Association of Washington School Principals
Volume 3 – 2020-21
From the AWSP President
Silver Linings
Positive Lessons from the Pandemic
Paul Marquardt
Principal, Shining Mountain Elementary, Bethel SD
Evaluation Criteria: Creating a Culture, Improving Instruction, Engaging Communities, Closing the Gap
“Adversity does not build character, it reveals it.” ~James Lane Allen One year ago today, I was in front of my staff having a conversation I never could have dreamed that I would have as an administrator. Nothing could have effectively prepared me for the year to come. This pandemic has created a lot of adversity and difficulty for educational leaders. With all of the struggles and new problems faced, the pandemic forced us to step up to a balcony level and examine what we need to do differently to best support our students. We were not able to be comfortable and continue as we were doing. As I reflect on my own journey with my team here at THE Shining Mountain I came to realize there were some “silver linings” to this pandemic, or lessons learned, in regards to our work in meeting the needs of all kids. Lesson #1: The Importance of PLCs We are all on that PLC journey. Every school building across the country is somewhere on the professional learning community continuum.
When school buildings closed last March, teacher teams were required to figure out how to teach remotely. In most cases they received little training on how to do this. Not only did teams need to share the massive load, teaching teams had to come together and be learners together.
They learned together, problem solved together, planned together. They had to rethink how they delivered the instructional cycle to kids in a new environment. They had to adjust what learning they needed to focus on, how to engage and how it was delivered. They had to find better ways to assess and reteach. They had to think through those four DuFour questions together: What do we want kids to learn? How do we know when they learned it? What do we do when they already know it? What do we do when they didn’t learn it? To be successful, these teams truly became a part of a professional learning community. Lesson #2: Renewed Focus on Leadership Teams No matter where you are on this continuum, the pandemic has renewed a deep understanding of the need for groups of people to come together to solve problems. Principals and district leaders could not be expected to have all the answers to the problems that arose. We needed input from teachers, students, families and colleagues alike. Groups of adults had to examine the problem of practice together to redesign school. This shared problem solving is actually the foundation for buy in and a positive school culture.
When people are part of a solution, they buy in and have a strong sense of how to do what needs to be done and why because they were part of figuring it out and creating it.
As we move forward out of the pandemic, let’s not ‘return to normal.’ Let’s learn from these silver linings and be better as a result. There is a Chinese Proverb that says, ‘Crisis brings opportunity and change.’ Let’s seize this opportunity.
Lesson #3: Partnerships with Families All families want what is best for their kids and want their children to learn. As we began remote learning we busily created packets and independent work for kids to do at home. As we planned for a more robust remote learning experience we knew that we had to do more than packets.
We moved into more Zoom lessons and remote learning plans. We quickly realized that the remote learning plans were not successful unless parents understood what kids were doing, and often, why they were doing it. The value of strong communication with home became very evident. This communication was as basic as how to login to why your kids are using this mathematical model and as complex as understanding what a flipped classroom model looks like and how it works. This all required training for families so that they knew how to support learning at home.
Is this any different when we return to “normal”? For our families to truly be able to partner with us they must understand our programs and our strategies and what realistic things they can do at home to support them. All families want to support their child’s learning. They just need to know HOW. Lesson #4: Focus on Priority Standards The education researcher John Marzano has been saying for years that there are too many standards. He has cautioned for years about numerous standards causing our instruction to be a mile wide and only an inch deep. When we have too many standards we focus more on pacing so we can get through all of them and less on mastery. In short, he has been a constant voice to prioritize standards so that we can teach to mastery.
The pandemic, with remote and hybrid learning has forced us to focus on the most essential. With the massive learning loss last spring and the little time we have for direct instruction we have had to focus very closely on which standards will best prepare them for the next grade level. We identified priority standards focused on acceleration rather than deficit models because we simply do not have time to address all of the holes that kids may have had compounded by loss of learning time.
Don’t we want to continue teaching to mastery when this is all over? Lesson #5: Focus on Social Emotional Learning This last summer I sat on the Governor’s Task Force for Reopening Schools. Our goal was to make recommendations to the state for how to reopen schools this last fall. We were tasked with reopening schools in a more robust learning environment than our students encountered last spring.
Last spring, we reacted to an unprecedented situation. Although schools heroically stepped up and did amazing work, our schools now had time to plan and improve the learning experience for our kids and families. As we met together we were continually reminded of the importance of relationships, connection, socialization. We heard stories of isolation. We saw data on the increase in depression and anxiety among children. We knew that for students to learn, that first these needs must be met. We actually made a recommendation as a group that Social Emotional Learning (SEL) should be equally as focused on in the new plan as academic instruction. Lesson #6- Small Class Sizes Like most districts, we have a sub shortage. As a result, I was recently needed to be a “guest teacher” for one of our fifth-grade classrooms. For math we were working on some improper and equivalent fractions. We used some great fraction models and number lines to work through the shifts of concrete to abstract. As in all classrooms there were varying degrees of mastery. Three students were not even able to identify or use basic fraction concepts at the beginning of the lesson. As a result of the requirements around social distancing, classes have been broken up into cohorts. There is Cohort A on Monday and Thursday, and Cohort B on Tuesday and Friday.
In this cohort there were 13 students. I had time to provide a gradual release of instruction that allowed for effective questioning and discussion, and since the group was only 13 students I had ample time to provide reteaching and individualized support to those kids struggling with the concept. As a result, every student met the criteria for the target that day on their exit tix. Imagine what schools could do with classes this size moving forward! As we move forward out of the pandemic, let’s not “return to normal.” Let’s learn from these silver linings and be better as a result. There is a Chinese Proverb that says, “Crisis brings opportunity and change.” Let’s seize this opportunity.
Paul Marquardt is the 2021-22 AWSP Board President. He has been principal at Shining Mountain Elementary School in Bethel School District since 2013.
Find us on
Association of Washington School Principals
Washington Principal | Volume 3 – 2020-21