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Perspective | Leaning on your community during a crisis

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We opened the 2021-22 school year renewed with energy, excitement, and hope for a return to normalcy. Our school community was almost immediately rocked by the delta variant and a wave of teachers who were vaccinated but testing positive for COVID-19.

In addition, we grieved the deaths of staff family members and parents of several students, something we had not experienced during the first 18 months of the pandemic. 

As seasoned administrators, we quickly evaluated the resources in our toolkit to help teachers feel supported and focused on teaching and learning. Understanding that happy teachers produce happy students, our administrative team utilized a variety of tools to ensure teachers felt connected and supported. We also realized we would need the support of our parents and community members to ensure our administration team did not also get burned out quickly. We generated a list of resources we were already utilizing and added a few new ones.  Here are our top five favorites:

1. Weekly feedback forms

This is a simple strategy that we have utilized for more than 15 years. Each Friday, we place a half sheet of paper, along with a chocolate treat in teacher mailboxes and ask basic questions such as, “What are you most proud of this week?” “What is your priority for next week?” “How are you feeling?” “Do you have any technical or instructional needs?” and finally, “Do you want to give a team member a shout out?” Those shout outs are then shared in our weekly team memo on Monday, and we review individual feedback to keep a pulse on how teachers are feeling. The answers also alert us to concerns that we may otherwise overlook.

2. Adopt a teacher

Image Courtesy of Helen Gross

By the end of September, we realized that we needed more support and could not do it alone. We launched a community based “adopt a teacher” effort the first week of October with a goal of having all teachers and staff members adopted by Oct. 10. We sent emails to parents and posted on the school and our personal social media pages. Within 24 hours, we had 102 staff members adopted by community members, which included parents, retired teachers, friends, members of my church, and others. 

Their assignment was simple: pray for their designated staff member daily and spoil them once a month with a treat, thank you card, etc. Teachers and staff members were asked to complete a basic survey that included any special prayer requests and their favorite treats. Those surveys were then sent via email to their adoptive community member. It does not replace a pay raise or more time off, but feeling loved and appreciated goes a long way in ensuring our educators feel valued.

3. Staff buddies

Each staff member was assigned a staff buddy at the beginning of the year. Half of the staff members wrote their names on the back of index cards and the other half were asked to pull a card. Buddies were then tasked with exchanging phone numbers, adding each other on social media and sending administration a selfie of them together so we would know who was assigned to whom for the year. Buddies are expected to check on each other weekly and sit together at meetings. In addition, administration will call upon a buddy from time to time if we notice that additional support is needed.

Buddy teachers Erin Strohschein (art) and Pam Ladley (social studies). Photo Courtesy of Helen Gross

4. Monthly fun days

A quick internet search of monthly fun days will prove enlightening and will give you plenty of ideas such as Taco Day, Pumpkin Day, and Popcorn Day. We also reached out for help to the community to make these monthly fun days a success. Using, we created events and a list of needs and then asked parents to sign up to donate and volunteer. 

5. Monthly meetings with community leaders

Our township meets monthly with the mayor and church leaders. We discuss successes, needs, and concerns. The group started meeting regularly after Hurricane Florence and has continued meeting to identify and tackle community concerns. Examples of joint efforts include bringing donuts and coffee for teachers and gift cards for educators in need. Knowing that we have the support of community leadership has been reassuring for our administrative team.

As we move into the second half of the school year, we remind ourselves to stay focused on the things we can control. We cannot control teacher salaries or COVID-19 variants, but we can control how much fun we have at work, the support and encouragement we offer one another, and how much we prioritize staff wellness. We also cannot lead in a crisis alone. Leaning on our parents and community members is one of the most powerful approaches we can take as school and teacher leaders.  

Helen Gross

Dr. Helen Gross has served as an elementary, middle, and high school principal during her 15 year career as a public school educator. She has served as the principal at Swansboro High School for the past two years and has a passion for using social emotional learning as a foundation to rigor in the classroom.