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We See You, We Hear You, You Are Valued

June 2, 2020

Public education designed for real access and opportunities, and free of institutionalized barriers, is a fundamental building block of a brighter future for all.  It is necessary to remove and combat ignorant and often deadly ideologies like the racism that have led to this current boiling point in our society.  

My role needs not to be that of a gatekeeper.  I should not be involved with determining who has opportunities to be heard, to feel valued, and to contribute to a positive future.  More voices, and in particular, those voices that have not been a part of the conversation must be heard.

I would like to make it clear that Saline Area Schools is here to offer support to any student struggling during these turbulent times. School and life can be chaotic and stressful enough without COVID and the tragedy of violence against innocent people. Students are inundated with such immense stresses – be that academically or socially – and we are always here to help students learn how to cope, manage and find ways to focus on working to improve their communities during these stressful times. 

We are a community that does not support violence, discrimination, racism, or prejudicial treatment. As a nation, we must demand equality for all races. As one Saline community, we must support each other during this time of turbulence and unrest, especially our Black community members. For our families of color, we see you, hear you, stand by you, and value you. We must defend and support each and every member of our community.

Four Strategies for Distance Learning

April 21, 2020

As the statewide school closure began on March 16, many Michigan School districts hit pause and waited in hopes of reopening after Spring Break. Saline Area Schools, however, did not pause. Within hours of the state’s declaration, Saline teachers and administrators began organizing a plan to continue educating all students. Initially, in deference to equity, the method was to focus on supplemental instruction; skill maintenance rather than skill-building seemed to make the most sense. Many districts had valid concerns about fairness, staff capacity, and available resources. The reality is – Saline had similar apprehensions. However, the culture of the Saline district and the community is one of action. Leaping into action and using the last few weeks of March to develop a plan – Saline’s educators were prepared for the April 3, 2020, Executive Order that suspended in-person education and moved all public schools in Michigan to a distance-learning format.

Saline Schools launched its initial plan, minus the supplemental focus, on April 6, 2020. Now in Week #3, teachers, administrators, support staff, and students are learning every day how to make this system work. Four key areas are critical to the success of a distance learning program, especially when launched during an ongoing public health crisis. Those points are delineated below. 

Connections

Relationships are critical. The students need to know that we miss them. Impersonal, neutral “check-in” emails are not sufficient. Often, students need to connect with their classmates, other building staff members, and the community. Zoom calls, Google chats, and hangouts work well in a reciprocal fashion. Students “see” the teacher; the teacher does an eyes-on wellness check with the student. A global pandemic disrupts families in several ways: social, emotional, financial, educational, and health-wise. The disruption within families is genuine. Parents placed into new roles, routines are skewed, and folks are fearful of what lies ahead. The school, its teachers, administrators, and support staff, can provide families with some sense of normalcy amid chaos. Consistent relationship nurturing does just that. 

Flexibility

Indeed, this entire COVID-19 situation is an exercise in being flexible. Educators tend to do better when following the rules, adhering to a published schedule, managing a classroom with a meticulously crafted lesson plans, and controlling whenever possible, the intended outcome. Control gives educators a sense of safety. Leading a class, a school, or a district is often predicated on systems of control. Bell schedules, curricula, standards, grades, and contracts all serve to preserve a sense of order and control. In today’s environment, strict systems of control are no longer possible. Letting go and allowing creativity to blossom might be the advantageous outcome of this new delivery model. Breaking some of the convenient control conventions that have limited creative thinking in the past might lead to further learning outcomes – for both students and educators!  

Predictability

The pandemic and school closure certainly generated a strong sense of unpredictability and even fear. Even so, much remains the same. It has been paramount for our staff to share predictable routines, consistent instructional practices, and develop some “new normals” on which students and families can count. Already, I have come to expect the Sunday emails from teachers to my children as they set up the week for learning. I see each building Principal continue with staff and parent newsletters that establish and reinforce the predictable nature of how we share information and do business.

Empowerment

Much like the issue of control, this dynamic has shifted power in new ways. I have seen our educators allow students to demonstrate their learning in new ways. With rigid expectations gone, staff members are empowering students with opportunities (assignments) that enable them to think critically about the world around them. Empowering our students is a silver lining that is beginning to emerge.

