Welcome Back to one of the most unprecedented beginnings of a school year that I have experienced. As a 25-year educator, I can honestly share that this is one of the most unique experiences in my career. From closing schools in March, implementing a new math course of study to planning and amending school reopening plans, this is the first year that I feel the most anxious to open a school year. Whether you are opening school on a hybrid, traditional, or virtual schedule, it is my prayer that you will continue to establish high expectations and provide quality instruction in a safe environment. The COVID-19 pandemic has required the Alabama Association of Supervisors and Curriculum Directors (AASCD) to study creative means to deliver meaningful professional learning in a safe environment. Whether it is in-person or virtual, be assured that AASCD will continue to support the education, growth, and development of instructional leaders through creativity, communication, and collaboration.
AASCD is an organization that is established for any educator that is interested in curriculum and instructional development, not just directors and supervisors. As you seek opportunities to grow professionally, join, or renew your membership in professional organizations, I encourage you to consider the AASCD, www.alabamaascd.org. Also, please encourage fellow administrators and teacher-leaders to join AASCD. AASCD is one of the CLAS affiliate organizations that provides valuable support in curriculum and development for all educators.
As you venture into a new way of learning, teaching, and reopening schools, AASCD is here for you. Despite the pandemic and challenges we currently are facing, I still have faith that this can be one of the “best” school years for our students and our educators. As President of AASCD, I assure you that AASCD will continue to be a provider of quality professional learning through COVID-19. As you begin your school year, please be mindful that your staff and students depend on you for guidance. COVID-19 has impacted so many families in our community, state, and country. I encourage each of you to display an attitude of perseverance and remind everyone that:
- Care is one of the most important attributes anyone can give their students.
- Opportunities are still available to teach and establish high expectations.
- Virtual learning should not be a barrier to building relationships with students.
- Instruction must continue for all students.
- Determination will be essential in staying the course.
- ● #1- is a reminder to keep first things first and control what you can control.
- #9- is a reminder that the school year is nine months, and this too shall come to pass.
I pray that you have a great and safe school year!
As we begin a new school year, returning to class is looking very different across our state. Yes, the uncertainty of the pandemic still exists, but as school leaders, you are doing everything within your power to prepare for the safety of your students and staff. However complicated back to school may seem right now, one thing is certain; your students are excited to get started back. Let’s build on this enthusiasm with a focus on establishing strong relationships, acting on the lessons learned during the spring, and moving forward, committed to making this a great school year for our students.
Regardless of whether you are beginning school traditionally, virtually, or with a hybrid schedule, taking the time to form relationships lays the foundation for a successful year. I had the opportunity to attend the virtual CLAS Summer Conference in June, and the importance of relationships was a common thread among our speakers. Regina Louise explained how "no significant learning occurs without a significant relationship…period." She shared the importance of meeting students where they are, and how as school leaders we should use our access to resources to help students and their families. After being away for months, many of our students will be coming back to their safe place when they return to school. Hamish Brewer emphasized the importance of building relationships with students by being open to giving them a second chance, even a third and fourth, because "you can’t discipline trauma."
During the spring closure, the innovative teachers, staff, and administrators in my district turned a time of fear and anxiety into a time for making connections. Students remained engaged through virtual read-alouds, science labs, and relationship-building activities, all to keep the learning process moving while providing our students with a feeling of normalcy. Teachers made social distance home visits, prepared students for AP exams, delivered yard signs to seniors to celebrate their accomplishments, and held parades to show our students that they were loved and missed by their school families. They made it a priority to stay connected. In their reflections, teachers stated:
- I really got to know my student and their families more than ever. Honestly, I had to step out of my comfort zone, and the whole experience was a learning opportunity I’m glad I had.
- A deeper connection with families – they got a glimpse into our lives as teachers, and we got a glimpse into their lives.
- I connected more with the parents, and we were more able to work as a team for their child.
Teaching and learning during the spring was a true learning experience for us all, and from these lessons, we continue to grow. Yes, the pandemic has brought to light many challenges, but it has also brought to light that our students and their families need us, and we need them.
