional development (PD), how we monitor student learning, and supporting both families and staff.

Part One: Staff Professional Development

Expanding our Ability to Teach Virtually

This past school year, as a result of the pandemic, our district rolled out our three phases of distance learning. During each phase, the level of actual instruction increased based on our ability to effectively use different technologies. We realize that our new norm may require navigating between in-person and virtual learning, and that our instruction must be equally effective regardless of our location.

Beginning in March, our staff needed to first learn how to use platforms such as Google Classroom and Seesaw. For some, this was a simple task;  for others, it required substantial coaching and support. As we moved further into the spring, we continued to learn different ways to deliver lessons, such as recording and posting them to Google Classroom, creating a Screencastify, or posting videos to YouTube. 

Making this form of instruction successful has required us to change the culture in our building around teaching and learning. An increased use of technology has the potential to transform our classes from teacher-centered to student-centered environments and for us to do that requires substantial professional learning. I am incredibly proud of our staff dedication for this new learning because we realize, “The technology we have today is a game changer because it can help create magic in the classroom — however, only to the extent that schools and teachers are prepared and engaged.” (Tucker, C., Wycoff, T., & Green, J. (2017)  Blended Learning in Action.  A practical guide toward sustainable change.  Thousand Oakes, CA: Corwin.)

As we reopen this year, all staff must have the skillset and confidence to create these magical and engaging lessons should we return to a virtual setting. Many of the same lessons can also be used if we are in school, giving students voice and choice in their learning. We also know families may opt out of returning to in-school learning, and we will need to ensure those students also have access to high-quality instruction. As principal, I surveyed our staff to seek input on each staff member’s technology needs so we could craft teacher-led summer learning around areas such as video instruction and different blended-learning techniques.

We are excited and proud to now be a 1:1 school district in an attempt to equitably support all students. Our obligation now is to be sure staff members are supported to use this new technology to ensure learning for all students. We know it is the teacher in front of the students and the instruction they use that is far more effective than the technology tools in our students’ hands. To support this, we have dedicated funding for staff to research different technological tools, such as Pear Deck, Edpuzzle, Screencastify, Padlet, and Flipgrid. As we increase our knowledge of these tech tools to support student learning, we can capitalize on our collaborative efforts to provide opportunities for teacher leadership to share best practices. We know our staff is better when we learn together, so this is an opportunity to support individual teachers to expand their understanding, and then grow the capacity of the members of our school staff.  

Our staff needs to have the ability to teach virtually, using tools available to deliver responsive large- and small-group instruction. Additionally, staff will need to know how to use tools for formative assessment to measure the growth of each student. By using virtual assessment options, we can quickly assess where each of our learners are so we can plan next steps to support student learning. This summer we have increased PD options for staff to learn these skills for effective use in our classrooms.

Read about how we will monitor student learning

David Huber
Principal, South Side Elementary School, Connecticut

David Huber is an elementary school principal in Bristol, Connecticut. After teaching for 10 years in both urban and suburban districts, David returned to his hometown, serving as Assistant Principal at O’Connell School before accepting roles as Principal of Bingham Elementary School, Mt. View Elementary School, and now South Side Elementary School.

David is a member of the school’s leadership with a focus on building highly collaborative teams designed to maximize the potential of all students and staff, with a belief that everyone can learn at high levels. David holds a master’s degree from the University of Connecticut and sixth-year and Doctor of Education degrees from Central Connecticut State University. He has presented at Literacy For All in Providence, Rhode Island as well as the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics Regional Conference in Hartford, Connecticut. His work has also been published in the educational journal Planning and Changing (spring 2015) on the topic of school improvement.

Twitter:  @davidjhuber