By Christina Sagnella
Throughout this lockdown, school principals have been tested to keep the spirit of our schools alive, even without our school. We sit 10, 12, 14 hours on our computers these days, making sure everyone is safe, educated, connected, valued, heard, calmed, challenged, inspired, and loved. This is not just about our students. This is also very much about our staff.
This week, Teacher Appreciation Week, is when we make an extra effort to let our staff know how much we appreciate them and ALL that they do for their students, families, each other, our whole school –even for me! However, this year, I am particularly thankful to my staff for all that they have done to keep school going during the coronavirus pandemic, and all that they continue to do, even now that it’s May.
I am very aware of the incredible challenges that my staff has faced since March 19th when we rolled out our Distance Learning Plan. I am blessed to work with a staff who knows the value of rolling up their sleeves and figuring out what needs to be done in order to give their students what they need. Two weeks prior to having school closed, we as a staff started pulling together to begin the journey of Distance Learning. I was not surprised, but again, forever grateful, for the collaboration amongst my staff to support each other and work together to make this happen for our students. Time was what they needed, so we quickly recreated our Collaborative Meetings to focus on Distance Learning and away they went. Some of my staff were already tech savvy, while others had to spend hours upon hours collaborating to ensure they too were ready! Our Librarian and Technology teacher become invaluable resources for the entire staff. I was on a mission to keep them going, to support them and be their biggest cheerleader as they entered this uncharted territory.
It is always important to me to make sure my staff is taking care of themselves first. None of us were familiar with fully working from home, but as educators, we certainly knew how much work we put in after school hours at home…now, we’d be doing all of that at home. I needed to make sure they understood I wanted them to close their laptops and walk away during their day to take a lunch or use their prep time. I know how easy it is to sit at a computer at home for hours upon hours to get work done, but this world we were entering was about to be even more challenging. We were entering days that were about to all blend into each other because we were suddenly doing it all from home. They would be managing their homes, families and lives in quarantine. This was something unfamiliar to all of us.
Working to keep us connected to each other and our students was mission number one. A handful of my staff had asked if we could organize one of the car parades they had seen other districts conducting. I knew this was a must! They wanted to see their students and I knew their students wanted to see them. A small committee dove in and organized a 3-hour trip through our neighborhoods that started in the pouring rain, had some sun, hail, more rain, more sun and ended with a giant rainbow. I was so grateful for their commitment to their students and for being willing to be together even in the crazy weather. I also wanted to be able to capitalize on our connection to each other and our wish to make sure our students knew it. I had each staff member take a short video of themselves reminding their students that “We Are Family” and “We are all in this together!” The video was a hit with our students and the staff. They know how much I value us as a school family and to see each other and hear the music, “We Are Family” playing was a wonderful reminder for all!
Visiting classrooms was something that was a part of my everyday life. The students would tease and tell me they’d always hear me coming because my heels would click away as I headed down the hall. Being in their classrooms and being a part of the teaching and learning is critical. My staff needed to know that I am not just about those 1 or 2 observations a year, but I am there for them for their everyday world. Watching them, seeing what they do, how they do it and as I leave, leaving a little sticky note by the door with an affirmation, was my favorite part of my day. In this virtual world, that would look very different. Luckily, I have figured out a slightly different method! Visiting their Google Meet Live sessions and their Google Classrooms has allowed me to continue this support. I am thrilled when I pop into a Google Meet session (and it’s a bit funny since they can’t hear me coming!) and I’m able to see the students, greet the teacher and give the teacher a shout out for some of the amazing work that is going on. Whether it’s a note in their Google Classroom, a quick email, a text or even a phone call, I need them to know that I am here and we ARE all in this together.
As I began brainstorming for this year’s Teacher/Staff Appreciation week, I had a VERY difficult time narrowing ideas that I felt represented me and that I was able to take on. I am not very tech savvy and I wanted to personalize what I could for them. We have an amazing PTO who is putting together 3 daily raffles to local businesses that can all be ordered online. I kept going back to our “Paw-some” Car Parade theme and our “Paw-some” teacher treats from September. I was thrilled to find a lapel pin that said, “We don’t do average, we do AWESOME!” My staff knows how I have a fun collection of holiday pins and they have loved over the years when I have given them one, too. This seemed just perfect for all that they have overcome. I also wanted to the gifts to be personal, so I decided to write and mail a “You’re Awesome” thank you card to each of them. I will start the week with an ecard in their email with a bulldog, which is our school mascot, telling them how “paw-some” they are! I will share a quick, dog themed affirmation pun with them each morning via their email. On Wednesday we will have our virtual Staff Meeting since it is our monthly requirement. I usually always have candy of some sort out for them, so in lieu of that, I will raffle off 5 $10 gift cards to CandyCity during our Meeting, where they can order a small candy online! I will also share with them a photo video collage showcasing them as the dedicated teachers they have been throughout the year!
I will also be focusing this week’s Principal’s Challenge on Teacher Appreciation Week! The students visit my Google Classroom each morning for Morning Announcements and the day’s Principal Challenge. I was happy to find an idea for each day that the students will complete for their teacher in their teacher’s Google Classroom stream! My hope is a little affirmation and a lot of appreciation this week will lift their spirits a bit and help carry them through to June! Of course, none of this is can compare to being together, but as I shared in the beginning, it is and always will be my mission to make sure my staff feel safe, educated, connected, valued, heard, calmed, challenged, inspired, and loved.
Christina Sagnella is the proud principal of Parker Farms Elementary School in Wallingford, CT. Christina’s 24 years in education working in a variety of communities and roles. She was a classroom teacher, Literacy Coach, Administrative Intern and for the last 4 years, a proud principal. Christina is passionate about her school community, keeping her staff, students and their families connected and thriving together.