This fall we may all be addressing the specifics of going back to school a little differently, and that’s okay. We are still in this together, and we can learn from each other along the way. That is why AASCD is such a valuable organization for school leaders. Throughout the year, it will be a platform for sharing ideas and best practices, for networking with others across the state, and for learning from experts in the field. The focus of AASCD and our national affiliate ASCD on the importance of educating the whole child has never been more relevant than it is today. Let AASCD assist you in this endeavor as we work together to make the connections that will move students forward.
Dr. Brenda Rickett, recently retired executive director of teaching and learning for the Alabaster City School System, was chosen as the 2020 CLAS Leadership Award winner sponsored by Horace Mann. This award is typically announced during the CLAS Convention in June; however, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the award was postponed and announced in a recent Friday Update via a recorded ceremony. CLAS Executive Director Dr. Vic Wilson and representatives from Horace Mann will present Ricket with a $1,000 check in September. Horace Mann sponsors this award annually.
Out of five very worthy nominees for this honor, Rickett best exemplified the leadership characteristics the award is intended to recognize. Her nomination was made by the Alabama Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (AASCD). This prestigious award has been given each year since 1980 by the CLAS Board of Directors to a CLAS member who is proven to be an exemplary leader, not only in the local school system, but also in their affiliated member organization.
Dr. Brenda Rickett worked tirelessly for more than 30 years in K-12 education with the majority of those year in administration. She has served as a teacher, local school administrator, and a central office administrator during her career. Prior to her retirement, she was employed by Alabaster City Schools as the executive director of teaching and learning and before that, she served as deputy superintendent for Opelika City Schools. Her superior knowledge of student learning positioned the Opelika City School System as an innovator in scheduling and instruction, resulting in multiple schools earning CLAS Banner School awards.
Rickett challenged school leaders to set goals that benefit students. During her tenure with Opelika City Schools, the graduation rate grew to record levels; the system expanded its dual enrollment and advanced placement offerings; and aligned offerings in the career technical program to meet both the needs of students and local industry.
Brenda Rickett is also skilled in developing leaders. Dr. Farrell Seymore, Ed.D. credits her mentorship for “empowering me to grow as a leader, equipping me with the tools needed to be successful.” She mentored countless other school leaders, teachers, and students throughout her extensive career in education.
In addition to her work within the local school system, Rickett served on the board of directors for AASCD for more than six years; held two-year terms as president-elect and president; and served on the CLAS Board of Directors. She also helped develop the Central Office Boot Camp Drive-In Conference to present the timeliest information for directors through collaboration with the Alabama State Department of Education and CLAS. AASCD Executive Director Dr. Jane Cobia credits Rickett’s leadership for AASCD’s February recognition by ASCD International as having achieved the highest honor, the Overall Excellence Award.
Rickett remained dedicated to the spirit and purpose of AASCD, presenting intentional effort for the provision of high-quality professional development; providing steady leadership as AASCD faced internal and external changes; and epitomizing a truly dedicated educator. She leaves behind a legacy of learning and positive relationship-building in each school system she served.
“Dr. Brenda Rickett embodies the spirit of the CLAS Leadership Award,” said AASCD Executive Director Dr. Jane Cobia. “Brenda shows her passion for AASCD in her writings, her presentations, and she models the epitome of a truly innovative educator. She is most deserving of this award.”
As schools begin to open for SY20-21, administrators may find themselves confronting a whole new range of COVID-19 – related issues. Among those unexpected issues could be employees who return to work with emotional or mental problems. Typically, schools have been much better at dealing with physical concerns and safety issues than with teachers and students emotional problems.
Mental impairments that limit one or more major life activities may rise to the level of a protected disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). If an employee with a disability requests an accommodation, employers must provide it so long as it does not impose and undue hardship on the company. With that being said, there could be shortages of teachers, janitorial staff, maintenance workers, cafeteria workers, bus drivers --- and these shortages even though well founded, will cause disruption in an already fragile school environment. The question for leaders is how to plan and prepare for this possible scenario.