Realizing that we are only a few weeks into this great distance learning experiment of 2020, please know that we continue to learn, shape content, and deliver instruction in new ways each day. This effort is crisis management and not a work of art. In sharing my thoughts to date, please do not infer that we have perfected distance learning and replaced the high-quality educational system that has been the norm. Chromebooks and weekly playlists and Zoom meetings are merely a way to promote relationships, flexibility, and predictability with instruction. I do believe that the four components listed above are aspects that will translate well back to in-person education. We all hope that happens soon. Be well, Saline.

Community Resource Guide

April 6, 2020

Click Here to access the Saline Community Resource Guide for COVID-19

Be Good to Each Other

March 20, 2020

These are challenging times – and am I not talking about the long lines at Costco or technical glitches with Zoom meetings. The very fabric and stability of our society is now tested, yanked apart, and rocked in so many ways. This uncertainty is unprecedented for my generation (Gen X) and for those that are younger. Despite this alarming unknown, as I watch our community work together to help each other in the face of this pandemic, I see great promise in how the response to adversity unites us. Generations past have shown us strength in times of trial, and resilience when challenged. We, too, can learn those skills. This pandemic is not the first time we have faced adversity together. And it will not be the last.

However, I also worry about the inevitable spread of the virus. Undoubtedly, it will impact us in significant ways that tear at our relationships, our economy, and our sense of community. In short, the challenges have truly just begun.

This reality has led me to think about the real threat. A disease like Novel COVID-19 can not only threaten one’s life; it confronts our selfishness, pride, fear, hypocrisy – this threat is an attack our very humanity. The crisis, too, highlights the inextricable bonds of humanity and prompts us to consider how much we have in common. We are all in this together. Today, more than ever, we must use this terrible crisis as an opportunity to learn, to lend a helping hand, and to remember our core values. We must exhibit humility, kindness, and service above self.

Stay home. Connect remotely, Share what you can. Stay well, and offer up your goods to those whose needs are greater than yours. We must care for each other and be kind to each other. We can’t take anything for granted.

We must remember this – “DO give yourself grace. You have been given a big task during an unprecedented time with possibly no training. Any access to learning is significant.”

Social Distancing… Not a Snow Day

March 17, 2020

Saline Area Schools, along with school districts and businesses across Michigan, have taken the unprecedented step of shutting down to prevent/slow the spread of COVID-19. For this effort to be most effective, everyone who possibly can practice social distancing must do their part. In his article “This is Not a Snow Day,” Dr. Asaf Bitton reminds us, “the only strategies that can get us off this concerning trajectory are those that enable us to work together as a community to maintain public health by staying apart.”

If we all comply as a community, we have a fighting chance to slow the spread of COVID-19 and prevent our health system from becoming overwhelmed.

For additional  information – check out the Washtenaw County Health Department.

If you are wondering what you can do to help, I encourage you to support Saline Area Social Services with food, funds, or your time. To donate – click here.

Confirmed COVID-19 Cases by County

March 16, 2020

Here is an infographic to keep up to date with confirmed COVID-19 cases in Michigan. Many of you know I enjoy the Upper Peninsula – this is just one more reason! #PureMichigan

Click here for interactive map of Michigan.

Urgent Optimism

March 13, 2020

These are challenging times. I want to assure the Saline Area Schools community, we will get through this time of uncertainty together, and things will return to normal. I realize and empathize with families, staff, and community members that are facing various types of challenges during this time. Challenging decisions made for the greater good sometimes have undesirable outcomes, yet I believe that we will overcome and get stronger. There are no simple solutions, no easy way to move forward, and no quick answers given the challenges we face today. 

On August 21, 2019, Saline Schools held its annual “welcome back” ceremony in the Saline High School Performing Arts Center. I shared a phrase that I use daily to guide my actions and decisions – “Urgent Optimism.” Jane McGonigal (contemporary American designer) defines urgent optimism for us: “Urgent Optimism is the desire to act immediately to tackle an obstacle, combined with the belief that we have a reasonable hope of success.” I embrace that definition. In the simplest of terms, this mindset is the belief that tomorrow will be a better day – regardless of the obstacles we face today. 

I strive to look at the big picture and welcome the opportunities that lie ahead, even when those opportunities appear to be roadblocks. With patience, positivity, and discipline, each barricade becomes navigatable.

I remain confident and optimistic that as a school district and a community, we can find a way forward and that tomorrow will be a better day. 

“When I was a boy, and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” ― Fred Rogers. Saline is a community of helpers. With urgent optimism, join those who help, seek positive solutions, and build each other up. I live each day grateful for the firm, supportive community that is Saline. Be well.

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