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Perspective | One assistant principal’s views on supporting educators, families during remote learning

As the entire world is dealing with the effects of COVID-19, educators are challenged even more with the responsibility of ensuring that all children are receiving quality instruction while we are operating under remote learning. Teachers have been dared to think outside of the box to engage students and create practices that are inclusive of all families.

As leaders, we have been confronted with circumstances that required us to think beyond our normal leadership approach while remaining humble and extending grace. Some of these challenges we, as a district, were able to defeat. 

As a result of generous donations, our school was able to provide technology to those families that were in need.  This was an essential resource for students to participate in remote learning, and our staff recognized and responded with a sense of urgency.  While distributing the devices, we realized there were still some families without Wi-Fi access. 

In a recent online conference, our superintendent, Dr. Sharon Contreras, shared that, “In respect to equity for our children, Wi-Fi access should be a public utility, not a luxury.”

This statement was extremely powerful and resulted in our district taking more action. Our district rolled out “smart buses” into communities that are historically underserved to allow students to use the buses’ hotspot capabilities to access internet for free. Additionally, our district opened 13 learning centers Monday-Friday and 63 internet hubs on Saturdays to support students with limited internet access.

While we continued to respond to these needs by having conversations with families, it became evident to me how important it is to not only provide the resources, but to understand the why behind the need.  I recently read a quote by Erika Garcia that states, “Equity isn’t handing a kid a laptop. It’s knowing the systemic conditions that led to the lack of the laptop and working to mitigate them.”

In reflecting on that quote, I began to have deeper conversations with my students and their families. It suddenly struck me that the pandemic has provided me with the opportunity to connect with my families and learn more about how I could serve them beyond the expectations of being an assistant principal. 

Recently, I sat down and engaged in a conversation with a parent about her children. She informed me that she works seven days a week, 10 hours a day to provide for her family. She confided in me how it was difficult to assist her children in completing their assignments when she is a single parent mom working a full-time job. 

Her story is identical to many of the students that are represented at my school and possibly across the United States.  Parents are working to provide for their families and coming home tirelessly to then become a teacher themselves. My new mantra that I adopted for this year is to see the good, be the light, and make the difference.

This inspired me to set a personal goal to reach out daily to families and check in to see if there is anything I or the school can do to best support their children. I want to do what is necessary to reach our families and let them know they are not alone. 

What I do know for certain is this — families are doing the best that they know how to support their children during this critical time of virtual learning. Educators are doing the best that they know how to support their students during this critical time of virtual learning. We will continue to face hardships, have feelings of insecurity, have unanswered questions, make mistakes, feel the ambiguity of returning to school, and make more mistakes, but we will do this together.

Together, we will discover how to become inventors of virtual learning where we will find innovative ways to keep students engaged, opportunities to build on their social-emotional learning, and meet their academic needs, so that we avoid deepening existing educational inequalities. We will continue to encourage parents that may become frustrated with navigating our virtual platform and other educational apps or websites that teachers are using for online instruction.

This is a collective effort that we need everyone to acknowledge by supporting educators and parents in every way possible. If children are indeed our future, we can’t neglect our responsibilities to serve — we must reserve this time as a call to action.

Shelena Chavis

Shelena Chavis is an assistant principal in Guilford County Schools. She has worked in several roles over the course of 13 years as an educator — including as a teacher, district recruiter, district coach, and curriculum facilitator. These experiences have exposed Chavis to students with diverse backgrounds, increasing her compassion to be responsive to every student’s need.