According to the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), “the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic downturn has negatively affected many people’s mental health and created new barriers for people already suffering from mental illness and substance use disorders” (April 2020). Two recent polls by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the KFF both found that 45% of adults in the U.S. reported their mental health as negatively impacted due to worry and stress over the virus. As this pandemic has worn on for these many months, it is likely that the mental health burden will continue to increase as measures taken to slow the spread of the virus (like social distancing, closures, and working and learning from home) will possibly lead to greater isolation. The lessened social interaction contributes to more anxiety and the worry about getting a focus on some sort of normalcy for school people and students also continue to grow.
In CDC guidance, there are a number of stress danger signals to watch for when employees and students return to the building:
- Trouble concentrating
- Irritation, anger or denial
- Uncertainty, nervousness or anxiety
- Lack of motivation
- Feeling tired, overwhelmed or burned out
- Feeling sad or depressed
These stressors may be short-term and overcome by employees and students, but some individuals may need some counseling supports and could benefit from those supports offered by outside agencies that come under insurance benefits.
Leaders can help by knowing signs, being observant, having open lines of communication, following guidelines from ALSDE, the ADPH, and exploring availability of mental health resources.
Watch for upcoming information on professional learning experiences this school year: Central Office Boot Camp, ACGAL annual conference, AASCD Winter Conference.
This summer, school superintendents across the state recommended comprehensive school reopening plans. Selma City Schools was no exception. Like the state’s Roadmap to Reopening Schools, Team Selma’s plan begins with a focus on safety and wellness.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that school protocols include a process for screening scholars and employees as they arrive each day. This is to determine if there are symptoms or evidence of exposure to COVID-19. Proper hand washing, the use of hand sanitizers, social distancing and robust cleaning protocols are also part of our wellness focus.
All of these components are certainly vital to safety and wellness and are requirements as we reopen schools amidst a pandemic. However, when we consider wellness within Team Selma our focus is more broad and comprehensive.
Wellness and self-care are promoted to all teachers and staff within our district. Each day during the school year, I send all employees an email titled Morning Joy or MoJo for short. Joy is one of our core values and these emails are used to show how much we value our team members. They are intentionally prepared daily to support wellness and to encourage self-care. Sometimes this is done by sharing motivational quotes or a funny meme while other days the MoJo includes a link to an insightful article. Topics range from mindfulness to exercising for stress relief.
As superintendent, I am not the only one who cares about wellness. Our Social-emotional Learning (SEL) Team established a Mobile Self-Care Unit. The SEL Team traveled to each school, offered duty-free lunch and set up a space where teachers and staff could relax with lavender scents, soft jazz and even adult coloring books. This was a big hit and many of our schools are setting up permanent space for teachers to decompress.
Wellness also means considering mental health. Mental health is still taboo in many communities. To help overcome this we talk about it during restorative circles. All of our principals are studying how to include restorative practices in their daily interactions with staff, scholars and families. Further, each school has a counselor who is trained in mental health first aid.
Knowing that teachers and staff in high poverty schools may suffer from secondary traumatic stress, our board also recently approved an Employee Assistance Program. This provides a variety of counseling services for employees, their spouse and children. We want our team members to know that they are valued and supported. During this pandemic is it especially crucial that we look at wellness through a holistic lens.
Even with our emphasis on wellness, we know that reopening schools causes anxiety and stress for many. To address this, we have been intentional about staying connected with our teachers, leaders, staff, scholars and families. With regular virtual Chat and Chew meetings, our stakeholders know that Team Selma is committed to continuing our focus on wellness and supporting our team members throughout the upcoming school year.
Dr. Avis Williams is superintendent of Selma City Schools. She serves on the AASCD board and was recently elected to the ASCD board of directors. For more information, she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The CLAS Convention @ Home: A Virtual Experience
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a major disturbance in our lives. Most of us have been working remotely since March, filling our days with meetings on Zoom, Google Hangouts or Microsoft Teams. Our current routine has left us with virtual hangovers or virtual burnout. This new sense of normalcy hit home for CLAS as we started preparing our 2020 Summer Convention and unexpectedly realized that the delivery option would have to be virtual rather than face to face.
