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The Handbook for a Successful School During a Pandemic

By Jessica Schultz B.A, M.Ed.

February 12, 2021

It's been a year. Well, almost a year. In February 2020 I was getting ready for the many different celebrations and events that are common during this month in our busy school calendar, and the ones that were coming just a few weeks later. I was excited about piloting a large conference in April entitled “Beyond Empathy: Engaging all learning, all ages”, where we had already confirmed a well-respected keynote speaker and workshop leaders, and I was feeling very proud to lead it. So many plans at that time. So little knowledge of what was to come.
Remote Learning

It is not unusual to have these kinds of reflections during the month of January, when thoughts swirl with resolutions and goals we have for the near future. However, it has taken me over a month into 2021 to realize I’m only a few weeks away from this time last year when on March 13th, we had completely changed our professional development training day agenda to support the inevitable possibility we would not return to school after that long weekend. I remember feeling the world around me growing slowly quieter as uncertainty grew louder. Our leadership team worked long hours to navigate through the news of what was just the beginning for all of us as world citizens. I remember the feeling of wanting desperately to find the appropriate responses to every education concern I knew our community would want addressed after learning we were officially in a pandemic. I was also trying to organize my own thoughts and questions. What should I be working on first to best support our students, staff and families? How are we going to complete the school year successfully? And most importantly, where can I find a handbook entitled “How to Correctly Do School during a Pandemic”?

As it turned out, every educator around the world was looking for that same handbook. And they were simultaneously creating it. I did my research and independently conducted interviews in an effort to turn them into a support resource for others. The resulting video was posted in April 2020 with the title of  “Virtual Learning Around the World 2020” and currently has over a couple hundred views. Our experiences as a school in the last term of our 2019-20 school year invited us to take risks and completely trust each other using the most important resources and finest experts out there: ourselves.  Once we stopped searching the internet and calling every colleague we have ever had contact with to get “the answers”, we could invest that time instead on collaborating, innovating and reminding ourselves that there was so much we already knew. For example, during those first weeks of the pandemic we immediately focused on the social-emotional well-being of our students because it is a key value at ISR to engage and connect with our kids; we did this before the educational experts told us that was the first step. We planned lessons on what was important for learners to know and what knowledge to reinforce until the end of the school year way before we the research told us that this was a “best practice”. And when it came to our end of school year with events such as graduation and other celebrations for teachers, students and families that we usually held in person, we creatively re-invented these experiences and ended the year with victory because at ISR, that is just how passionate and committed we are to our children and our community.


In this 2020-21 school year, we hit the ground running in August as we implemented flexible plans that we had designed throughout the summer, instead of taking the holiday break we would normally enjoy before beginning the next school year. Additionally, I was honored to be invited to deliver the keynote speech “Cultivating Growth: The “Tail” of Calvin the Goldfish” to our San Roberto staff where I shared a childhood memory about my pet goldfish Calvin and how I learned that fish can grow to be whatever the size the limits of their fish tank provides them. I had used this example as a metaphor to inspire our staff to think about the learning environments we were just about create for our students in this new virtual setting. My aim was to challenge all of us in how we think about the limits we set, or don’t set, for our students while we create our classrooms for any modality.


Now we are fully into the second half our school year and we are highly qualified in expecting the unexpected. We work together to face information that changes almost daily, and we adapt to each requirement with collaboration and a solution mindset. We are now able to recognize that through challenge comes opportunity and joined with our extended community, we are making important progress with all our children, who are indeed learning. After all, we may not have previous experience with teaching during a pandemic, but as educator & researcher Douglas Fisher recently reminded me, “we didn’t forget how to teach”.


A favorite quote I´ve shared often is from American psychologist and education reformer John Dewey who said “You don’t learn from experience you learn from reflecting on experience”. As we reflect on all our experiences towards goals either accomplished or still in the works of reaching, I remind you that we are all creating that handbook for a successful school year using our own school´s guiding principles to build it. When I think of our mission to inspire passionate learners, we are living it because as educators we are passionate learners. We want our children to learn to act with integrity and empathy because we empathize with them and know it is a fundamental life skill to support each other in all of life´s challenges. And furthermore, we are making an impact in our local and global communities because we are re-imagining and improving education for our learners, communicating student progress and their products in different ways and to many audiences.


With these words, I invite to you to re-visit this past year where you are currently and to not only reflect on your experiences, but to share what you have learned as we collaboratively build the handbook for a successful 2021 school year, and beyond, together.

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