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Remote Teaching

Why and How This School Changed Its Mission Statement During COVID-19

7 Min Read
South side school

Given schools’ transition to remote learning this past spring and then to remote, in-person, or a mix of both this fall, it can be beneficial for schools to review and evaluate their current mission statements and self-assess the behaviors of their educators and staff. We must ensure the words in our mission statements reflect our actions in our current environments. This includes any changes to instruction or leadership that have been made due to the ongoing pandemic, as well as the changes in practice necessary to support effective hybrid learning.

Our school is fortunate to have engaged in professional development with an educational consultant. Like all schools, we have a concrete vision, mission, and set of identified core values. What we came to realize, despite our best intentions, is that the words on the document may not have always truly guided our actions, mindsets, and decisions. COVID-19 led to us having new needs and priorities. It was time for a change.

During staff meetings, we often took a “quiz” of sorts on our mission, vision, and core values. We would assess our knowledge of each by trying to fill in the missing words. As we did this, we realized that while many of us understood the general idea of our why, it wasn’t understood and prioritized by all.

To correct this—and as a result of our learning with our consultant—we needed to understand the difference between having a mission and being on a mission. If we want to truly be on a mission, our actions must ensure learning for all—both in-person and virtual students—as opposed to learning for some. And once we identify the content as absolutely essential to learn, our teams must work together to ensure that every student in that grade learns that content. What we deem essential must be seen as promises that we make to our families and students about the content that will be taught.

The last part of our mission work was to revise our school’s core values and ensure every adult in the building not only knew what we valued (our why) but also supported practicing these behaviors each day. We wanted to make the language simple to understand and easy to recognize when implemented.

OLD

NEW

Mission: Together we can build a community of learners who will SOAR to success.

Mission: Together we will build a safe community where ALL kids feel connected and will master essential learning.

Values:

  • Ensure all students learn at high levels
  • Reduce gaps in achievement
  • Build strong partnerships with all families and our community
  • Cultivate the well-being of students and staff

Values:

  • Collaborate in order for all students to master essential learning
  • Build strong partnerships with all families and our community
  • Ensure students and staff feel connected to one another

Building Student and Faculty Relationships

This work started with our climate team setting short-term 100% goals where all staff learn three non-academic interests about a student or students. To meet this goal, we needed to include all staff—teachers, office staff, paraprofessionals, bus drivers, crossing guards, and cafeteria staff—in the initiative. We dedicated one week this month to assessing our goal and sharing what we, as adults, have learned about our students. Part of that experience caused us to realize that simply knowing facts about our kids didn’t necessarily lead to our students feeling connected.

We have also structured our morning meetings to have the students engage in conversation with each other and spend time learning about each other. This communication is essential because all students need to feel like part of their learning community regardless of where their family is opting to have them learn. We are working to ensure our virtual learners have the same sense of connection as our in-person learners. By doing this, our students have come to realize and appreciate both the similarities and differences between themselves and their peers and have begun developing new friendships with each other, even if one of their classmates is learning remotely.

Another goal will be to continually assess students’ sense of connection to our school and the identification of a trusted adult. We self-assessed all students in October and used our morning meeting time to build these connections. We are also utilizing a "2×10" strategy where all staff select a student they are concerned may not feel a sense of connection and commit to simply talking with that student for two minutes each day, for 10 days. I'm incredibly proud of the efforts of all of the adults in our building to work each day to build lasting relationships with every child in our school, whether or not they are learning face to face. Through strong faculty relationships with in-person and virtual learners, outstanding learning will take place.

Forming Family Partnerships to Master Essential Learning

Part of our goal-setting included having 100% of our students master essential learning in each grade. Coming off six months of a school closure and then opening our schools in a hybrid model, schools are making up the learning students may have missed last year while also learning new grade-level content. In order for us to have any chance of accomplishing this goal, we must have ongoing collaboration and strong partnerships with families.

We must ensure that the words in our mission statements reflect our actions in our current environments.

We are fortunate to work in an equity-centric district that operates on a framework centered around excellence through equity. As part of our August professional development, our superintendent reminded us that we cannot achieve excellence until we provide all students and families with what they need to acquire grade-level instruction. This has shaped our whole-school communication plan allowing for more frequent two-way communication between home and school.

We use a schoolwide communication platform, ClassDojo, to increase two-way communication between families and school staff. This is also a safe way for us to highlight in-school successes with our families while ensuring our virtual learners are connected to our building and the people in it.

We Are on a Mission

These goals also require greater excitement for learning among students. To engage all of our students and faculty, we are having teachers across grade levels come up with incentives for reaching these goals. Whether it be extra recess for kids or a dress-down day for staff, we want to be sure we are celebrating our achievements. Our efforts have been accelerated when we have the collective support of our teachers, students, and paraprofessionals. Every person is essential for 100% of our students to learn. Other supports include instructional coaching and collaborative responses when teachers have identified students who are struggling to achieve this learning.

I’m incredibly proud of the work our team has done and have enjoyed revising and focusing our mission, vision, and core values. Our shift in mindset from having a mission to being on a mission has changed how we see our work. During a pandemic, it’s so easy to get caught up on how we are going to do our work each day, and now we prioritize why we are doing our work each day. We can now look at situations that once were viewed as a challenge—for instance, teaching during a pandemic—and turn those situations into goals to be accomplished.

I'm convinced that the staff in our building, as with most schools, are talented enough to ensure all students master grade-level learning and feel connected to the adults and their peers they learn with each day, regardless of their learning format.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of HMH.

Follow David Huber on Twitter @DavidJHuber.

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