Principal’s FAQ

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Center for Responsive Schools polled a group of school leaders from both public and private schools across the country about their plans for opening their schools. Here’s what we learned.

Key contributors:
Amy Romem, Elementary Principal
Kelly Harper, 7-8 Principal
Sarah Davis, Middle School Assistant Principal Inna Collier Paske, PreK-8 Principal
Barb Snare, K-3 Principal
Michael Connor, Middle School Principal Sue Lovegreen, K-8 Principal
Kalman Baumann, Nursey-5 Principal

What social and emotional learning structures are you putting in place to support the follow-ing stakeholders as your school reopens for the 2020-2021 school year?

Schools’ plans involve connecting with parents early and often, including sending parents a survey before the beginning of school, weekly newsletters, early back-to-school nights, and communicating via phone calls and virtual meetings. Additionally, some schools are offering parent support groups.

Helping students feel supported and make connections—with Responsive Classroom practic-es such as Responsive Advisory Meeting, Morning Meeting, and small group learning—is central to every school’s plan for their students. Schools are also making sure all students have access to school counselors, including having counselors conduct weekly check-ins and teach SEL lessons. Many schools are also promoting connections between students through buddy assignments, small group share times, and smaller class sizes.

Schools are looking to both support and celebrate their teachers. To support them, some schools are offering mentoring programs, employee assistance programs, professional development prior to the start of the school year, access to school counselors, support groups, third-party consultants working with teachers, and opportunities for teachers to plan together. Schools will be celebrating teachers’ hard work through weekly shout-outs, regularly scheduled appreciation celebrations, staff retreats, and planned staff fun days.

What scheduling changes are you implementing during the school day?

Most scheduling changes for the upcoming school year are still being decided or haven’t been finalized yet, but many schools are examining an A/B schedule. In this plan, on an A-day half the students attend school while the other half learn remotely; on a B-day the two groups switch roles. Some schools are also considering staggered arrival and pick-up times, as well as a staggered lunch schedule.

What structural changes are you making to the following spaces to accommodate social distancing requirements?

To create the space for social distancing, many schools are limiting the number of students per class, which also limits the number of desks. Most principals we spoke to plan to keep desks in rows six feet apart. Additionally, some schools are placing plexiglass dividers around desks, getting rid of extra furniture, and doing away with community materials.

Staggered hallway times is one strategy schools will use to limit the number of students in the hallway at any given time. Schools will also clearly mark specific routes to travel, with many hallways and staircases becoming one-way only.

In order to limit students’ exposure to other students, many schools are considering keeping the cafeteria closed and instead having students eat lunch in their classrooms. Schools that are planning to still use the cafeteria space will be implementing safety protocols such as seating assignments, staggered schedules, longer lunch breaks, standing tables (to create more space), and visual cues to mark spaces and routes.

While some schools will not have physical edu-cation classes in the fall, others will hold the class outside rather than in the gymnasium. Those schools that plan to hold P.E. classes in the gym-nasium will limit the number of students who can gather at one time, use floor tape to mark six-foot spaces, and focus on individual fitness activities.

Afterschool activities
Most schools are choosing to cancel after-school activities in the fall. Schools that plan to hold them will keep group sizes small and maintain separation between students, and the activities offered will be limited to those for which both these measures are possible.

As with afterschool activities, sports programs will be canceled at many of the schools we spoke to, while those that plan to continue with sports will limit the number of students who participate and maintain social distance guidelines.

What changes will you make to prepare teachers for any upcoming professional development?

Most principals agree that professional development around all the changes to this upcoming school year—including seminars on the topics of safety, hybrid learning, virtual learning technology, and SEL instruction—will be vital to a successful school year. Professional development over remote learning platforms like Zoom is appealing to many of the principals we spoke to because it makes it easier for teachers to attend; the meetings can also be recorded so teachers who are unable to attend can watch it at a later date. Principals who are considering in-person professional development will start with small groups to maintain the necessary social distancing.