The COVID-19 crisis has presented unprecedented challenges for Tennessee school leaders. As a former school principal and district superintendent, I cannot begin to imagine the tremendous pressure that leaders are under to not only keep their students and faculty safe and healthy, but also to provide a high-quality learning experience for all students. Now more than ever, it is critical that we support our school and district leaders as they make difficult and unprecedented decisions regarding the reopening of schools.
The Center for Educational Leadership at the University of Tennessee, in partnership with the Tennessee Department of Education and SCORE, launched the Principal Professional Learning Series (PPLS) in May to provide resources and professional learning opportunities to school leaders to ensure that they are well prepared to lead safe and successful school communities during the upcoming academic year. PPLS delivered seven virtual learning modules from leading organizations to principals and educators across Tennessee. Learning topics covered a variety of important areas, including:
- Effective Digital Learning Strategies
- Student Social-Emotional Support and Wellness
- Leading Remotely
- Assessing Student Learning
- Differentiation, Personalization, and Intervention
- Strategic Resource Management
- School Culture, Collaboration, and Community
So far, approximately 1,000 educators have viewed the learning series presentations with more than 500 principals engaging live in each module. For those who are interested, all modules are still available for viewing on the PPLS web page.
These weekly engagements gave leaders a chance to build community and problem-solve with diverse peers from across the state who are grappling with the same problems of practice. School leaders expressed that this time to collaborate and engage in professional dialogue with colleagues was incredibly useful and allowed for deep network building that will continue beyond this experience.
As we speed toward the upcoming school year, teachers, parents, and students are looking to their school leaders for answers and solutions. Based on the PPLS modules, there are a few considerations that principals may want to keep in mind as they work to set their priorities.
- Many districts are offering a fully remote instructional option for students who do not feel comfortable returning to school in the fall. School teams should work to ensure that these students have access to personal devices and an internet connection through the strategic allocation of resources.
- In addition, the nonacademic needs of students and teachers are greater than ever. Principals can be responsive to these needs by prioritizing social-emotional wellness and building relationships — whether in-person or in a distance learning environment.
- Finally, schools must continue to deliver high-quality instruction to their students regardless of how they reopen. Principals should offer teachers and faculty opportunities for professional development and training in necessary areas such as virtual instruction. Leaders should also focus on instructional planning to ensure that students are not being over-remediated and are continuing to learn new and challenging content while being held to high expectations.
I can say from experience that being a principal is one of the hardest but most rewarding jobs you can have. I’m hopeful that the learning these incredible leaders engaged in through the Principal Professional Learning Series offered some support, encouragement, and connection as leaders work tirelessly to rise to the challenge of successfully reopening schools this fall.
Dr. Sharon Roberts is SCORE’s chief K-12 impact officer.