Children's Literacy Initiative
Focusing on Care:
Three Key Mindsets for Principals During School Re-Openings
The time before school opens is always an intense month for principals as they think through a myriad of logistics for everything, from buses to school lunches to conveying a compelling vision of teaching and learning. In the opening of the 2020–21 school year, principals will face a new and different challenge—reuniting and inspiring their school communities in the wake of Covid-19. This will not only be about implementing new safety guidelines, but also about the hard, strategic work of adjusting curriculums and programs to accommodate all the educational issues raised by school closures. It will most importantly be about the deep, human work of establishing a climate of care, one in which school leaders care for returning teachers, and returning teachers, in turn, care for the children and families they work with, creating ripples of support across the school community.
Three key mindsets, informed by research from education, leadership, and positive psychology, can help with this work of caring for school communities: a strength-based approach, collective leadership, and kindness. All three of these mindsets will help principals avoid falling into the trap of deficit thinking, which could come with a singular focus on learning loss, and instead recognize that both teachers and children are returning to school with new strengths, and enormous learning.
A strength-based approach to teaching and learning focuses on what is working—what children and teachers can do. Leaders with this approach articulate for their community the ways in which they have been strong, and help to leverage those strengths to do the new work ahead of them. Principals can ask teachers to share how they took care of themselves during a challenging time, and how this experience enhanced their abilities to cope, to persist, to learn digital skills, and to teach—the best they could.
These discussions with teachers are not just to honor the work they have done during challenging times, but also to help them recognize that the challenges they experienced have morphed into strengths and interests, which can apply to a new learning environment this fall.
Cultivate Collective Leadership
Principals can go about turning kindness into their first option by deeply listening and empathizing. Empathy as a process of listening to and really acknowledging, but not attempting to “solve” others’ pain and suffering, can be a hard stance for principals to adopt, as school leaders are often cast in the roles of “doers” and “solvers.”
Imagine if a teacher, who confides in a principal that he cannot concentrate on his class because he is still mourning the loss of a parent to COVID-19 while getting his own children comfortable with going to school again, was met by a principal who listened deeply to him and took the time to let a real conversation unfold without judgement. This teacher will likely be motivated to meet his challenges with confidence because he felt appreciated and supported, rather than told how to quickly “fix” everything.
Establish a Climate of Care
Zaki, Jamil. The War for Kindness: Building Empathy in a Fractured World. New York: Crown Publishing Group, 2019.
Expand Your Understanding!
Join us this month for our summer webinar series Communities of Practice: Reopening Our Schools & Classroom Communities with Care!
Session No. 1
3 Key Mindsets to Establish a Caring School Climate:
Wednesday, July 8, 2020