Rest, Hire, and Plan for Equity in the Upcoming School Year
For school leaders, the warming weather brings a sense of annual completion and accomplishment. As standardized testing wraps up and students leave for the summer, teachers and administrators become reflective both on the past year’s performance and preparing for their next group of students.
In this school year, it is time for anxious rest and productivity. The COVID-19 pandemic and its unpredictability is the context in which this summer will unfold. The subtext, now and always, is how to pursue equity within such conditions. Nearly two years of disrupted learning has caused a clear need for learning acceleration to define this era of public education. What can teachers and instructional leaders do to ensure that their most underserved students come back in the fall to a school dedicated to their academic grade-level progress and wellness?
What can teachers and instructional leaders do to ensure that their most underserved students come back in the fall to a school dedicated to their grade-level progress?
We at New Leaders provide support to the leaders of learning communities. As school lets out, we recommend three actions to help prepare for learning in the upcoming school year:
One of the stories of the pandemic has been the increased resignation of teachers–especially those from underrepresented backgrounds. The National Educational Association (NEA) reported in February that 55% of its teacher members plan on leaving the field soon. In regards to equity, that number is exacerbated regarding Black teachers (62%) and Hispanic instructors (59%). The mental stressors of public education combined with surviving a pandemic have pushed the teachers we need most to their resignation points.
Rest is the energy source for resilience. As the end of the year approaches, school leaders must demonstrate what we call resilient leadership by modeling rest and supporting and holding their people accountable for doing the same. In times of high stress, many staff members may seek to sprint to the end and find themselves burnt out from the effort to the point of quitting and not returning for the next year. School leaders must be mindful of such tendencies, disrupt them, and be intentional about how they model and support rest. They must also pay special attention to how these conversations happen with their Black and Brown staff.
Rest is the energy source for resilience.
Most school leaders have solidified their staffing decisions for the upcoming school year. However, they must heed the previously-mentioned data and anticipate vacancies to occur as the summer warms up. When these vacancies occur, leaders must ensure they are not hiring to simply fill gaps within their master schedule. Despite the pressure, principals and their teams must exercise the diligence that they hire teachers with strong skill sets, an equity focus, and a commitment to accelerated learning. They also must take stock of the skills they know they can coach up on versus the ones that are non-negotiable for candidates to demonstrate during the hiring process.
They must also be attentive to the racial makeup of the teachers they are hiring. Research shows that Black teachers have an increased academic and cultural impact on Black students. Separate research holds this to be true for Hispanic teachers and students as well. If the NEA’s data holds true, then leaders must be prepared for an exodus of teachers of color—and to replace them with teachers of color as well.
District leaders must do the same when either hiring or promoting new leaders into the principalship for those that choose to exit the profession during June or July. They must intentionally hire strong building leaders who focus on instructional leadership.
Leaders should work with their administrative teams to ensure that dates and deadlines for the four relevant areas of school leadership are calendared and communicated before the teaching staff returns. For learning and teaching, the school calendar should indicate interim assessment dates, common assessment windows, data cycles, professional development, and PLC meetings. The school culture calendar should be complete, with events and performance dates solidified well in advance. Talent management milestones such as formal observations and performance reviews ought to be deadlined. The state typically releases standardized testing data in the summer, which should spur a mid-summer revision of master schedules and teacher assignments for planning and operations.
By resting up, getting the right folks in the building, and getting critical planning done before you all are student-facing, you position yourself to do the hard equity work that these times demand.
Much of what we have listed above are technical behaviors. If leaders use their summers to get down all of what we have listed above, it leaves more space and mental energy during the next school year to pursue the adaptive, equity-based work of student acceleration. It is going to be difficult! School leaders will have to internalize the mindsets and beliefs required to pursue acceleration in their buildings and prioritize the management, coaching, difficult conversations, and modeling necessary for such important equity work.
Though summers seem long, your students will be back in before the temperature breaks. They, and their families, are counting on you and your learning community to prepare them academically for a life of choice and meaning. By resting up, getting the right folks in the building, and getting critical planning done before you all are student-facing, you position yourself to do the hard equity work that these times demand.