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Inspired Ideas

Supporting Military-Connected Families in Schools

By Gerald Paterson, Ed.D.

There has been a tremendous amount of transition in education for all students since schools shut down in March of 2020. Children whose parents are members of the United States Military always live with a significant degree of uncertainty and in a state of frequent change, and this was only exacerbated by the onset of the pandemic. While most children were able to stay in the relative safety of their homes and familiar communities, a military-connected family could still expect to receive orders that they were being moved from one part of the country to another. Those children would have to leave their safety and connections behind, to start over in a new place, even in the midst of a global pandemic. Those of us who are school administrators serving these students had to dig deep to do our best work for all students during this challenging time, with particular attention to those students whose lives were disrupted the most. A move during this time is very impactful on a child who has made friends, connections with teachers, and has developed a sense of security within a school.

In 2017 Helen Payne, the Superintendent of North Hanover Township School District (serving Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst) collaborated with the Superintendent Dr. Keith Mispagel of USD207 (serving Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas) and Dr. Brian Henry of Waynesville R-VI School District (serving Fort Leonard Wood) to develop a summit whereby schools that work predominantly with military children can meet, connect, learn and share ideas with each other to better serve our student populations. The annual event is called the Military Connected School Administrator Summit (MCSAS). During the second week of July, administrators from military-connected school districts are invited to come together to share innovative strategies from their district, participate in team building activities, as well as engage in professional development led by speakers from across the country.

This summer, approximately 50 administrators from North Hanover Township School District, Waynesville R-VI School District, North Chicago School District 187, Mascoutah School District 19, Fort Sam Houston Independent School District, Randolph Field Independent School District, and Lackland Independent School District met for MCSAS 2020 in Chicago, IL July 11–14th. The participants in this summit brainstormed and shared their biggest challenges from this past school year, as well as shared innovative strategies that have had a profound impact on their schools. Some of the innovative strategies touched on social emotional learning, developing a culture of resilience, support and innovation, and daily practices through a trauma informed lens.

On the third day of the summit, Dr. Tracey Severns, the keynote speaker, discussed how to use high-leverage leadership practices to address the challenges that lie ahead. Her guiding questions for this presentation included:

  • What does it mean to lead in a post-pandemic era?
  • What is the role of school leaders in reestablishing rigor and relationships?
  • How will we identify, collect, analyze and use the data we need to know where kids are and get them to where they need to be?
  • How will we use high-impact practices to optimize student outcomes?
  • How do we build a collaborative culture of collective responsibility for all students?

Dr. Stevens provided information and meaningful examples on each of these key questions, as well as provided time for districts to work together and individually to reflect and share out how we can best address those areas of importance in our schools.

The biggest takeaway for me as the principal at Clarence B. Lamb Elementary School is the use of developing a data carousel to:

  1. Get my staff interested, engaged and invested in looking at data;
  2. Introduce performance outcomes and reporting resources;
  3. Provide and collect information for root cause analyses; and
  4. Share baseline data for the creation of common goals.

Dr. Stevens contends:

“When educators have the opportunity to share their “noticings” and “wonderings” (questions) in a manner that ensures their anonymity, they tend to be more honest about what they see and less likely to “filter” their responses due to fear of retribution or to avoid upsetting or offending others.”

This is something that I plan to do with my staff in the beginning of the school year so we can optimize student learning outcomes.

In closing, it is a true honor working in a school district that is so closely connected with the United States Military. Over the past two years working in the North Hanover Township School District I have forged professional relationships with my colleagues both in District and across the country through MCSAS. This professional event is something that I look forward to attending in the future so I can stay up to date on the ever changing needs that our military students encounter across the country.

Gerald Paterson’s background includes 25 years of administrative and teaching experience at the elementary, middle school, and college levels. Some of his interests outside of work include traveling, playing guitar, painting, and reading. He is also a college professor at Temple University and Holy Family University, as well as a guest blogger for McGraw Hill.

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To be reminded why your work is so very important and for more stories and advice, visit our collection of teacher perspectives at The Art of Teaching.

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Resources, ideas, and stories for PreK-12 educators. We focus on learning science, educational equity, social and emotional learning, and evidence-based teaching strategies. Be sure to check out The Art of Teaching Project, our guest blogging platform for all educators.

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