What is a day in the life of a school principal like right now?
Well, it starts the night before when staff start texting and emailing to let you know that they’ll be out. You hope they’re OK and remind them to put the absence in the online management system in the hope that a substitute will pick it up.
You go to sleep, though it may be a restless one, given all that tomorrow will bring.
The alarm goes off at 5:15 a.m. There’s no time to hit snooze so you jump up and make the coffee.
You check your email and then you check the online absence report: 10 to 20 staff will be out. Your heart sinks. It’s been like this every day for a while, so you make another cup of coffee and you start the three-dimensional puzzle of figuring out how to cover all the staff absences. How to make it work. How to keep the school building open. Safely. In a pandemic that just won’t end.
And you start asking yourself …
What meetings will you cancel today so you can personally cover for staff who are out?
What intervention groups will get cancelled—again—so you have another available adult to sub?
Which teachers will not have a para-educator in their room to help them give extra attention and support to the students who need it most?
Which teachers will go without another planning period?
Who will be able to help cover recess, lunch and dismissal?
You come up with a plan and finally leave for school—and by the time you get there, another staff member calls out.
A district-wide “sub emergency” is declared and the district office sends all the available program coordinators, directors and assistant superintendents out to help, because it’s not just your school. It’s every school.
The students start arriving, and today you get to be the crossing guard, a student monitor and the behavior assistant. You help serve lunch in the cafeteria and cover for a teacher who needs to go pick up their sick child.
And in between, you administer as many rapid antigen tests as you can. So that kids can return to school. So that kids can stay in school. So that kids who are going home sick might be able to come back. So that, somewhere amid the chaos, some learning might take place.
You wash your hands.
You change your mask.
You do it again.
All. Day. Long.
And in whatever “free” time you do have, you try and update the Safety Plan and revise the Accountability Plan and document how you’ve spent your Extended Learning Opportunity funds.
You listen to the phone message from the parent worried about their child and read the email from the teacher worried about their student and you try to respond. With empathy. With reassurance. With hope.
And you try and meet with the assistant principal, the school counselor, and the intervention team who have been handling all the kids in crisis.
You try and get into classrooms. To see the kids. To see the teachers. To celebrate them. Appreciate them. But you can’t. Not today. You’ll try again tomorrow.
And before you go home, you prepare the video morning announcements for the next day. It’s hard. You try to put on a brave face and smile. You try and figure out a way to let the kids know that we’ve got this when you honestly don’t know if we do.
And then the day repeats all over again.
And you realize you’ve been doing some form of this for 96 weeks. Everyone has. Everyone has been trying their best. In a pandemic. And it is a lot.
So, if you know an educator right now and you are thankful for something they’ve done, let them know. If you know any frontline worker and are thankful for something they’ve done, let them know. Because right now, that’s about the only thing fueling us for the day ahead.