Summertime is a time we are particularly looking forward to at the CLAS office. Though extremely busy, it is a time for learning and networking for all involved. While we missed out on networking with longtime friends and colleagues, the professional learning aspect was still intact. The theme for the CLAS Convention @ Home was Leadership 2020: Focus, Clarity, Vision but it became quickly evident that relationships, relationships, and more relationships would be the overall theme.
Hamish Brewer kicked off the convention with his keynote, Relentless. His keynote taught us how to rethink our practices to improve our organizations by disrupting the norm and having meaningful relationships. Regina Louise, author of Somebody’s Someone, reminded us the importance of making a PACT with our students. Being Present, Accepting, showing Compassion and Trust are pertinent to relationship building with every student who enters our buildings and classrooms. George Couros, our final keynote, reminded us that leaders must connect to people’s hearts to lead- another reminder that relationships matter! As the week progressed, we were privy to great breakout presenters who focused on social emotional learning, mental health, and RELATIONSHIPS! We even found some time to network through the virtual happy hours.
The upcoming year will be filled with uncertainty. We are not sure how much longer this pandemic will last nor when we will return to normal, but one thing will remain: AASCD and CLAS will continue to closely monitor the COVID-19 situation and will continue to provide exemplary learning for our members, either face to face, blended, or virtual. From the Curriculum and Instruction Boot Camps to the Winter Conference, we are here to support you through this pandemic and beyond! As always, if the CLAS staff can ever assist you, please free to contact us.
ALSDE Curriculum Updates
Today, my mind is full – thinking about all of our educators, students, and parents preparing for a school year like none other.
Parents, did you ever imagine that your “Back-to-School” discussions would include what color mask to purchase? Oh, and do not forget that the monogramming on that mask… As parents shop for back packs and binders, I hope you have better luck than I did trying to find disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer!
Teachers, did you ever imagine your school preparation being driven by physical/social distancing by at least 6 feet – even in the hallways? What about trying to keep your students in the same classroom all day with minimal transitions and desk arrangements that do not lend themselves to collaboration, problem solving, or teamwork? Hands-on activities to actively engage students – yes, but students can only use the supplies they brought for themselves. No sharing supplies! When you close your eyes at night, instead of having “visions of sugarplums dancing in your head”, your thoughts may have included many of the words below.
Finally, Administrators, did you find yourself wondering what college course you may have missed because you never imagined having to carry a “cheat sheet” around to figure out if a teacher or student would have to be sent home for 14 days, 10 days + 24 hours, or 2 days? And don’t forget who “isolates” and who “quarantines” people. Summer furniture orders may have included some new items such as plexiglass. Did you ever imagine having to tell parents, community stakeholders, and other visitors that they could not come eat lunch with their children or serve as a guest speaker in a classroom?
If any of these scenarios sound familiar, you are like many educators and parents across the country who left for Spring Break in March of 2020 and never imagined preparing for the 2020-2021 school year with the possible fear of a different kind of unknown, an anxiousness that can not be described, and most likely a different kind of exhaustion that typically comes from preparing for any new school year.
So, if your feelings are mixed as you reopen the school doors or the Zoom meeting, remember that we are all in this together. Educators are resilient, strong, and made to endure these challenges. Remember that while the circumstances around this year may be new, your vision, mission, and guiding principles are still the same. You are a key component to the start and finish of a successful school year. Your school and community are not complete without YOU.
There is no greater calling than the work WE do with our students in the classroom, during extracurricular activities, and when you are not even looking, and they see you serving as a role model. They are waiting for us, do not look back and doubt for a second that WE HAVE GOT THIS!
We are ready for the 2020-2021 school year, and it is going to be the best year ever because of YOU!
Created with images by Mariia Korneeva - "Distance learning online education. Little girl at home with digital tablet doing homework." • millaf - "Happy child in medical protective face mask holding books and green apple on blackboard background" • dizain - "Mental health bulb word cloud, health concept" • Zoltan Tasi - "Om Mani Padme Hum"