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Monday, July 13, 2020

SETTING UP STUDENTS FOR SUCCESS

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Let's Choose "the Power of We" and Set Positive Tone

In a recent meeting regarding the re-opening of schools in Bossier, Superintendent Mitch Downey made a statement that resonated with me. He said, "When life brings you challenges, you either roll up or you bow up … and we choose to bow up."

At W.T. Lewis Elementary, we have worked incredibly hard to become the school we are today, and I knew in my heart we were committed to fight for what's best for kids, no matter the circumstances. Then COVID-19 changed life as we know it, and every school in the nation was put to the test.

Before spring break, days at my school were filled with hugs, handshakes and high-fives. Relationships became the foundation of our success and the support systems we built helped students of all backgrounds and abilities reach high levels of success. But as challenging as it was, it was between March and May that I saw my school's vision truly come to life. Our purpose remained steadfast, and the faculty stepped up, determined not to let distance come between the children we serve and us. We bowed up!

My faculty quickly learned how to lead and teach despite the physical separation from their students. Many of us are parents, too, and found ourselves on both sides of the struggle. We were trying to stay afloat, yet support our students and own children as we navigated the unfamiliar territory of distance learning together. We may have been isolated, but we were not alone. At W.T. Lewis, we call this "the power of we," a concept that has laid a foundation for our success. It keeps us focused on the heart and soul of our work as educators, and the simple principle that anything we do together can be done better. We have become a coalition of educators who are empowered and focused on helping every child succeed, and we take collective responsibility for their success. Together we create a strong school environment where teachers feel invested and confident in their ability to inspire change and where students feel supported and know they are the priority.

Seeing how this concept ignited in a time of uncertainty and distance gives me great confidence in our ability to persevere through any challenges that may lie ahead. As principal of W.T. Lewis, one of my proudest accomplishments was unleashing #thepowerofWEatWT, but it wasn't until the stay-at-home order in the spring that I realized the magnitude of this work. Everything from hosting our annual talent show and field day virtually to being there for a student who experienced the death of a parent during the quarantine … we made a difference together, despite the distance.

As we prepare for the re-opening of our schools in August, imagine how amazing it would be if kids had an entire community acting as "the power of we" on their behalf! It is possible, but we must first seek to understand, communicate effectively and work together to set our students up for success.

Seek to understand. Preparing for this school year requires laser-focused planning as we think through every aspect of school and make a plan that addresses the safety, learning and emotional needs of our students in every possible scenario. We all have to accept that some things will look different, at least for a while. Face masks, social distancing, static grouping arrangements, restricted access to school, temperature checks and hybrid schedules could be a reality when school begins. This may be inconvenient and uncomfortable at times for us all. As adults, we must remember that how we respond to these regulations and procedures will ultimately become the response and mindset of the children we influence, so I encourage parents and teachers alike to set a positive tone. Think of it as an opportunity to help children learn valuable life lessons such as perseverance, resilience and good citizenship.

Communicate effectively. Begin conversations about the start of school in a positive way. Help your child identify things they may be looking forward to as well as any fears or concerns they may have. Reach out to the school principal or counselor this summer if you have concerns about your child's emotional needs when school starts. We want to be proactive! Realizing that schools will be much better equipped to operate under challenging circumstances today, I encourage parents to share with your school's administration anything that may have been helpful for you and your child during your experience with distance learning this past spring.

Set students up for success. Parents can help educators by helping communicate and model unfamiliar procedures and practices before the start of school. Whether it's demonstrating what six-feet social distancing looks like, modeling proper handwashing or helping children become accustomed to wearing a face mask in public places while learning when and how to remove it, many things can be taught now to help make your child's school transition easier.

If there was ever a time for us to come together and be strong for our children, it's now. Let's choose to be "the power of we" as a community this year. Our kids deserve it.

Lisa Burns is the 2020 Louisiana Elementary Principal of the Year and will be inducted into the 2020 class of National Distinguished Principals this fall in Washington, D.C.

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