By Guest Contributor David Huber, Principal, South Side Elementary School, Connecticut
This guest blog post is the third 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.
Part Three: Connecting with Families and Staff
Distance learning was hard for many, and especially challenging for families who struggled to balance their working and teaching-from-home responsibilities. The concept of educational equity has never been highlighted as much as it was this past spring. We know each family had individual challenges including access to devices, Wi-Fi, and at-home support.
Our staff was also tasked with teaching from home while taking care of their own families. One of our staff priorities to close the year was to identify our families most impacted by learning virtually so we can proactively use our student support staff (e.g., social workers, school psychologist, Family Resource Center) to connect early with these families, rebuild our relationships, and ensure they have what they need to successfully return to learning. It will be essential for our school to implement a plan of support to accelerate these learners to make up for any ground lost during last year’s virtual learning.
Equally important will be the need to ensure the emotional well-being of our staff members, many of whom are worried about their own safety. It is important to be cognizant of the social and emotional needs of our staff so we can support them individually as we navigate this new way of teaching, learning, and collaborating in a socially distanced manner. I found it very effective to substantially increase communication with our staff through texts or phone calls to see how they are doing and ask how I could better support their efforts. It has also been helpful to increase opportunities for staff to provide me with feedback so I can understand and respond to their needs. Whether it is around school leadership, school safety, technology, or pedagogy needs, asking for and responding to frequent feedback for our staff continues to make our school a better place to work and learn.
We will also need to focus on the social-emotional well-being of our students. We have students 3–5 years-old who, prior to COVID-19, started their school day with hugs as a way to show appreciation for their teachers, staff, and friends. Now they can’t do that. Then there is sharing — a behavior we have always taught. We now have to restrict our students from sharing things like crayons, books, and snacks. In many ways we will have to un-teach these type of behaviors and find new ways for students to show their appreciation, play without sharing, and care for their teachers and friends.
This summer has been unlike any other in that we are forced to plan for many different types of reopening ranging from 100% in school, a 50/50 hybrid return, and a full virtual learning model. Although I don’t know how the year will turn out, I know I must consider our school improvement planning differently than I ever have. We must capitalize on the successes of teaching virtually, such as increased use of technology, and continue to improve upon our practices. We must know our students better than we ever have in terms of their learning needs and goals. I am excited that we have the opportunity to return to school by following our State Reopening Guidelines and know that, regardless of the model, our district and staff will be prepared to teach no matter the learning environment.
I look forward to working with every member of our staff, in a mask and from a distance, as we continue to support each other, support our students and families, and grow as a school community. If the pandemic has taught us anything it is the power and necessity of positive, caring, and empathic relationships between our students, staff, and families.
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.