Education Matters Episode 149
School Culture in the World of COVID-19 We are now two weeks into the new school year in NC; and educators, students, and families alike are adjusting to a new normal in either a remote or hybrid setting. We will have the opportunity to hear from a Superintendent, principal, and two students on how they are embracing this experience and ensuring that we have an effective culture to support our students, staff, families, and community. Building a culture does not just happen, it takes purposeful and consistent nurturing and engagement to support students in their academic, social, and emotional learning
Welcome to education matters presented by the Public School Forum of North Carolina. I am your host, Maryanne Wolf. We are not. Two weeks into the new school year in North Carolina, an educator, students and families alike are adjusting to a new normal and either a remote or hybrid setting. We will have the opportunity to hear from a superintendent, principal and two students on how they are embracing this experience and ensuring that we have an effective culture to support our students, staff, families and community. Building a culture does not just happen. It takes purposeful and consistent nurturing and engagement to support students in their academic, social and emotional learning. Today we're joined by two veteran education leaders who are leading the way for educators, families and students. Dr. Bob Remesy, superintendent of more county schools, and Dr Carey Tolbert, the principal of North You school and I riddle states no, well, you both have phenomenal experience. I realized that this year is different than ever before. How would you describe your approach to school this year? Harry Wow, the first school this year is unlike any other I've done. I've been a middle school principal for 10 years now is the 10th school opening I've had, and I've dealt with problems that have popped up that I've never had to deal with before. And but it's a great humbling experience them, And that's the same situation our teachers were in dealing with, issues that we've never had to think three before. So it's definitely been an adventure, one that I know. We'll look back on and think, Wow, we did it, we made it and we're going to get through it just fine. No, great and bomb, I would say, from a superintendent standpoint, Marianne, the challenge has been Teoh for us to support our outstanding principals and people that were on the front lines of participating in what amounts to be a very historic time in North Carolina for public schools in all districts across the state. Um, is I thought about this prior toe are visit today. If I were to scale it down for those of us at the district level, we've had to pay specific attention to knowing the guidelines, the requirements and opportunities, assessing the needs and perceptions of our students and teachers and parents locally and then come up with a plan that aligns those local perceptions with what those guidelines are based on what the the North Carolina Department, Health and Human Services and the department public construction, the governor tell us and then develop. Take that plan, train and prepare our entire administrative team and our support staff and then execute that plan, which we've been doing the last two days and then from that point on, just assess and refine it as we go forward. And other than that, just stay out of everybody's way as much as we can because they're doing a fantastic job well in It's such an interesting time. Both Coco, you are opening both in a hybrid plan as well as have students that air remote learning fully and with the focus that you both always had on culture. And that also is very different in the current situation and with all the logistics you're having to think about. So I wonder if you could talk a little bit about how you've had to adapt that approach for school culture in the time of Kobe Uh, well in Moore County schools since 2014 we've had some of the most dramatic improvements on the North Carolina teacher Working Conditions survey many districts across the state. We went from dead last on our composite score in 2014 to now second in our region, our composite score and the best way to in capsule Our philosophy on culture is to refer to it as high touch. Um, hi Connect, uh, spending a lot of time with people And so, needless to say, in the context of a pandemic, we've had to shift from high touch to virtual connect. But we've also had to switch from a big picture long term, continuous improvement to, I would say, learn what we need to know to ensure basic needs and get that information not too early, not too late, but just in time. So if you kind of think in terms of Maslow's hierarchy, our first responsibility during this implementation of are reopening is health, safety, managing, fear, nutrition, fundamental access to learning, and then restoration of a sense of community. And that's that's a big leap for organization for the time being. And it is a particularly big challenge for myself. Carrie, I know this is something you've also focused heavily on. So How have you had to adapt from US leader per second? A principal perspective. I've always felt like building school culture. Positive school culture is one of the principals primary responsibilities. And, um, in my experience, it's been that you do that through your relationship building and through transparent communication. And so relationship building looks completely different now than it did even a year ago because we don't have people in humans to interact with as often. Nor can we really interact in the way that typically used to interacting to build those relationships. And so the communication piece also being transparent communication, is even more important now with all the unanswered questions, all the extra things we kind of have to think through. So to me, the communication hasn't really had to be adapted that much beyond just making sure you're continuing to communicate heavily and to make sure that our teachers, and