Check on Your School Admins, Too – They Are Not Okay

Check on Your School Admins, Too - They Are Not Okay

It is 1:15 p.m. and I just got off of the phone with the last parent from my list of students who are considered “probable close contacts” to a newly confirmed COVID-19 case in our building. While the message to parents in this situation is scripted, the questions and frustration from the parents that follow are often raw and unscripted. I completely understand the position that many of our parents are in. They are doing their best to maintain a job and provide for their families. Then all of a sudden here I am telling them that their child, and therefore they, have to stay home for 14 days as a precaution.

During these phone calls, I can sense the growing stress in the parent’s voice, while also seeing the sheer disappointment on the faces of the students. This type of conversation did not exist six months ago. Now it is a regular part of my day as a school administrator.

My primary function now is to try to reduce and manage chaos in my building.

The New Oxford American Dictionary defines the word chaos as “complete disorder and confusion.” The term comes from the Greek word “Khaos” which refers to a vast chasm or void. This is exactly what trying to open a school during a pandemic felt like, crossing a vast chasm or void into a completely unknown educational realm. Innovation in education has always been slow but it tends to show up at the right times. In this situation, we were forced to innovate seemingly overnight. Our entire understanding of mainstream educational practices became mostly irrelevant and a new normal set in. This new normal was the reality that nothing would ever be normal again.

The stress and challenges of opening up our school during a pandemic weighed heavily on everyone, but the real victims are the students and the teachers directly responsible for those students. It feels like the human connection has been sucked from the classroom. Schools are fundamentally designed to bring people together, so when you are forced to try and push people apart in order to safely educate them it causes a lot of uncertainty, disorder, and confusion, or in other words, chaos.

This has been the biggest change in my role as a school administrator. My primary function now is to try to reduce and manage chaos in my building, and the onslaught comes from all directions. We have been asked to step into the middle of all the uncertainty in order to help people feel certain about the safety of all stakeholders when returning to school.

Teachers should be protected at all costs.

The greatest asset in our schools are our teachers and they should be protected at all cost. We sometimes forget that teachers are also humans who experience a wide range of emotions during stressful times and who all react to uncertainty in different ways. These teachers are also parents, have pre-existing health conditions that put them in a higher risk category, have loved ones at home that are higher risk, have children who have to be sent back to school, many are older but unable to retire just yet, and all are being asked to put their own health at risk in order to open schools back up.

One of the most challenging parts of coming back to school this year was learning how to help our staff manage their wide range of emotions while staying focused on our primary mission as a school. Don’t even get me started on the political crossfire that educators have been unwillingly placed in and all of the extra unnecessary pressure that has put on our teachers.

I am not a professional counselor but more and more I am challenged to play that role.

Our parents are in an equally difficult position. The stress and uncertainty that many of them are facing right now are exceptional. Economic and financial hardship has become a huge weight on our families, and we feel it in every conversation we have with parents. Unfortunately, many of them do not have a healthy outlet for their frustration and it often ends up coming out on their children and their teachers. I fully believe that this is unintentional, but it is a harsh reality, nonetheless. I am not a professional counselor but more and more I am challenged to play that role in my conversations with parents to some degree.

Students are struggling, and theirs is a quiet struggle that is easily missed if you don’t know what to look for.

And then there are our students. My heart breaks for our students during this time. They are being robbed of the best parts of being a student at our school. We have had to indefinitely suspend most of the events and traditions that are the foundation of our school’s culture, a culture that has taken years and years to build. We are doing everything we can to come up with new ways of engaging our students, motivating our students, and challenging our students to hold onto joy during these times. Our kids have been outstanding through all of this and I could not be prouder of them. But they are struggling, and theirs is a quiet struggle that is easily missed if you don’t know what to look for.

Every once in a while, school admins need someone to check in on us also.

For me, the hardest part of being a school administrator right now is getting comfortable with the uncertainty and the unknown. I am a planner at heart who likes to be prepared and know what is coming. Every day I walk into work and am bombarded from all angles, all while striving to maintain my composure and keep my own emotions out of the equation. We focus so much on protecting our students and teachers that it is easy to forget to take time to protect ourselves as well.

We are so focused on managing the external chaos happening all around us that we often overlook the chaos that is building up inside of us. The expectation is that school administrators are in complete control and when something goes wrong, regardless of how unpreventable it may be or who is at fault, the stones are often thrown back at us. For the most part, we are used to this and can handle it. But every once in a while, we need someone to check in on us also.

These are crazy times, and everyone is in need of love and support. Take a moment to let your administrators know that you appreciate them and are in their corner as well. That small amount of affirmation can be life-giving to someone in school leadership right now.


Check on Your School Admins, Too - They Are Not Okay

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Chris Cochran

Senior Member

Father, Husband, Amateur Adventurer, Aspiring Creative.  School Leader living in Northwest Arkansas.  Drinks coffee all day.

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