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Don't Skip the Foundation

Most of the school systems we work with have been frantically creating plans to support their teachers and families with home-based learning. We’ve seen some really complex plans that have taken our best thinking during this time of uncertainty and tried to do the best we can for students and staff. This is a huge change for everyone involved--from district and school leaders to teachers and on to students and their families.

All change requires a recognition of and support for the emotional needs of those involved in the change. Often leaders think of this in terms of the emotional reaction one has when faced with change and how to help support us with our initial rejection or resistance to the initiative. In this case, there is little actual rejection or real resistance because this is one of those changes that everyone recognizes just has to happen. There is no way to reject or really resist it.

However, the fact that there is no real resistance may also prevent us from recognizing that there are still emotional and psychological needs that need to be supported for teachers, students, and families. I recommend thinking about this as a sort of Mazlow’s Hierarchy (see picture above).

Most systems that we work with or have heard about are focusing a lot of time on level 2: Technical Skills & Tools. Some have solid work on level 3: Routines and Structures, which supports teachers in knowing how to effectively manage their planning and instruction in this new format. Few systems have moved into what does effective virtual or home-based instruction really look like, which is completely understandable given the time and immediate needs. We have also seen many systems skip the foundation of the hierarchy: The Emotional Well-Being of the teacher.

As we get past the point of dealing with the crisis and have a chance to take a breath, it may be wise for principals and instructional coaches to think about their staff using the hierarchy as a way to diagnose needs they can support. Who on your staff really needs an emotional boost right now? Who really needs support with the technical components of this type of schooling? Who’s ready for some work on effective practices?

Being aware of the different needs and thinking about how to diagnose them will help us support those needs better. Similarly, you may want to think about families in the same way. This is an emotionally charged situation for everyone. How do we ensure families have the emotional support they need to be successful, not just the technical access to resources?

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