especially our parents and community, know what to expect and know what's going on. But the relationship part has been where I feel like I've had to make more adoptions, even from our first staff meeting on what that looked like, Teoh continued interaction throughout the week with staff members when they came back for a teacher work days last week. And now to even with our students, you know, it's really hard to think back of like, OK, I need to keep 6 ft away from a kid who is lost in the hallway and you do that and you don't like it is so hard you have to step away, and that sends such a negative connotation, even now, when it's more of the norm than it ever has been. And so I think you just have to be more intentional about those relationships and, um, really have to use technology to build those relationships, even though that's not our go to technology can make building relationships more efficient in a different way. On DSO, I think we make sure that we have to depend on technology in that regard more than we ever have. I know we haven't wanted to depend on technology to be more efficient relationship building, but I think now we kind of have to and so we have to think outside the box and be intentional about using technology to build relationships. So even in zoom meetings, making sure you're taking time to connect, even if it's through the chat box or through face to face with your zooms. I just feel like I have to really check myself to make sure I'm still doing that, especially when it's so easy to say, Well, we don't have time to do that if you don't take time to build your culture than everything else is not gonna work anyway. So I have to remind myself, even after 10 years of doing this here, you have to make sure you're building time to connect, to build relationships, finding ways to do that even when it's not being done in the way it used to be. It love to hear how you've done that as a school superintendent. Every fiber of my being wants toe have that opportunity to be in the room with students or be in the room with teachers or be in the room with parents. And, um, I always prided myself not only on receiving people's perceptions and what they say to me, but also reading their non Gruebel cues. And there's only so much that you can accomplish in that domain. Virtually, uh, I indicated earlier that the timing of input has been very important because we have to remember that were leaders in a in a crisis context here that this isn't your typical strategic planning workshop where you hand out posted notes to everybody and in two minutes, you ask them to write down everything they can think about it given question, um that you you need good information and you need it at the right time. So when you close all the schools with very little advanced notice Ah, and you thrust all the students into remote learning, it really doesn't yield very good information one week later to ask everybody, How's it going? In fact, that would be an ill time to question, because everybody's too busy to answer such a question. But, you know, somewhere about Midway, you've gotta ask that question. And then you probably got to ask that question to get at the end of process. If principals and superintendents remember back to June before any of us really knew about Plan A and Plan B and Plan C, we were all having these assumptions that we knew we would have to depend on remote learning in some way, so a lot of the early discussion in the summer was just on remote learning in any form or fashion. So we had to find out from our teachers there postmortem on how did things were? And it was during that time where I was struck by the fact that, um, it very greatly across our county, Um, and as many as 20 to 22% of our students had engaged with remote learning less than 50% of the time. I won't get into the details of how teachers defined that. We didn't really sift that out for a doctoral study, but that really struck me, and I was really struck by The successful is we were just how so many of our students were beyond reach and that we really didn't know how much impact we've had. I filed that one away because that would then inform my thinking on our planning for the coming year. Then there had to be that point where we found out from our teachers once we knew about Plan A and Plan B and Plan C. Uh, if we had planned A or B with students in the building, in whatever numbers you choose what percentage of our teachers absolutely could not come back. How many of them had medically fragile conditions? We didn't need to know what those were, but we needed to know if they or somebody with whom they lived had medically fragile conditions that would just render them it impossible for them to participate in face to face instruction and then also among the remainder. How many would have child care issues? Yeah, and you certainly help us understand all of the challenges. And in our last 30 seconds, I just wonder if you each have a one line advice for folks out there families who are really trying to make the most of this situation but also engaged with their school. So, bob, Any final words of advice? Very critic. It was very critical for us that we had to get that relate that decision making process to the building level. Work with your principal. Don't wait until you have a crisis. It's beyond anybody's control. Communicate early when you're having any difficulty, no matter what the school's approaches to education in this environment, thank you so much and carry the final word. I would just say advocate for your Children as families advocate for your Children is educators. No one knows the best answer in all of this, But the more we can advocate for what we believe is right on go with our gut, whether it be as a mother or a father or an educator, I think that's the best thing we can do. And just to communicate what, that because he looks like we have to communicate more than ever just since it looks very different and we don't have that accessibility that we normally would have. Well, thanks so much to both