Welcome back Spartans! The 2020-2021 school year has started and it is great to be back on campus as one community.
We are back. It's a new academic year, one we hoped six months ago would find us virus-free and back to school as before. And when it became clear that there would not be a return to “before the pandemic” anytime soon, we needed to make decisions about how to come back to school and deliver on the promise we make to our families - that we will educate the whole child, in accordance with our mission and our core values.
It is hard to describe the seemingly unending meetings that brought us to today - to an approach and a schedule that is by no means perfect, but ticks as many boxes as can be ticked in times like these. We are embarking on a journey that lacks description because it is a road yet to be traveled.
For years, my quiet Sunday mornings have been spent reading - most frequently, I read up on topics related to schools, pedagogy, the developmental needs of students, and leadership. Recently, I have been struck by the shift in articles from how to teach on zoom to how our students and yes, our teachers, are managing their wellbeing during this pandemic. This week’s roundup was no different - and below, I offer some of what I learned that exemplifies the need to focus not just on the delivery of our academic program, but also on the state of mind of the people who are involved with it.
This summer, when we designed our hybrid model, we boldly promised that we would bring every student on campus, every day, while also:
- Prioritizing health and safety;
- Staying aligned with our whole-child mission;
- Maintaining the academic program;
- Focusing on social and emotional well-being; and
- Providing families with maximum flexibility.
Creating a return-to-campus model while staying within these parameters was not a job for the faint of heart. And yet, we did just that. Its successful execution requires a level of collaboration and sacrifice on the part of every member of our community. From always wearing masks, to teachers teaching the same class twice in a day, to students being required to become more independent learners during their asynchronous time, this model banked on the fact that our community would meet this moment with the Spartan grit for which it is known.
Our model isn't perfect; no model is right now. “There is no secret mix of ingredients that create the perfect hybrid strategy,” writes Jesse Stommel. Instead, he urges teachers and school leaders to focus more on creating psychologically safe classrooms for their students, whether in person or online. This is what we excel at at Country Day. Community, built on strong relationships that create inclusive and welcome environments for every student, every day. Our model provides an opportunity for psychological safety to take root. This does not mean that we don’t have adjustments to make. As we learn from experience, we will adapt and get better day by day. This Washington Post column gives some great advice on how to make asynchronous work (or homework for some) more effective and meaningful. It also reinforces the decades of research that have revealed that more homework is not necessarily correlated with better academic outcomes. Our teachers, too, need our support. They started the year in one mode of delivery, and then, only three weeks in, have had to pivot to a model with which they have no experience. Their commitment to our students has been inspiring, and their ability to navigate the dizzying uncertainties brought about by the pandemic, while also simultaneously managing students in the classroom and online has been nothing short of miraculous.
So, why am I writing this now? In my welcome back letter, I urged us to practice flexibility and grace - with one another, and with ourselves. Surely, during this past week, we have learned we need both. We have discovered what worked in our plans, and what didn’t. We saw the brightest smiles under masks I have ever had the pleasure to see, with eyes sparkling above, and we saw that asynchronous time needed adjusting. We straightened out confusion about lunch delivery, and we cut down lower school dismissal from two hours to 45 minutes. We have added wellness checks to our daily to-do lists, and have reconnected with students without the usual Miami hugs, but nevertheless, with all the usual love. We have learned that sometimes masks slip down, but that we must be vigilant to keep them up and on.
This is not forever. But at this moment of time, I am proud that our School has remained true to its mission, its values, and its identity. It has shown up for our students in unprecedented ways, but at its core, it has not changed: our students are fully formed human beings for whom the connections we make allow them to thrive as learners and as people.