Rebuilding Our School Community: Navigating the New Normal

By Denine Goolsby, Joe Gerics and Dorothy Morelli

“Relationships among educators within a school range from healthy to vigorously healthy to dangerously competitive.  Strengthen those relationships, and you improve professional practice.” - Roland S. Barth

One of the initial directives from the COVID-19 pandemic was shelter-in-place.  To fuel this approach, life as we knew it changed immediately.  We could not attend family events, eat out in restaurants, go to movies, enjoy fellowship in churches, attend plays or concerts, and the list continued to grow.  Suddenly, we found ourselves confined to our homes. During this period of the pandemic, there was also a heightened awareness of racial injustice, and a highly contentious presidential election.  This compounded the stress that was being felt across the nation.  Coupled with this educators also felt the loss of relationships with our students and colleagues.  They were snatched from us without any warning.  There continues to be many losses even now.

As the world continues to re-open (and close), educators are faced with many questions.  Even as schools have returned in various configurations, it is necessary to reflect and adjust on how best to make our schools a nurturing and caring place.  How will we as educators deal with the trauma that all of us have experienced during this time of upheaval?  How will we educate our students?  What will be the design of our “new normal”?  How will we collaborate with our colleagues to optimize the educational experiences of our children?  How will we create an equitable environment for all?  As educators across the world grapple with these and many other questions, it is imperative that we focus on the collective efficacy of the adults.  As referenced in the beginning quote, it is the relationships of the adults in the school that shape the culture and wellness in the school environment.  So we ask, how can we enhance the environment in our schools?  As we begin to return to some form of normalcy in our lives, what steps can we take to reconnect?

We have all experienced some form of trauma during the pandemic.  As we reconnect, it is imperative that we take the time to acknowledge that life as we knew it may be forever changed.  We must take time to explore how these changes impact our schools.  This will require us to reflect on how these recent experiences have altered our perceptions and affected our actions.  You may have thoughts of frustration, confusion, and yes, even grief!  Questions may be swirling in your head centered around, “How on earth will I ever be able to get back to normal in the classroom?”  “Do we really want to return to our previous normal?”

We are convinced that teachers are among the nation’s most resilient and adaptable professionals. Educators also realize that it is essential to focus on rebuilding relationships and supporting social and emotional learning in order to create a welcoming environment and a sense of safety for students and their families. Further, we educators need to not only strengthen relationships in the classroom, but to nurture caring relationships across the school community. If connection and engagement are the cornerstone of the return to school buildings, then we will all be able to successfully turn our attention to engagement in learning and academic achievement.

At CREATE, we are committed to help educators rebuild their school community.  We have consulted with teachers, leaders, and community members and have listened to their voices.  
As a result, we have developed an in-person or online remote model for an innovative one-day in-service to support school communities.  We look forward to joining you in this interactive workshop to help explore how best to rebuild our schools.  You can Register or find more information here.

Denine Parks-Goolsby M.Ed is a Principal Coach and Social Emotional Resource Consultant with  Warrensville Heights City School District. She is a Board Member of CREATE. Dr. Joseph Gerics has served in the field of education for 16 years with both classroom teaching and administrative experience.  He currently holds the position of SEL manager with the Cleveland Metropolitan School District.  Dorothy Morelli is a lifelong educator and the CEO of CREATE.

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