My First Week as a Virtual Learning Principal
By Dr. Gerald Paterson, Principal in New Jersey
I have spent the past twenty-four years in education working in a K-12 learning setting and have taught online at the college level for the past five years. Despite all this experience, I must say that where I am currently — leading a school in a virtual world at the preschool through fourth-grade level — poses new challenges, but is proving to be an exciting adventure. I am now tasked with teaching from afar, making sure our students have something to eat for breakfast and lunch and ensuring they have an electronic device and internet to learn from home.
On Friday, March 13th, parents and staff at my school were notified by my superintendent that school was going to be closed from March 16th until April 20th. This was no ordinary phone call because the parents in our community needed to make life changes, while at the same time ensuring that their child received an education.
The staff in my district had pulled together a few days prior to put together five days worth of lessons that would be posted on Google Classroom so their students could access each day’s lesson. We also printed out packets and notified parents who we knew did not have internet access, to come to school to pick up a packet with a week’s worth of lessons. Lastly, we had our staff come to school on Monday March 16th to work together with their peers to create a virtual learning experience for their students, which began on Monday, March 23rd.
The Key to Success? Teamwork
The biggest thing that I learned from converting to a virtual learning atmosphere on short notice is that you need great teamwork.
Teamwork is something that needs to be cultivated and sustained throughout the school year for a task such as this one to be successful.
It also needs to appear on many levels and staff need to be positive and open to learning and teaching in a different format.
This might sound like an easy task; however, teachers needed to work together to train themselves on the fly on delivering a virtual learning experience for their students. Central administration, principals, teachers, and support staff collaborated with one another to make sure we could provide an authentic learning experience for our students, while also being sensitive to everyone’s experience level with online teaching and the needs of our diverse community.
What I observed was an amazing group of people checking their egos at the door and pulling together during a time of need. Teachers took advantage of using Zoom for video conferencing with their students and peers, Google Classroom for providing lessons and activities, and Twitter for staying in contact with our school community.
Spreading Positivity and Support
The building principals decided to start our first week of virtual learning with a positive approach to our school community. We decided to have our first ever Virtual Spirit Week, for which we had a different theme each day. The three building principals, myself included, delivered a morning message video to our students with fun facts for the day, we participated in each day’s theme, and I even played a song on the guitar, “Wish You Were Here,” by Pink Flyod where the students had to guess that tune for the day. Lastly, the principals have been using signupgenius for scheduling one on one conferences with students so we can stay connected.
As I reflect back on this past week of virtual learning, the most important thing I have learned is students need to feel connected to their teacher and principal. It is critical to establish this early and frequently so we can get through the COVID-19 Pandemic together. We must work hard to maintain relationships, even though at a distance, through this challenging time, stay positive, and most importantly, be supportive.
Dr. Gerald (Jerry) Paterson has been an educator for 24 years. He has taught elementary and middle grade, served as a curriculum supervisor, and is currently the building principal at Clarence B. Lamb Elementary School, in North Hanover Township School District. He is a college professor at Temple University and Holy Family University, both in Philadelphia, PA. He is an avid reader of American and World history, oil painter, and enjoys fishing with his teenage son. Connect with Jerry via Twitter @DrPatersonCBL.
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