The Rebellious Son and the Fundamentals of EducationJune 3, 2020
Chumash TopicsAugust 13, 2020
By Paul S. Oberman, PhD
At my school in Houston, Texas, we shifted immediately from classes on campus to online classes in the middle of March. Teachers used their weekends to familiarize themselves with video conferencing and providing content remotely, and administrators made plans for daily meetings to remain nimble in uncertain times, when it was unclear when or if we might return to campus. We have also worked to maintain a culture of togetherness while physically distant. We have been intent about reflecting frequently whether any lessons we have learned this spring in our remote education mode might actually be boons for our school when we return to our physical campus, hopefully in August, and there is one lesson from this attempt to maintain togetherness that we hope to take with us into the future.
Starting with the first day of school away from our campus, we have had an optional daily 30-minute meeting for all of our faculty and staff at the beginning of the school day. I set the agenda each day and include such topics as:
- National news, especially as regards COVID-19
- Houston news, especially as regards COVID-19
- Singing happy birthday
- Sharing sad news of losses in the family suffered by our staff
- Sharing plans about graduation, and next year, in an ever-shifting landscape
- Promoting contests such as “describe online education in exactly 6 words”
- Sharing things that I am struggling with personally or that have amused me during this time
- Responding to questions or comments in the chat box from faculty and staff
- Sharing things that are going well in our world of online learning, things that can be better, and how we might go about addressing them
- Musing about how we can use anything we have had to do in our online learning situation out of necessity that may actually be a benefit to the education we provide even once we return to campus
It is this last item that I wish to turn an internal lens on. Because 50% – 60% of our entire staff attend these morning virtual meetings, is there some benefit to having a meeting of this sort to start off the school day once we return to our physical campus?
Part of the benefit from these meetings is keeping up to date with the larger school picture while we are away from school. Part of the experience is certainly seeing each other’s faces and staying in touch this way. Certainly, hearing from the head of school daily has its own value. One recurring theme in our meetings is the progress we have made in our understanding of the virus, how best to teach in an online environment, and how to connect with the hearts and souls of our students via the computer. In the same way, these morning meetings have also evolved and sharpened over time, based on feedback. I recently surveyed our faculty to ask specifically which value(s) keep them returning each morning.
Based on the survey results, one action item I am considering for the fall is producing a podcast that teachers can listen to at their leisure once per week, for approximately 10 minutes…perhaps during the drive in to school or while drinking coffee in the morning. While we have a written weekly memo, something about the immediacy of voice seems to promote a more intense feeling of closeness and togetherness. This would be a small but important takeaway from the COVID-19 situation, as it could bring our faculty and staff even closer together all the time, and not merely in a time of crisis.
So, what is one takeaway from the experience of shifting so quickly to an online experience and adding a morning meeting? Leadership looks different in an online world, and in some cases may be more difficult. Yet by being reflective practitioners and listening to our teams, we can all continue to refine our leadership experiences and better lead next year and beyond.
Paul S. Oberman, PhD, is currently the Head of School at Robert M. Beren Academy in Houston. He has been involved in education since 1989 and learning from his mistakes as an administrator since 2002. He loves considering education at all ages. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.