of you. I have so many more questions may be for the future. But for now, I just want to thank you for your leadership and what you're doing for kids. After the break, we will hear directly from a junior and a super senior from Advanced County who will share their perspective with us. Education matters has brought to you each week in part by town bank serving, others enriching lives. We're pleased to be joined today by two students from bans County early College High school, Welcome toe, Jorge Gomez, a super senior and a on a Anderson and 11th grader. Thanks so much for being here. Of course. I'd love to hear from both of you as we go into this new school year, and I know you've already started. What do you expect school to be like this year? And how are you feeling about starting in the midst of Cove in 19? Anna, Um, for this year, I really do. I really do expect us to be remote for a majority of this year, and I'm kind of bummed about that because I wanted the experience during year, like at school and not at home. But, I mean, what can you do about it? And as far as like being in school, the middle pin, dammit, I'm kind of I'm fine with being in school because I didn't want to miss school cause a pandemic because, you know, I have goes when I get older. And I didn't want to be like behind because of a pandemic. It's just the way that this being handled, it's for a school about assault. I get to go if it is fatal from Okay, well, it sounds like you're making making the most of of the opportunity or Hey, what are you expecting? And how are you feeling about it? Yeah, I'm also feeling a little bit upset about it, because I This is my basically my last year at high school, and I really wanted to, like, make it a special one and, well, this is a year that we're applying for college and says It's all remotely name. It's kind of like we have to do it all individually and, you know, we don't have that kind of, like sense of community that I was expecting. You know, when I get at this point for all of us to just be there for each other and to support each other, and you think that's gonna that it's all remote learning, I think it's gonna make it a little bit more difficult and also like, Yeah, in my case, it's hard for me to concentrate at home. So I expect this year to be very challenging. That's a great point and actually leads right into my next question, which is what strategies will you use or have you used to be productive, but also to connect with others so that you do you get more of a sense of community. I wonder, Jorge, if you could talk a little bit about that. So I try to, like, maintain, like anything that would distract me away, like my phone when I try to, like, keep it like, aw or kind of like, make it feel like I am at school, like having a notebook or a pencil. You know, something that will give me that sense of me being at school, and you just try to keep everything quiet. Thank you, Anna. What about you? If you found some strategies to connect with others or toe, make sure you're productive. I know you talked about goal setting already. I agree with Jorge with us being at home and slight. We don't have as much discipline as we wouldn't school as faras like keeping technology away from ourselves like keeping our attention span on a teacher. So I do have to discipline myself, and I put my phone away while I'm trying. While the teacher's instructing all that effect, I actually move into the kitchen instead of being in my room and watching TV 11 laptop psyching like keep my attention on Teacher. That is good advice that many students and families were probably nodding their heads. Right now, you and something else. You know, you've talked a lot about remote learning, but obviously that requires broadband and Internet access and also a device. And we know that many students across our state may not have access to broadband or devices when they're in home. And I wondered, Jorge, if you in particular could share a little bit about what that's like living in a more rural area but also how you're making sure you have access to learning. Yes, for me. Since I live in the more rural area, it's hard to find an Internet provider. So right now what I'm actually doing is I'm using a hot spot for my phone. So yeah, that sometimes makes it a little bit more difficult for access things zoom and all those types of things that the Internet is a little bit slower. But, I mean, I'm ableto do everything that I need to do. And one of the things I know that some districts were providing hot spots like you're using. I know your family has one of those, but some districts were providing those or devices and I don't know if you could share just a little bit more either one of you, about how your district is helping out families or students who may not have access the Internet, Internet or devices. I've seen Facebook Post from Man's kind of school is saying how they have buses projected around the county that have high spots for Internet as well as they're setting up. They've been setting up before since before school started at school goes on. They've been setting up meetings for students and parents to go retrieve a laptop for them to work on it. So yeah, they provided. And both Internet and technology as far as laptops devices, that's really helpful. I'm curious knowing that you were both, you know, in high school how you've been able to engage in extracurricular activities and have you been able to engage virtually in any of those um, Yana? Um well, this year I chewed. I've been shared for the past two years, but I decided not to cheer this year because I want to focus on my studies because I'm really aiming to get a u. N. C Um, after after high school and I wanted to keep my GPL as faras. You know, that's a really good school here. They look at stuff like this. I want to keep it up higher. Sidon Notice pain shoe this year. But I kind of didn't want to play volleyball this year. But, you know, with the pandemic going around, I don't know if they're gonna have trials and if they do, I wouldn't even feel safe playing myself. But, you know, it's a lot of bodily contact. So faras correctly goes, I'm kind of worried because, you know, for any college, that's what they look at it like they want something that stands out to you or what stands out to them and like, I can't really get any of that anywhere now what? We're doing a pandemic. So that's kind of a bummer, But yeah, I'll be curious to see of clubs or other opportunities like that, Maybe. Yeah, well, you're open up a little bit more. Hey, how about you? I really appreciate that perspective. A ana, And so I wasn't a some team for the last two years, and I'm not sure if that's happening this year because of the pandemic, and I kind of thought about it because I wanted to, like, really give it. Give it all that I have. So I'm just waiting to see what will happen with that and regarding other extra, uh, other extracurricular activities. Over the summer, I was able to participate in an all night program called Lived the Leadership Institute. Future teachers, it was supposed to be in person, but they adapted it so it could be online. And I think it was really beneficial for all for all the students who did it. Well, I love that. And I love the idea that maybe you're gonna be a future teacher. Say that that's fabulous. Or hey, um, so I'd love to end with any advice that you might have for teachers and students because they're all trying to figure out just like you are, how to handle this unique school year. So, in our final minute, I wonder if you could each give advice to teachers and students and how they can support students like you or what they can dio or hey, do you want to go first? And so I think that everybody just needs to kind of, like, understand each other because from the point that I see it like, I try to understand my teachers and really appreciate them because I know that we're frustrated, too. But I'm pretty sure they also art because they feel this frustration that we're feeling. And it's a lot of students that they're dealing with. So, yeah, I think we just need to have, like, empathy for each other, kind of like, understand and work with each other closely through the school year. That is great advice. And Anna, you get the last word. My boss for the teachers is that I know it might feel like it's little born because we're not in class that, you know, if it's like we're not engaged because we're online and through Zoom that stuff. But I just want to say Be patient with this because this is all new to all of us that people, teachers and students and all that, and like, I know it's hard to be remote to be learning virtually and to like keeping attention span and keep the class going. But we're all of that thing. So I just think that everyone should I tried their hardest to like maneuver into this type of lying because no, well, we can do. Yeah, well, I appreciate that. But have empathy. Be patient and with all of with each other, right? That's such a good ad. And I am certainly encouraged when I listen to both of you talk about what's possible with our students and for our future. So thank you so much for joining with us, and hopefully we can connect again sometime soon. All right, thank you. As I talked with Doctor's grim ISI and tell Bert and Advance County students a Ana and Jorge, I was struck by the fact that they're not just talking about getting by as we engage in remote and hybrid learning this fall. They're talking about continuing to move forward and to make progress and a time when so many people are trying to figure out how to do what we have always done in a new setting or a new way. Thes leaders, district school and student leaders are each figuring out how to do much more than survive, but rather to thrive along with and for those around them. I've often realized that I could get a sense of a school culture by walking inside the building and spending just a few minutes with students or teachers. You quickly here see and experience whether there is ownership among the people in the building for the educational vision by how the educators think and talk about their students. You might get a glimpse of what collaboration looks like, and whether or not student work encourages agency and voice rather than remote instruction. You can see how classrooms react when guests and the principal walk into the room. Are they comfortable? Are they nervous? Do they want to interact? Cove in 19 is changing how we build culture and how we even get to understand what a schooler district's culture is like. However, it is Onley more important now than ever before. Distance can make people feel less connected, and teachers and principals having to learn is, if they are new to their roles, can make our staff feel even more vulnerable as we go into the weeks and months ahead. Doctor Grimace E and Dr Tolbert's words air here to remind us that culture is the key and the foundation having distributed leadership and ensuring that we seek here and listen to input from our parents, students, community members and teachers about how we're doing and what we need to consider have never been more important. School culture is the foundation that ensures that we see social and emotional learning as being important for all of the Children and adults. Effective leaders understand that investing and building an effective culture is the work. It is critical the innovation toe understanding and respecting all learners and addressing equity and the opportunity. Gap School is back in session in our students, staff and families. Craven need a strong culture and relationships. We know that there are frustrations, a sadness about what is not or what is missed. It takes all of us working with the district in school leaders who strive to meet the needs of every child every day. It takes lawmakers in the business community to act quickly to improve broadband infrastructure. We can do this by being a part of the solution and the community. Thank you for taking time with us to learn and think about education. That's all for today, and we'll see you next week.